I Really Wanted To Ignore This…

There’s a lot I don’t understand about popular culture. Why anyone would waste time following the Kardashians, for example, or a number of other so-called “celebrity influencers”–people famous for being famous–mystifies me. So when the media began its coverage of the recent Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial, I basically ignored it, although I did wonder why a pissing match between two obviously damaged, wealthy celebrities was worth the pixels being wasted on it.

But then, reactions to the verdict highlighted a very unattractive aspect of American culture–especially the widespread superficiality of what passes for “analysis” these days, and our “either/or” “bright line” approach to subjects that are considerably more nuanced.

Ever since the jury in that lurid case handed down what has been characterized as a win for Depp, pundits have insisted that Heard’s loss is the beginning of the end of the #MeToo movement. Now, they say, women will no longer feel safe publicly accusing their abusers.

This, in a nutshell (and I use the term nutshell advisedly) is hogwash. But it is a peculiarly American version of hogwash, and it illustrates one of this country’s least attractive cultural predispositions. Americans’ instinct for simplification and over-generalization. (Those predispositions are what prompted my admonition to students to use two terms more frequently than they previously had been wont to do: it depends and it’s more complicated than that.)

When #MeToo emerged, I applauded. Like most women, over my lifetime I’d encountered unwanted “approaches” from men, ranging from boorish behaviors to significantly worse, and I certainly saw the manifest unfairness of dismissing assaults by blaming the victim– asking what she was wearing or other questions suggesting that the woman was somehow “asking for it.” Holding predators rather than their victims responsible was long overdue.

Sending a message that unwanted touching and worse are not amusing, not a male prerogative, and not to be tolerated was also long overdue.

That said, there is a significant difference between boorishness and assault. Inappropriate behaviors occur on a continuum, and responses should be calibrated to the severity of the behavior. (Calling Al Franken…). Fundamental fairness requires rejecting essentialism— all men are not dogs, and all women are not saints. Taking women seriously is not the same thing as uncritically believing anything and everything any woman says. An accusation of impropriety or assault should be considered a rebuttable presumption–true, until and unless there is probative evidence to the contrary.

The fact that one high-profile woman was unable to convince a jury that her accusations were truthful tells us exactly nothing about another woman’s version of a different set of circumstances. Women who think otherwise are reading and believing the wrong “analysts.”

There is a reason we hold trials to determine the truth of disputed matters (and a reason lawyers hate to litigate conflicts that boil down to he said/she said). The trial system is based upon the importance of evidence: evidence corroborating one party’s version of the facts, and evidence of actual harm suffered. The judge or jury acting as the “trier of fact” must determine the credibility of testimony and evidence offered in support of both liability and degree of harm done.

In the court of public opinion, popularity can trump evidence, which is why public reactions to trials–especially trials involving high-profile figures–are so often at odds with the conclusions reached by jurors who actually heard and considered the evidence. But even when the public seems to approve of an outcome, the tendency to draw wildly exaggerated conclusions from a fact-sensitive conflict can be enormously misleading.

To insist that the results of this one unseemly battle between two privileged, self-absorbed and extremely unpleasant individuals teaches us some broader lessons about the #MeToo movement (or anything else) is simply stupid, and the amount of attention paid by the media to this episode of “poo throwing” is (at best) a distraction from news about far more serious matters.

Matters to which I will now return. I regret the interruption.


  1. Simply put….most of what passes for journalism here and in the UK is written and published by National Enquirer wannabees.

  2. There is a fundamental problem in our society that allows “boys to be boys.” What does that actually mean anyway? That they are allowed any and all misdeeds ?

    I don’t know the answers but assault and mass murders by men are out of control and I’m sick of it. They say women are too emotional (to be President etc.), yet here we have men walking around armed to the teeth because…why? On my women’s expat groups, I’m begging my fellow members to raise better boys. Seemingly we’re raising outstanding young ladies but the boys need some serious help.

    I couldn’t care anything about that trial and it sounds like they were both found guilty to me.

