The split of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard back in May 2016 was brought back to global attention when Depp filed a $50 million defamation case against his ex-wife over an op-ed she published in the Washington Post. In that article Heard claimed she’d been a victim of domestic violence, while Depp, who is countersued for $100 million by Amber, said in his testimony that these allegations have cost him “nothing less than everything”.
The stream of flabbergasting revelations began April 11 when Johnny Depp took the stand for the first time, sharing his side of the story. After a couple weeks of listening to his testimony (that ended with a mind-blowing audio reflecting Johnny Depp as the victim of domestic violence), it was Amber Heard’s chance to speak up in her defense. After two days of her on the stand, the trial is taking a break with the court to resume on May 16, 9 am.
Not even halfway into 2022, the Johnny vs Amber defamation trial has taken the internet by storm, with an easy possibility of it becoming one of the top stories of the year. The netizens have not been shy of using clips, audios, moments and expressions of the stakeholders, emotional and stunning revelations, and so much more from the live court session to turn it into meme material and a source of infotainment. Seems like gamifying real-life celebrity cases is the new genre for creating and consuming content on the internet.
The internet can be very cruel and patronizing. Here’s a video posted by @innocent00124, a channel named Anita-Justice for Johnny Depp, mimicking Amber Heard’s expressions and a part of her story where she said her dog stepped on a bee.
— Anita – Justice For Johnny Depp (@Innocent00124) May 11, 2022
Catalina Goanta, Associate Professor at Utrecht University has taken the unanimous acceptance and excitement of the public display of this case as a new phenomenon. “Generally speaking, if audiences perceive something as educational, people will not really watch it. But the moment when there’s any form of gamification or entertainment of that content, then it becomes much more enjoyable“, says the professor when talking about this newly identified craze for the celebrity-centered courtroom drama.
This trial, or maybe the intricacies of the events and people involved have proven to be a delight not only for the content consumers, but also the creators who have been able to cumulatively gather millions of subscribers and billions of views on their channels, resulting in revenue and fame. What else do you need, right? The top receivers have been the people and channels associated to legal circles, but we have also seen entertainment channels hitting milestones in terms of audience engagements and popularity. After all, who doesn’t like to step on the bandwagon that guarantees money and fame at the same time?
Emily D. Baker, who happens to be a former LA District Attorney has been able to gather almost half of her current subscribers, totaling around 328,000, over the course of this trial. We see the same trend on TikTok where profiles like Lawyer Limor and Kevin Kenedy are on the rise in terms of followers and views, every passing day. Even the law firms like Atlanta’s Jonathan W. Johnson LLC have capitalized the growing interest in this case as a chance to market their legal services.
According to Jenna Drenten, Associate Professor Marketing at Quinlan School of Business, there are currently three trials happening around Johnny vs Amber fiasco. There’s one happening in the courtroom, then there’s one on the television and then one on the TikTok. Explaining more clearly, she said, “one in the physical courtroom, one in the mainstream media with official coverage of the courtroom, and one in the shadows of social media with second-hand remixed trial outtakes”. She continued telling us how the last one is consumed the most because of its global reach, the fact that creators have ample amount of material to use and make their own media in creative ways, and the platforms to upload and broadcast that media. Drenten also shed light on what happened in the Britney Spear’s conservatorship case, and how her fans wanted to be a part of it. We saw a massive public gathering of Britney’s supporters showing up at the time of her taking the stand. Had it happened in today’s age, with these platforms enabling video creators, a lot of reusing, remixing and lip-syncing were to be witnessed in somewhat similar ways as the Johnny-Amber trial.
What do you think about the ongoing case?
The trial has taken a 10-day break, with the world waiting for those closing arguments and verdict, but we see fresh content every day on these platforms. Tiktoks, Reels, Shorts, and so much more is circulating wildly across various platforms and sharing sources. What is going to happen once the case ends? We might have a few more weeks of post-verdict fun or condolences, but then what? All the channels dedicated to driving the narrative and gathering public sympathy will have to find something new to share with the world, or they will have to face the natural process of fading away from timelines. In Drenten’s words, “Some of the people creating this content will be able to leverage their fame but most will fade from the spotlight. My prediction is that a few of these accounts will become exclusively geared toward either pop culture commentary or legal hot takes, but most will not and they may not want to.”