Sometimes I think Johnny Depp must be a ghost. Because I feel like he keeps coming back from some dark corner, back into the limelight, back to haunt us all. Like Cathy looking for Heathcliff, Depp’s alleged “tormented” soul, damaged from middle age, money loss and accusations of hitting his ex-wife, roams the media looking for peace and comfort while constantly traumatising the rest of us.
And just like Wuthering Heights is often mistaken for a great love story, instead of the fable of coercive control that it actually is, collectively, pop culture - and a lot of male journalists - still can't seem to shake Depp’s IMDb profile or how cool he looks wearing kohl eyeliner. We’re deaf to the allegations made by his ex-wife, Amber Heard.
And boo! Here he is again, scaring the life out of us as we see him on the cover of this month’s GQ. I couldn't believe my eyes! It appears the magazine thought it would be a good idea to feature a man accused of violence by his ex-wife on their October issue, one year on since the allegations against Harvey Weinstein broke and the #MeToo movement was revived by Hollywood. The famously press-hating actor invited the magazine to his home because he didn’t like an article The Rolling Stone published about him and he’s searching for truth, he told the British GQ journalist. I don’t plan on getting existential right now, but what exactly is truth at the moment? Both Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh said they are “100%” telling the truth. Donald Trump often talks about the “TRUTH !!”.
But more troublingly, what is GQ searching for I wonder: controversy? Press? On questioning Depp about the allegations, the journalist interrupts his own article with a paper-thin disclaimer: “To suggest that a woman, a man or anyone might have made up such a serious allegation is a tremendously dangerous and damaging thing to do” but, he continues, “this is not a piece of investigative reporting. It is merely a snapshot, a chance to sit down and talk to a person of immense interest and talent”. So is this what a post #MeToo world looks like: ignoring allegations is bad but Depp did make tons of great movies, after all?
And in this so innocently-sounding “snapshot” is something much more sinister - whether conscious or otherwise; the romanticisation and mythologising of (alleged) violent men, something Depp’s high-brow indie-background, jawline and friendship with Hunter S Thompson makes him particularly susceptible too.
Depp is described as “sounding at times like a wounded animal who has healed and is now ready to bite back”. He’s “aggrieved, aggressive and vulnerable”. The bull analogy at the start of article to describe the heavy metal Depp is listening too relentlessly hams up this injured warrior trope - a masculine, noble, strong animal goaded to lash out, wounded and now fragile in his struggle. Words like “vengeance”, “artist” and “romantic rebellion” are used and I start to - lord, give me strength - think of Ernest Hemingway, which may or may not have been the point.
And accusations of Depp’s temper, not to mention his actual threat to the paparazzi mid-interview (“If I catch you, I will eat your nose. I will eat your nose, chew it up and swallow it in front of you and then you’ll fucking think about it next time”), only add to this grand, romantic myth of the great, troubled artist. In fact, Amber Heard's allegations are woven into this myth so essentially, it is addressed on the cover of the magazine. The words: “The divorce. The violence. The excess. The vengeance” appear under Depp’s face. The Violence? It’s all very Sex, Drugs and Rock n’Roll, but here Violence steps in to suggest the same glorious, wreckless turmoil and intrigue of one of the world's most famous men. Does GQ not know that male violence kills two women a week in this country?
And it is absolutely jarring because it reminds us that violence against women is still secondary to the perceived talents of a man. And instead of being a marker by which we judge people in our communities, instead of it being seen as dangerous epidemic in which 1 in 4 women will face, it is framed as a scar or tattoo; a masculine accessory that has a dark story which reinforces a perpetrator's own enthralling mythology. (Heard literally is a tattoo on Depp: once “Slim”, his nickname for her, has now be changed to “Scam”). And in doing so, the severity of violence against women is entirely diminished. It doesn’t stop alleged perpetrators getting on the cover of magazines, it fact it’s used to sell magazines, to sex up a story. And I’m not sure I can think of anything more offensive.
So when will we give up the ghost? Handsome, enigmatic, talented men can be perpetrators of violence against women. And if they are, we can’t hide that inconvenient fact behind their back catalogue or twist it into another chapter in their jaded, tormented, beautiful journey. We have to take violence against women seriously, not as GQ, would have you believe, a footnote in the mythology of a "person of immense interest and talent".
UPDATE: Amber Heard has responded to the allegations made in the Depp interview. A statement from her lawyers read: 'It is outrageous that GQ never spoke to any of the multiple witnesses to Mr Depp’s physical abuse of Ms Heard prior to publishing its article. If GQ had done even a basic investigation into Mr Depp’s claims, it would have quickly realised that his statements are entirely untrue.
'Mr Depp has blatantly disregarded the parties’ confidentiality agreement and yet has refused to allow Ms Heard to respond to his baseless allegations, despite repeated requests that she be allowed to do so.'
The statement continued: 'Mr Depp is shamefully continuing his psychological abuse of Ms Heard, who has attempted to put a very painful part of her life firmly in her past. One need only look at the physical evidence to draw the proper conclusion.'