  3. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, the entertainment media created the celebrity status as necessary to the people for clicks – clickbait. It gets eyeballs to their pages like wrecks on the interstate cause gawkers to gawk (rubberneckers).

    It’s sensationalism or yellow journalism. The media lost its serious nature decades ago when it decided it would also serve the oligarchy. It gave up its power to serve the masses and exchanged its role as a sensationalist media whereby the most outrageous politicians get the attention.

    Who wants to use their critical thinking skills when we can trigger an emotional response? The time we have to sell our products has gotten smaller and smaller, especially with the younger generations who use mobile.

    Superficial is an excellent word for it. Deep thinkers, beware—extinction alert.

  4. I encourage you all to read a research article just published with my students:
    “When ‘good people’ sexually harass: The Role of Power and Moral Licensing on Sexual Harassment Perceptions and Intentions.” (Dinh, T.K., Mikalouski, L., & Stockdale, M. S. (2022). Psychology of Women Quarterly.

    We found that we let people off the hook who we otherwise admire. Depp was wildly popular, while Heard was not. Clinton/Lewinsky anyone?

    Here’s a URL to it: https://journals.sagepub.com/eprint/GSD3ICZDPCHRAF5GTUKB/full

  5. The Me Too Movement has brought a needed evening of the playing field when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse allegations. But there have been excesses. There are a number of people who take the position that women will never lie about allegations of sexual assault and that we should always assume the man is guilty of such excess based solely on the accusation.

    Unfortunately, that’s been used to eliminate or greatly lengthen statutes of limitations in civil and criminal cases involving such allegations. The Bob Dylan case where the singer has to defend himself regarding an alleged assault he supposedly had in 1965 is the most extreme example. The actor Kevin Spacey faced a criminal charge based on alleged conduct from the 1980s. And I’m going to say something that will really rile up your readers, Sheila. What they did to Brett Kavanaugh, trying to smear his reputation with a 30 year, never before made allegation of a sexual assault at a party in which the accuser lacked details or corroboration was one of the most outrageous things I’ve seen since, well, what they did tried to do to Clarence Thomas to keep him off the Court.

    We don’t assume people are guilty because they are men. And, if the man is not judged to have done the act, it doesn’t mean that we “don’t believe” the women. It means it hasn’t been proven. No matter whether it is a criminal case, a civil case, or a judicial appointment, the accused should never be assumed guilty.

  6. Excellent this morning sheila!

    Why? Why do people follow the influencers, those who are famous because they are famous, the politicians, the athletes, the actors, the extremely wealthy?

    Paris Hilton was the Kardashians before the kardashians, lol! But why?

    You have a pandemic of narcissism, self worship! And of course with the need worship oneself, they need to be able to Shepherd followers! They have some deranged Christ complex! So, the people gravitate towards what they can see with their own eyes, no matter how flawed. Because they need something or someone to follow. And those who suffer from narcissism gladly with great zeal provide those wandering sheep someone that can be followed/worshiped.

    If you actually are interested, you can read 1st Samuel starting in the 8th chapter, it’s when the Jews wanted to “have a king as the Nations do!”

    They were warned against it, but they told Samuel to demand it from God.

    They were warned what would happen if they had a human King. That the King has a right to demand, and whatever he demands he has the right to expect obeisance to those demands, under penalty of the king’s law. (1st Samuel 8:11-22)

    Needless to say, it did not turn out well, they were not happy with leaders like Moses and such, and they paid a huge penalty later on and it led to their very destruction.

    So, why does there have to be something visible as a king, an influencer, a narcissistic politician, actor celebrity, clergy, or athlete to follow?

    Because people desire to be led, because they have no answers, because they are afraid, because they wish to know the end game of their short life.

    The Jews saw the miraculous signs when they were being led out of Egypt. And yet, they still needed to have something visible to worship and to be led by. Hence, the golden calf that they built when Moses was getting the commandments from God.

    Stubbornness, laziness, and the willingness to listen to narcissistic self-aggrandizing drivel, just follows humanity’s pattern over the millennia.

