Johnny Depp's trial against Amber Heard became the biggest news event in the country because it's the perfect storm of America's obsession with celebrity
Johnny Deppand Amber Heardtrial can fairly be described as the trial of the century.
- Experts explained to Insider why Depp v. Heard has captivated the nation.
In a TikTok that started going viral last week, a man pantomimes telling his boss that he can't come into work the next day because he has jury duty. The video then cuts to the man with his face almost pressed against his laptop screen, watching intently to footage from the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial.
The TikTok exemplifies the intense public fascination with the defamation trial featuring a Hollywood legend and his once rising-star ex-wife, who have spent weeks trading shocking accusations of domestic abuse.
The trial became the biggest entertainment story for weeks, spawning numerous think pieces, memes, and even a "Saturday Night Live" sketch.
Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Insider that he expected there would be public interest in the trial before it started, but the response far exceeded his expectations.
"I've been doing this 20 years and the level of interest in this is at least 20 times more than another other kind of case," Rahmani said.
As the trial comes to a close, with the jury beginning deliberations on Friday, Insider spoke with Rahmani and three other experts who weighed in on why they think the trial captivated the nation.
A rare peek into the lifestyles of the rich and famous
One thing the experts all agreed on was that a large part of the public interest in the case stems from the way in which it's offering a glimpse inside Hollywood and how its biggest stars actually live.
Holly Davis, an Austin, Texas-based family law attorney, told Insider that this is refreshing given so much of the
Brett Ward, co-chair of the matrimonial and family law practice at Blank Rome, said the trial is like watching a real-life episode of "Law & Order" — except the actors are two of the biggest names in Hollywood. While the case may be over defamation, the bulk of the trial has focused on things that would fit better in a gossip rag.
"This trial is nothing to do with defamation. It's people in a wealthy divorce airing their laundry in front of the world and hoping they come out looking better," Ward said.
Not only are both the plaintiff and the defendant famous, but so were some of the witnesses called to testify, such as Ellen Barkin and Kate Moss. There were also plenty of famous name drops throughout the trial, including multiple references to Elon Musk, Heard's ex-boyfriend, and James Franco, one of Heard's co-stars who Depp accused Heard of cheating on him with.
Not only are Heard and Depp super-recognizable people, but they conjure strong emotions for viewers, Rahmani said.
"It's fascinating to watch because women, young women, absolutely love Johnny Depp. They're lining up outside the courthouse before midnight to be one of the first 100 to get a wristband every day. And then men, unfortunately, a lot of them hate Amber Heard. They see her as the face of the 'Me Too' movement gone too far," Rahmani said.
An OJ Simpson moment for the 2020s
Each of the four experts that Insider spoke to drew comparisons between the Depp v. Heard trial and the OJ Simpson murder trial, in terms of how widely both were watched and how they resonated with the public.
"It's the biggest case in my lifetime at least in terms of interest since the People vs. OJ. That's the only case that I recall that had a bigger following," Rahmani said.
Davis said it's possible that Depp v. Heard is being followed by even more people, thanks to streaming and social media. She also said there may have already been more interest in the trial in general, because it happened fresh off the trial of George Floyd's killer, Derek Chauvin, which was also livestreamed.
Rahmani said the emergence of TikTok is another key factor in how public consciousness of the Depp trial has spread. TikTok allowed clips from the trial to go viral, and many people watched the trial live over the app.
Rahmani said TikTok also encouraged engagement among a younger generation that perhaps wasn't around for the Simpson trial.
"A lot of younger generation kids cut the cord and so they get their
The public plays armchair detective
Rachel Stockman, president of the Law&Crime Network, said it's clear that the public didn't just watch the trial, they engaged with it, taking in the evidence to make their own opinions on who is telling the truth — just like they were on the jury themselves.
"It does seem that this curiosity and fascination of being an armchair detective and trying to figure out who was right and who was wrong has kind of captivated the audience here," Stockman said.
The Law&Crime Network is one of many outlets that has been livestreaming the trial, and Stockman said the case has been a "record setter in terms of viewership." Law&Crime has seen 428 million YouTube viewers so far since the trial began, including almost 600,000 concurrent viewers when Depp took the stand.
Stockman said the level of engagement with the trial is a good thing, since it means that more Americans are learning about the justice system.
"I think though that there are some benefits with this, which is its transparency in our justice system and that's important. And the fact that more viewers and more readers are engaged in this system is perhaps down the road going to lead to interest in other cases that are covered," Stockman said.
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