Monday, June 20, 2022
Susan Faludi, Op-ed, NYT, Feminism Made a Faustian Bargain with Celebrity Culture. Now Its Paying the Price
The ruination of Roe and the humiliation of Ms. Heard have been cast as cosmic convergence, evidence of a larger forced retreat on women’s progress. “Johnny Depp’s legal victory and the death of Roe v. Wade are part of the same toxic cultural movement,” a Vox article asserted. “These examples may seem disparate, but there’s an important through line,” a USA Today reporter wrote, citing academics who linked the Alito draft opinion, the Depphead mobbing and, for good measure, the “public consumption” of cleavage at the Met Gala (held the same night the Supreme Court draft leaked): “This is backlash.”
Backlash it may be. Even so, putting the pillorying of Ms. Heard in the same backlash-deplorables basket as the death rattle of Roe is a mistake. Lost in the frenzy of amalgamation lies a crucial distinction. There’s a through line, all right. Both are verdicts on the recent fraught course of feminism. But one tells the story of how we got here; the other where we’re headed. How did modern feminism lose Roe v. Wade? An answer lies in Depp v. Heard.***
Using celebrity and hashtag feminism is a perilous way to pursue women’s advancement because it falls victim so easily to its own tools and methods. In Ms. Heard’s case, her ex-husband turned #MeToo’s strategy against itself. Mr. Depp claimed victimization because he’s a money-generating personality — he could be de-famed because he’s famous. And his massive (and vicious) fan mobilization on social media (nearly 20 billion views for #JusticeForJohnnyDepp on TikTok by June 2) was overwhelming, even by #MeToo standards. By contrast, #JusticeForAmberHeard had about 80 million views on TikTok in the same period.
Celebrity representation of feminism is a double-edged sword. If an individual embodies the principle, the principle can be disproved by dethroning the individual. In that way, Ms. Heard became both avatar and casualty of celebrity feminism. When she took the stand, she brought the modern incarnation of the women’s movement into the dock, too, and mobilized those who would see it brought down. If an ambassador for women’s rights wasn’t credible, Ms. Heard’s mob of haters was quick to conclude, then the movement wasn’t, either. No need to fret over those legions of unfamous women who may now think twice before reporting domestic violence.
Coupling the fortunes of feminism to celebrity might have been worth it if it had led to meaningful political victories. But such victories are hard to achieve through marketing campaigns alone, as the right wing understands.