    It’s impossible for people to actually have faith in something they cannot visibly see. Hence, the pastors and all of those self worshiping enablers, use that very flaw to end up acquiring lemming like followers that work against their own self-interest!

    These influencers or self worshipers, say the same things they’ve been saying for millennia! Look it up. Look at the political realm for a minute. Politicians have been saying the exact same things since the beginning of this country/government.

    The Kings and the famous, have not changed since the beginning of man’s history. So why should we expect anything different now? Leopards don’t change their spots nor zebras their stripes.

    Absolutely these self worshiping influencers no matter their spots or stripes, want to be worshiped, and the majority wish to worship them hoping some of it will rub off. And it does! To everyone’s detriment.

  7. Apparently; to the jury anyway, Depp was simply the better actor. To me he was better known; I had no idea who Amber Heard was till she and Depp hit the fan.

    “peculiarly American” Sheila has coined a fitting term for this sad, depleted nation today, one that we need to use regarding Kardashians (who remembers who their father was and his place in our criminal injustice history?), Bill Cosby and other famous personages. Including Donald Trump whose lengthy list of sex abuse charges which have been erased from court dockets as if they never happened.

    The very worst of our “peculiarly American” behaviors is the increasing number of mass shootings and the “peculiarly American” way of accepting purchases of military level assault weapons by those whose public postings have been ignored until they take action on their threats and warnings. Elon Musk had the hubris to ask where Jeffrey Epstein’s “little black book” is; guess that was the only thing he could think of to attempt to put himself in a more favorable public position.

    “The trial system is based upon the importance of evidence: evidence corroborating one party’s version of the facts, and evidence of actual harm suffered.” Those guilty of being part of the January 6th insurrection, while being elected or appointed government officials, are being ignored by the justice system due to their positions. “No one is above the law.” is bullshit; as is being proven by those in the position of indicting and prosecuting the leaders of sedition and treason which the world watched on January 6, 2020; the list goes all the way to the top. Just as Trump’s sex abuse charges have disappeared; so will his leadership in January 6th and the continuation of his “Big Lie”. Only in America! How peculiar!

  8. Paul Ogden,

    Well presented points in the context of Sheila’s essay today. The nuance part or the “more complicated than that part” applies to the Thomas and Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. As we now see, neither of these guys belongs anywhere near a courtroom. But it wasn’t the alleged harassment misconduct, was it? Those two jokers are simply incompetent and/or corrupt. Yet another example of the quality of the people who picked them.

  9. We may never again see a rational world. We can’t just get a little upset. We have to go into full nuclear mode with every perceived wrong. I don’t care much for the “me too” movement, but I do want people to stand up for themselves and call out their abusers, if they’ve been abused. If it takes a “movement” to do that, it certainly doesn’t speak well of our maturity as a society, does it?

  10. Good morning Vernon

    Good morning Paul Ogden

    When did Men, especially in this country white or white looking men, not exert their sexual prowess over female subordinates or even male subordinates?

    Rape is not about sex, it’s about power! It’s about dominating! And one thing white men feel the necessity to do, is dominate!

    Of course, that’s lumping every single person into the same category which is not appropriate, but self-policing should be something that every man should be involved in. And, group condemnation of improper conduct is definitely appropriate! And also the punishment that follows.

    Of course people lie! There is really no moral compass concerning humanity anymore. There is no conscience that is uncorrupted concerning humanity anymore. As mentioned earlier, there has to be something visible to follow! Something that can be heard and seen! Doesn’t matter what, or does it?

    When do preteen children decide that they are gay? When do they decide they are anything in the lgbtq+ category? Children that never even had a sexual encounter, but yet know their sexuality? How? Why?

    The influencers, they’re the ones that seem to decide! Because these things are fashionable now! So many want to belong, and it doesn’t matter to what? Nope! It really doesn’t.

    This society that we live in right now, has politicians that don’t want to embarrass aggressive criminal leaders because it might make them do something mad.

