Johnny Depp and the Dark Side of Celebrity Fandom


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A shadow box over Rebecca’s eating-home desk, hanging there given that 2006, displays an autographed duplicate of the Pirates of the Caribbean script—signed by Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, and Johnny Depp. Even though Rebecca, at age 36, is emphatically no more time a Depp admirer, she suggests she keeps the script on her wall as a conversation starter. If a person asks about it, maybe she’ll go into the whole story, rather than pretending she under no circumstances favored Depp. “Also it is not like it’s his smug tiny confront,” she told me.

That experience is just about everywhere ideal now, on account of Depp’s ongoing and very community lawsuit from his ex-wife Amber Read. The situation is difficult, and the testimony is rife with sordid, disturbing details. In short, Depp has taken Heard to courtroom for defamation over a 2018 essay she released in The Washington Post that discovered her as a victim of domestic abuse and sexual violence. Read also created abuse allegations when she submitted for divorce from Depp in early 2016, and was granted a restraining purchase versus him.

Rebecca felt betrayed by Depp when Read arrived ahead with her story, and has given that renounced her fandom. But she’s been positively horrified by the habits of Depp’s other lovers, who have spent the previous various many years seeking to discredit Listened to as a “gold digger” and a “monster.” (I agreed to detect Rebecca by only her initial title since she was involved about harassment from this group.) In April, when fans’ endeavours picked up momentum, Rebecca began a Twitter account called @LeaveHeardAlone, with a plan to doc and counter the preposterous statements that #DeppfordWives, as she and some others phone them, have made about Listened to. When these supporters circulated images of Heard getting grotesque encounter make-up utilized, for instance, they claimed that the pics confirmed a plot to body Depp. Rebecca debunked that. She also wrote to Snopes, the actuality-examining web site, inquiring it to address the grotesque conspiracy idea that Read murdered her individual mother in 2020 to protect against her from testifying in help of Depp in the U.K. trial. (Snopes has addressed several other rumors regarding the trial, but not that one particular.)

Rebecca’s new Twitter account has not quite a few far more than 500 followers, which implies she is much, far outnumbered by the other facet. The pro-Depp, anti-Listened to stance is now a dominant trend on social media. Throughout the world wide web, Heard’s intended lies have been turned into all method of memes, and even, by one particular cosmetics enterprise, a piece of promoting material. On TikTok, partners have been performing out violent moments as described in Heard’s testimony, in buy to highlight their alleged absurdity. On Tumblr, Depp supporters proceed to circulate the debunked assert that Heard plagiarized component of her opening assertion from Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. On Twitter, I was personally astonished to see that even lots of of the Harry Variations lovers I adhere to are, for regardless of what reason, adamantly anti-Read. “Makes me ill listening to Amber Listened to,” 1 wrote. “Literally amber read is the plague,” wrote an additional.

Rebecca sees a twisted logic in this hatred. For Millennials in individual, she instructed me, fans’ perception of their have morality is deeply entwined with fandom. “We hang so a lot of our personal identity on these issues that we really like,” she said. “So if all those points are threatened, you possibly have to acknowledge that you are kind of a lousy man or woman for liking people points or you have to persuade you that all people else is erroneous.”

1 could blame “the Deppford Wives” for all these online smears, but that is not specifically proper.  Some of the most active commenters are not so a great deal determined enthusiasts of Johnny Depp as anti-admirers of Amber Heard.

Hilde Van den Bulck, a professor of conversation at Drexel University, has studied the edition of fandom that inverts its practices and produces a group of denigration. Where by fandom tends to derive from a optimistic emotion (I love this actor I appreciate that character), anti-fandom attracts from just the reverse, and nurtures damaging thoughts toward a well-known individual or character. Fans and anti-supporters both express themselves through on the internet sleuthing: They hang on the object of their fascination’s each and every word, and assess each element of that person’s wardrobe and hairstyling and self-presentation. “Anti-admirers know as a great deal about their item of anti-fandom as fans do about their item of fandom,” Van den Bulck mentioned. Their marriage with the superstar they despise is “often extremely deep, very psychological.”

Some anti-enthusiasts are disillusioned former lovers (I utilised to adore movie star X, but now … ). Others’ hatred may possibly be unprovoked (I just can’t stand celebrity X, and resent their position in community existence). In many cases, as Van den Bulck clarifies it, anti-fans and supporters are overlapping groups: The anti-enthusiast of superstar X hates celebrity X due to the fact movie star X harmed superstar Y, of whom the anti-supporter is a admirer.

I have arrive across this latter team just before. In 2020, I noted on fandom communities that have been fixated on theories that the male objects of their fandom were being currently being manipulated and tortured by considerably less-well-known, feminine romantic partners. A faction of Benedict Cumberbatch admirers believed that his spouse, Sophie Hunter, was aspect of an intercontinental crime ring and experienced faked all of her pregnancies. (This is not real.) A faction of A single Course enthusiasts thought that the band member Louis Tomlinson was gay and forcibly closeted by the leisure business, and that his ex-girlfriend and the mom of his child, Briana Jungwirth, was central to the conspiracy. (This is not correct.) The anti-admirers I wrote about tried out to establish their claims by analyzing hundreds of pictures and video clips—just as the Depp followers and Heard anti-followers are accomplishing now. They also hunted for evidence that their beloved famous people ended up winking at them, providing very small, key rewards for observing the truth of the matter. A person Direction fans claimed that Tomlinson was publishing factors on selected dates or at specific occasions so that the digits would make a coded concept, just for them. Equally, Depp admirers glance for indicators that he is grateful for their assist, and that he is attempting to entertain them from inside of the courtroom.

