Redemption & Uncancelling Johnny Depp
A couple of Johnny Depp video clips recently popped up in my recommended section on Youtube. I’m not sure why they are recommended to me but these videos show another side to the actor known for “weird” roles. The videos aren’t shocking or salacious. In the video, Johnny Depp is at a children’s hospital fully dressed up as Pirates of The Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow and greeting sick kids.
Back in May 2016, ex-wife Amber Heard made domestic abuse claims against Depp. At the time, according to Los Angeles Police Dept., officers responded to the call and found no evidence of any crime. Still, the unproven accusations remained a cloud of controversy over Depp.
Because of news earlier this month surrounding Johnny Depp’s defamation lawsuit against Amber Heard there’s been a shift in his public reputation. Depp’s lawyers have submitted to court 87 surveillance videos, 17 sworn depositions from neutral witnesses, including 2 police officers, and pictures of Depp’s severed finger allegedly caused by Heard. The evidence claims that Depp is a victim. His fingertip was surgically reattached.
Online reaction to Depp’s side of the story is deserving of examination. Some tweeters have apologized to Johnny Depp for wanting to “cancel” him. Some are suggesting that apologies are in order to JK Rowling after fans turned on her for defending Depp’s casting in Fantastic Beasts movies. Some are angry at Amber Heard for profiting from dubious victim-hood and making a mockery of real victims. There’s even a petition to remove Amber Heard from Aquaman 2 that is quickly garnering many supporters.
One of the tricky parts of navigating social media is the mob mentality. People can find themselves outraged online and impulsively jump on the latest controversy. The social media mob has real world consequences. Ride Along actor Kevin Hart was dropped from hosting the Academy Awards ceremony for a tweet made years ago. When fellow comedian Ellen DeGeneres defended Hart she got dunked on. Disney distanced itself from Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn after his highly offensive, tasteless tweets were brought to light but eventually “rehired” him less than a year later.
But do James Gunn, Johnny Depp and “cancelled” celebrities deserve a chance to be redeemed? To begin to answer that, we need to take a quick step back and identify some of the factors that contribute to the mob mentality. One can feel powerful, just, and virtuous to pile on a celebrity who has transgressed. At the same time, people should be able to voice their opinions and to listen to other perspectives.
Further, when our moral foundations are violated it can trigger hurt and outrage. Even more so when there are double standards on who and what gets punished. Or in Gunn’s case, he’s rewarded with an additional movie franchise: Suicide Squad 2. We each have our own moral sensibilities and each controversy may provoke a different, personal reaction.
One model of how we make moral judgments is through the perpetrator vs suffering patient paradigm. It’s a built-in mental process that helps us make snap, intuitive decisions about who is the perpetrator and who is the victim. This can even apply to a victim-less offense. For example, those who are high in the sanctity/purity moral will view unmarried intimate relationships to be committing an ill against society even when there are no actual victims.
Both Gunn and Depp were never criminally convicted for their offense. As far as we know at this time, James Gunn didn’t victimize anyone. However, he deeply transgressed many people’s moral foundations and communities need a shared moral framework to bind people together. In Depp’s situation, it appears the story of who is the victim and the abuser was not as initially portrayed by Heard. Anyone can be a victim or a perpetrator and some people are both.
As an individual, you may not have created this culture, but you can choose how to participate in it. A culture that does not have a path to redemption will have only roads that lead to perpetual punishment. There needs to be a fair, open process to those who are eligible for redemption.
Perhaps it begins with earned forgiveness. A contrite, regretful person should acknowledge their specific wrong-doing and take steps to show they will not repeat the same mistake. As the forgiver, it can mean letting go of the hurt and resentment. Taking a break from certain social media platforms can be beneficial as well. Of course, forgiveness does not mean the person is exempt from facing the consequences of their actions. But it does give every person an opportunity to be pulled up from the hole they dug for themselves.
Should James Gunn have been rehired to direct Guardians of the Galaxy 3? Should Amber Heard be removed from Aquaman 2? Is Johnny Depp redeemed or what will it take to earn the benefit of the doubt?