    Let me ask, how can any solution to any single problem come or be arrived at out of this filthy petri dish of insane nincompoopery?

    Influencers no matter their spots or stripes, influence because of self-adoration and the need to be praised and followed.

    Do any of them have any solutions to humanities problems? Really, influencers will follow other influencers all the way up the chain. It’s like a dog chasing its tail! And about as useful.

  11. I bet every woman reading this comments have been pursued by men and had keys in their fist, or took a separate way home for example. For Ogden to say Kavanaugh and Thomas were innocent makes me want to puke. Ogden may be an upstanding human male and would never pursue a woman also makes me want to puke. I may not be attractive anymore but I lost track of how many men I had to literally fight off. Shut up and sit down. Women don’t make up stuff about the MeToo movement. We speak from experiences.

  12. When the jury came it with its verdict I tweeted that Depp didn’t need the money, that it was history, and that if he were a real man he would only require Amber to pay his costs and fees and show the judgment satisfied. (As an intentional tort, such judgment is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.) I immediately had over a thousand replies in agreement and several who did not agree, some who wanted her last thimble of blood.

    Celebrity suits alleging damage to reputations involve Clark v. NYT, a 1964 Supreme Court case which sets a high standard of proof (malice) where a public figure is involved. One so publicly demeaned is probably best advised to publicly deny such allegations and be advised of the view of Henry Ford, who loved advertising, when he noted that he didn’t care if the headline in every morning’s paper was “Henry Ford is a son of a bitch,” noting that “It was bad advertising but that it was advertising” – and this was long before Clark.

    As with celebrities and many non-celebrities, just what wonderful reputations do many of them have to be impaired by defendant loudmouths as measured by Clark or no Clark? Perhaps such sensitive plaintiffs should “get even” not in court but by living a private and public life which refutes such allegations and gives the lie to such mean-spirited public putdowns.

  13. How about “I could not care less!”
    Kardasians, Hiltons…. A pox on all their houses. Still, these are the bright, shiny objects that sell papers, and create clicks on media sites.
    But, is this a response to “lives of quiet desperation?” I have some acquaintances, here, in retirement country, whose lives revolve around golf and
    the cars they owned in their youthful days. They do not seem capable of a single nuanced thought. One of them recently sent me an e-mail bit
    of doggerel, about how every sports stadium ought to have a sign deriding people who do not stand for the national anthem, how these are not “real men.”
    There is no room there, for the thought that a woman might choose to not stand, and certainly that Kaepernick had no legitimate beef with the culture
    of bigotry.
    I did ignore the trial, do hope that this does not water down the #MeToo movement.
    By the by, “Hogwash” was one of my maternal grandfather’s favorite expressions…I love it!

  14. We are simply “Amusing Ourselves to Death” as Neil Postman wrote in 1964. That is why we equip ourselves with so many screens, expose ourselves to so much advertising, and why the few minutes between commercials are filled with trivia that increases our appetite for trivia. We are in no significant way informed by that process, nothing of use to us exists in that stew of flashing colors and music, it is soft porn. It defines us without filling us with anything meaningful. It’s the ultimate incarnation of pervasive, persuasive, intoxicating elevator music.

    We are vaguely stimulated not by its content but by its mood. It’s our version of the ancient Asian opium den but can create any feeling all of the way from anger, to pleasure, to fear, to laughter, to the irresistible urge to “own” others, all at the whim of the script, acting and staging as we know from the staged art of performing.

    We are closer than we have ever been to living robotically, controlled by others.

  15. Pete – you drank the Postman kool stuff :):) I’m now reading his “Building a Bridge to the 18th Century”…fascinating…

  16. Lester, good morning!

    Absolutely, we all have gotten a whiff of that in our lifetimes. The curious thing is, everyone wants to live in a democracy, we want our lives and society to be democratic, but when those same individuals reach a position of authority and power, the script flips!

    I believe mankind’s subconscious really wants to control his fellow man! I mean really, whose conscience should we live under or by? Yours, mine, or someone else’s? Or should everyone just follow their own?