These fans, who are also anti-enthusiasts, subject the females they loathe to physique-shaming and wild prison accusations, and skewer them using sexist tropes. The targets of their anti-fandom are manipulative and formidable, as a rule, but also stupid. They are glamorous and seductive, but also secretly disgusting. When I interviewed a Cumberbatch lover who was a company believer in the conspiracy theories about his wife, she recognized herself as a feminist. It was Hunter, she reported, who was “setting women’s legal rights again [and] generating everyone appear lousy.” Quite a few Depp supporters now make the similar argument. They insist that they are not a reactionary motion trying to undo the perform of the #MeToo movement, and that questioning Heard’s promises does not make them misogynistic. If everything, she is the a person who is creating a joke out of #MeToo, and earning things more durable for “real” victims of abuse. Girl Victoria Hervey, a compact-time British design and socialite with some 300,000 Instagram followers, has written that Listened to “sounds like she would be much more at dwelling in a psych ward,” and referred in a current Instagram story to “girls like these that continuously make factors up.” “So quite a few are sick of these fake me way too motion victims who are ruining it for serious victims of domestic abuse,” she wrote to me in an e-mail, declining to communicate further more. (Hervey has also espoused “New World Order” conspiracy theories and explained the pandemic as a “eugenics software.”)

On line occasions as sprawling and weird as this a person can be challenging to make feeling of whilst they’re even now unfolding. But the background of the social online offers precedents. Mary, a 34-year-old Tumblr consumer who has been associated in fandom due to the fact the late ’90s, and who questioned to remain nameless out of problem about harassment, not too long ago posted a extensive write-up about her experiences with misogyny in fandom. She described a sexist meltdown among the followers of Marvel’s Loki Television set exhibit, when several became outraged that a character played by Sophia Di Martino had develop into Loki’s really like desire. Lovers unconvincingly accused Di Martino of transphobia, “in purchase to justify on the net abuse and harassment,” Mary wrote she in comparison this to the way that lovers had been turning on Heard and weaponizing whichever they could obtain or make up about her. “It’s form of normally accurately the very same and but has so many precise, bothersome information to it,” she instructed me: The language of social justice is often contorted to make a circumstance for whomever the fandom has chosen to support. In the Loki meltdown, objection to Di Martino’s ongoing existence on the display was framed as allyship with trans men and women. Now assist for Depp is taken as a signal of allyship with male victims of abuse.

“The concept is that #MeToo arrived together and then Amber Listened to noticed it and was opportunistic about it, which is a narrative that entirely falls apart when you keep in mind that she bought divorced right before #MeToo even occurred,” Mary reported. But modern day movie star fandom encourages followers to seem for the narrative they want to see. Very little clues are just about everywhere, and new resource material is never ever-ending. If fandom has develop into additional conspiratorial—and I assume it has—that need to be due, in section, to the way that social media has produced fast incentives for newbie sleuthing. It also displays a loss of faith, amongst some admirers, in the tactics and motives of mainstream media. Possibly, the thinking goes, regular journalists just aren’t wanting hard enough for these really persuasive stories.

On Instagram, for case in point, professional-Depp and anti-Heard supporters, such as Hervey, have gathered around Jessica Reed Kraus—a onetime life style influencer who has constructed a enormous viewers by providing narratives about pop society and real-crime stories that are far more appealing than the ones supplied by regular media outlets. She has described the recent trial as “a movie in itself” and “the fantastic Shakespearian tragedy of our age.” Are living-blogging it on her Instagram Stories, she intersperses her views on publicly available details with allusions to insider particulars, which arrive to her by way of mysterious “sources.” “I’m doing the job spherical the clock,” she posted lately. “Meaning no snooze, bad hydration, non-prevent digging and a lil wine. It’s consuming and exhausting but it Matters.”

These are features of a new paranoid design and style amid lover communities that previously has many observable hallmarks. Not too long ago, Kraus mocked Read for seeming to pause while wiping her facial area with a tissue, supposedly so that photographers would have ample time to get a tearful snap. This theory—that Heard’s Kleenex was a phony flag—is remarkably comparable to just one circulated among the A single Way followers for yrs, that Louis Tomlinson’s ex-girlfriend would stage occasions for paparazzi as a way of concocting proof in favor of her lies. Depp supporters have also suggested that Heard’s daughter, Oonagh, who was born by means of surrogate final 12 months, is secretly the baby of Elon Musk, and that Musk has some bigger purpose to participate in in an huge conspiracy. Quite a few lover theories include a superpowerful person in the celebrity’s orbit, as properly as lies about paternity.

The folks who get concerned in this sort of speculation also have a tendency to cite unanticipated fields of know-how: distinctive-results make-up, for illustration, that could be used to build faux inflammation less than someone’s eye. The Cumberbatch fans appealed to insider knowledge of the storage of government paperwork, this sort of as start certificates. When we spoke, Mary noted one more similarity among Sophie Hunter’s critics and Heard’s: The former was accused of remaining photographed with cocaine all in excess of her dresses (she wasn’t), and the latter was accused of sneaking a bump of cocaine although testifying in courtroom (she … didn’t).

These are commonly intricate theories, all the greater to be talked about for months or yrs on conclusion, but they’re tied with each other by a little something easy: anger at a lady in the public eye. Rebecca informed me that the Depp followers had seemed to get rid of fascination, at a sure point, in defending Johnny Depp. They were being “just applying him as a system,” she stated. Now they’ve turn out to be obsessed with anyone else, and they are not about to allow her go.


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