Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Celebrity, Mythology, & The Machine (part 7)

Via Insider


With a little shopping, the photo above could easily pass as a scene from an outdoor Harry Styles concert. This is a scene from a parade, not a judicial occasion.

Some people buy a ticket for a stadium seat so they can shout themselves hoarse encouraging and cursing their favorite football team; others visit the courthouse where a celebrity trial is being held so they can cheer on the dreamy litigant they've been stanning since high school. It's all the same: modern variations on the theme of the Great Dionysia.

Depp v. Heard played out like an ancient Greek drama in which the attentive public comprised the chorus. Two private persons, whom we all seemed to know, or felt we knew on the basis of our having so often seen and heard their likenesses in films, read interviews with them in glossy magazines, parsed and hit the Like button on their social media updates, etc., entered a courtroom in Fairfax, Virginia to settle a civil dispute. 

There was no possibility that the trial would ensue like a mundane legal process for determining whether the defendant's article in the Washington Post actually constituted defamation, as the plantiff alleged. The entire proceeding was livestreamed, and we viewed it as though it were a protracted film in which Depp and Heard were co-stars—that is to say that it was entertainment, witnessed, contemplated, and discussed by members of society in which entertainment is a profoundly serious matter.

The unscripted spontaneity of the event changed little with regard to our perception of it. If Depp and Heard were being their "real" selves in the courtroom, we simply took it in as though each of them were playing a different sort of role than we were accustomed to seeing. Some of us applauded Heard for the vulnerability she brought to her performance.

The resemblance of discourse to surrounding the trial to the the low-, middle-, and highbrow chatter attending the latest episodes of a prestige TV megahit might be startling if it we weren't so acculturated to it. We praised and maligned the characters, tried to predict the outcome from the developments of a given episode, argued about whether one or the other protagonist was more in the right (or less in the wrong), and expatiated upon the symbolism of the drama, nominating Depp and Heard as avatars of this or that social movement and its associated hashtag(s), and as proxies for The Narcissist, The Gaslighter, the couple in a Toxic Relationship, and other such modern archetypes. I believe we can safely assume that the words regarding the trial spoken and listened to in the context of unscheduled conversations between persons were vastly outnumbered by the words typed about it, or uttered into a microphone by podcasters, YouTubers, TikTokkers, talk show hosts, etc.

An ongoing narrative of a conflict between the likenesses of Captain Jack Sparrow and Queen Mera of Atlantis, rich with psychological depth and abounding with imagery and allusion, from which all of us drew moral, political, and personal meanings that we shared and debated, and which held us transfixed until the cathartic resolution that materially affected us in no way whatsoever, though it left our perception of the world somewhat altered—what can we call this but theater?

Whether one employed hashtags promoting the righteousness of Depp/Heard or vilifying his/her perfidious ex-spouse, everyone invested in the trial was essentially on the same side. Regardless of which "team" anyone was on, their loyalty truly belonged to the device—the machine that delivered the trial to them, fed them related content selected by algorithm, gave them any number of venues in which they could make their opinion known to likeminded strangers and castigate members of the rival faction, and offer up so many thinkpieces, Twitter threads, and TikTok harangues to give them so, so much to consider with respect to all of this monumental content.

For Depp, Heard, the lawyers, the jury, and so on, it was a legal proceeding whose verdict carried real, measurable financial consequences for the loser. Of course. But to the remote spectator, it was a crossover event. A must-see production. A chapter in the hyperreal multimedia franchise of current events. The stuff that life is lately made of.


  1. Wanted to wait till you posted the last one to response. Well, the gist of it is that pepole always wanted to be a somebody, they wanted to be in the" Room were it happens" The evolution of tech allowed easier accessibility and ways for more " Common " folk to" Ascend" to stardom, but its also caused a situation were somehow the lines between reality and fantasy are even more blurred then the medieval times somehow. Instead of getting pepole to see the truth pepole are more deluded then ever. Instead of seeing things for how they are they are seeing everything only as they wish to...and its becoming quite the problem as we are clearly seeing the damage of having most of humanity be even more clueless to reality, ugh.

    1. And it will just get worse as time progresses. In the near future there will be a special few who are able to rise above this, not latch to social media, and instead operate in reality. These people will the be the ones running the machine that the rest of the proles plug into every day.

  2. "The unscripted spontaneity of the event"

    I almost spewed my hot chocolate all over my laptop when I read that. There is nothing more scripted than "reality" television, this trial included. It wouldn't shock me to find out that Heard and Depp had come to some kind of agreement long before this in order to make the most of the trial for both of them. Maybe Heard was looking to get out of acting, while at the same time Depp wanted a way to revive his late stage career? A nice double digit (in the millions) exit package would do her good, no?

    I the authenticity of nothing with a production team to its name. It's downright terrifying how kids are oblivious to the fact that their favourite youtuber is basically just a paid actor reading a script in a production made by about 30-40 staff. It's war of the worlds but without the apology after the fact.