    Rightly or wrongly as free moral agents, we can all choose our own path, but, we don’t have the moral right to choose someone else’s!

    That being said, there is absolutely, positively and unequivocally a penalty to be had for all of those individuals who unite to make very very poor decisions! Folks might consider me to be brainwashed, but like my good friend Rick who was in Vietnam and retired as a police officer, said to me one day, I might be brainwashed, but really my brain needed washing! And that! That is much different than hogwash, because hogwash is just washing the crap off of a pig, and then the pig goes back and wallows in the crap! In other words it’s useless.

  17. Excellent article, Sheila. Thank you.

    I expressed very similar thoughts recently to a small group of women and was shamed for doing so. So it goes.

    In my opinion the real division is not between sexes or genders but between the selfish and the generous. I was taught by my parents to be a chivalrous man. That left me vulnerable.

    It seems to me that if America is about anything, it is competition. Everyone jockeys for position. OF COURSE we will be plagued with sexists, and for that matter racists, nationalists, ablists, etc. When you are fighting for a crust of bread, you use whatever weapon is at hand or you lose.

    Here’s to the losers.

  18. John S, children absolutely understand their attractions quite well, and often from a very early age. (Personally, I knew I had an attraction for the girls in the class when I was 6 years old. My daughter knew from the time she was 5 that she was more attracted to girls than boys.) One doesn’t need “sexual encounters” to recognize one’s attractions. It’s also not a “decision.” It’s an understanding, perhaps a recognition. And this understanding may take some time, and it even may change over their young lives, but that doesn’t make it any less real.

  19. It’s a Whole New Ballgame

    To begin, I’m not a tabloid news fan, nor am I into celebrity gossip, so the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial caught me by surprise. When it did finally penetrate my consciousness (it was inevitable because at a certain point, it was inescapable), I thought the whole thing distasteful. I come from a lifetime in show business, and I’ve had my fill of public narcissists. I found it hard to root for anyone, and I didn’t give a flip about the outcome. But one thing did catch my eye.

    In our new media world, there is much more user-generated content than there is conventional trial coverage, and while even the major mainstream news outlets from CBS to The New York Times gave a lot of time and ink to it, they were playing catchup to the social networks. The online world slobbered over the remains of a marriage gone horrifically bad for weeks and weeks before the trial even began. They were decidedly pro-Johnny and anti-Amber ugly—and I mean not-here-in-a-family-newspaper ugly, not even in the Manson Family newspaper ugly. The mavens—sorry, “influencers”—on social media had already tried and convicted Ms. Heard before the jury was seated and the judge gaveled the trial into session.

    There’s a thing called “confirmation bias” that Britannica defines as “the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs.” In this instance, that means you can dial up your preferred news slant and never have to be bothered with any other perspective. Also in this instance, once you found the scribes who wrote about the trial from the perspective of the person you favored, that was likely to be all the news you ever got on the subject. If you were Team Johnny, your initial prejudice was reinforced and rewarded with the consistent derision of Team Amber.

    Considering the social media obsession, I can’t imagine that it was easy to find jurors without some knowledge of the circumstances.

    I guess these are the spoils of the democratization of media. There’s a home for every flavor of predetermined outcome, and the low barrier to entry for the creators—essentially just a phone—has birthed a new cottage industry around the intersection of gossip and legal proceedings. Gatekeepers need not apply. It’s a free-for-all and unless the voices unite, as they did here to the detriment of Team Amber, one voice rarely prevails. In some ways that’s good; it fulfills the original vision of giving everyone a voice. But in our innocence and naivete, we didn’t realize the range of content we’d get, or how hard it would be to cut through the cacophony.

    You’ll get spin. You might even get whiplash. For instance, one of the few Team Amber posters called the outcome (Johnny Depp got $10M and Amber Heard’s counterclaim was awarded $2M) “a split decision.” Foolish conclusions like that are bound to crop up in any relationship that wears blinders like a horse pulling a carriage through Central Park. You’ll hear a lot of, “both sides do it,” and, “Putin’s not that bad.” Low-information, false equivalents are typical.

    And there’s a whole separate question of misogyny around the way Ms. Heard was mercilessly denigrated online, and while that’s demonstrably true, it’s not my focus here. I feel badly for anyone who is bullied and trolled online, but for today, I’m focused on the societal ramifications of the whole “choose your news” movement that has us buried deep in our own news silos, never hearing a balanced explanation of all the evidence available. It is to critical thinking what anesthesia is to consciousness.

    In this process, we lose an important aspect of objectivity in news reporting. Many of these online bloviators are as narcissistic as Mr. Depp and Ms. Heard. Some remind me of a shopworn phrase about Ted Cruz (R-Cancun). It is said that the most dangerous place in the room is between him and the television cameras. In fairness, that’s true of most Senators and Members of Congress.

    A common phrase that you used to hear on the news was that some newsmaker or other was “unavailable for comment.“ That’s all changed, and not necessarily for the better. I’m all for transparency, but in the current age of all-encompassing, all-intrusive, nonstop media, the phrase has been turned on its head, and one might say that the newsmaker (say, Elon Musk, for instance), “is unavoidable for a comment.“

    It’s not news that we like and seek out distractions from the challenges of our real lives. Goodness knows we can use the rest. Nonetheless, comedian Amy Schumer gets the last word here: “I didn’t watch a minute of the trial. Can we talk about gun violence?”

    ©2022 Jon Sinton

  20. John H,

    Your daughter at 5 years old knew that she was attracted to girls? 5 years old?

    There’s so much wrong with that statement John, I can’t even begin to explain it! A child does not know what love is concerning physical desire and attraction. There are different types of love, Agape or Agapo, Storge, Philia, or Eros! Different types of love for different things, for friends, for family, and for intimacy! And, they should not be mixed together. My female 110 lb pitbull hates males! But she loves women, and she loves children! Does that make her a gay dog? Does that make her a pedophile?

    I love my wife! I do find women attractive! I have mostly female cousins! I love them also, does that mean I want to sleep with them? Does that mean I want to spend a lifetime bonded to them in a intimate way? Absolutely not, I don’t feel that way about any of them. But I still love them!

    I have friends, who I call my brother’s, my wife has friends that she calls sisters, and we all freely tell each other that we love each other, but none of us has an intimate physical attraction (Eros) towards the other. But, it is called (Philia), brotherly or sisterly love, the love of faith, a city in Pennsylvania is named after this type of love, Philadelphia.

    So, if adults have difficulties understanding emotion, how much more so do children? (Storge), the love of one’s neighbor, doesn’t mean you’re going over there to sleep with your neighbor male or female, it’s the same type of Love Christ referred to when he said love your neighbor, (Storge) love God, (Agapo)and love your enemy (Storge)!

    What does it mean when a child wants to be around her sisters or her mother rather than her brothers or her father? What does it mean when she only wishes to interact with the females in the family? Does that mean that she wants to eventually sleep with them? Would a child even know what that is? The same with sons and brothers and fathers! Do they gravitate towards the same sex in schools? Are The Young ones still repelled by the cooties of a boy or a girl? It’s (Storge)! The love of compassion, empathy and understanding!

    Adults are one thing, they make their decisions, but prepubescent children, absolutely not.

  21. Thomas and Kavanaugh surely don’t belong in the Supremes…either group! And what DID Bob Kardashian do with that garment bag he was holding for the ex-football player with the initials? It, uh, disappeared, so it seemed.

  22. Dear John Sorg, No human would deliberately choose to be a social pariah. We are who we are. We are wired from birth and no amount of denying facts changes it. Some of us are born to love our own gender and some are not. Period. I had a friend tell me once that he knew he was gay from around age 6. He just knew that he liked boys even though he denied it to himself for years. When he got to college and away from home, he confirmed what he had believed all his life. And sexual attraction and love are two different things entirely. I’m surprised someone your age doesn’t know that.

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