If you read my two-part series condemning Miss Piggy’s abusive behavior, you may have gotten the sense that I might have been talking about something more than the Muppets. If so, you weren’t wrong.
The first part of the series was written in May 2019, before Johnny Depp had filed any defamation lawsuits, so at that point, the case wasn’t really on my radar (although it should have been). By the time I wrote the second part, it was April 2021, at which point information had come to light that strongly indicated that the story we had been fed was the opposite of what had actually happened, that Amber Heard was the abuser in the relationship and Johnny Depp the victim. I didn’t mention the case by name in that analysis. Maybe I should have. But it was definitely at the forefront of my thoughts as I was writing it. That’s what I meant when I said that things tend to happen when they are supposed to happen.
I’ve been following the trial very closely, and in listening to Amber Heard in the recordings, I’ve heard echoes that are reminiscent of things I’ve heard Miss Piggy say.
And it’s chilling.
It’s easy to laugh at Miss Piggy calling Kermit a dummy and thrashing him around the room. Kermit is made of fleece and foam. If he loses an appendage, it can simply be sewn back on with no pain or trauma. When it happens to a human being, there is agony. There is blood. There are scars of both a physical and psychological nature. Nothing funny about any of that.
When Miss Piggy spreads false rumors in the press about the person with whom she supposedly has a romantic attachment, there are no long-term repercussions. By the end of the episode, everything returns to the status quo. In reality, especially in this brave new world of social media in which sensationalism can dramatically outpace facts, such a story can do irreparable damage to a person’s reputation in a matter of moments.
It might be endearing to some when Miss Piggy tries to get out of the consequences of her actions by playing on helpless-woman stereotypes, especially when we can tell that she doesn’t really believe them. But it’s absolutely grotesque when Amber Heard does the same thing in the courtroom.
If the justice system works the way it is supposed to, if jury sticks to the facts of the case and follows the instructions they were given, they can’t possibly find in her favor. But the justice system doesn’t always work the way it is supposed to, and I don’t underestimate how deeply the domestic violence double standard is ingrained in the public consciousness.
Without meaning to, the Muppets have helped to reinforce that double standard. And I don’t know that either the Muppets or the people involved with them should face retroactive consequences for helping to reinforce the idea that violence against men by women is not to be taken seriously, but the attitude has to stop.
It can’t continue.
I don’t claim that Amber Heard was in any way influenced by Miss Piggy. I don’t know if she has any awareness of or interest in the Muppets, and I don’t even know if the information is available to confirm that one way or the other. But I do know that many women (and some men) have explicitly and unironically identified Miss Piggy as a personal role model.
And that scares the hell out of me.
Humor is a coping mechanism used to make difficult subjects more bearable. If you watched Johnny Depp’s testimony, you know that he employed it even when it might have come across as inappropriate. He would occasionally smile or chuckle when describing the horrific treatment he received at the hands of his ex-wife. It wasn’t because he was taking it lightly; it was because that was the only way he could make the trauma bearable enough to relive it.
Humor as a coping mechanism can be valuable. I use it myself without thinking about it. On the other hand, humor can sometimes trivialize something that is actually very important. For example, Saturday Night Live did a sketch about the trial focusing on a seamy detail of relatively low significance to the overall case but one that would appeal to a sophomoric and scatological sense of humor.
I didn’t actually watch the sketch, but I read about it. Even by SNL’s usual standards, which are very low, it was completely inappropriate. Nevertheless, I thought it was telling that they chose to parody the trial at all. It told me that the trial itself is really challenging long-held perceptions of what abuse looks like. That pushes people out of their comfort zones, and they feel they have to get back to a place where they feel oriented and confident in their established attitudes and worldview.
I know that no one involved in the Muppets ever intended to trivialize domestic violence. But I fear that may have been the effect regardless of the intention.
Let me reiterate: I don’t fault anyone involved in the Muppets for creating Miss Piggy and setting her loose upon the world. The comedic trope of the humorously violent woman long predates the Muppets. They didn’t invent it; they just capitalized on it. It made sense within the cultural milieu in which they were working, in which awareness of domestic violence against men was practically nonexistent and women’s issues were only beginning to receive the attention they deserved. The people behind the Muppets wanted to create a strong female character, which is to their credit. However, strength doesn’t have to equal violence, and its very unfortunate that those two qualities ended up becoming so closely intertwined in Miss Piggy’s character, so that it would be difficult — though not, I persist in believing, impossible — to extricate one from the other.
If I have fault to find, it’s with the online Muppet fandom. To their credit, the fan sites do a pretty good job of calling out problematic attitudes toward women within the Muppet oeuvre, though they are not entirely consistent. Tough Pigs’ comment on “Working at the Car Wash Blues,” a song/sketch in which Gonzo fantasizes about being a high-powered executive sexually harassing his secretary and that ruined an otherwise fun TMS episode, was “Wow! I have a new favorite Jim Croce song … ” No one on the forum called it out either.
Nevertheless, the domestic violence double standard is very much in evidence whenever the fan sites talk about Piggy. Sometimes they ignore her behavior, sometimes they make excuses for it, while other times they actively praise it. Rarely does anyone say or hint that it might not be okay.
Unfortunately, the domestic violence double standard within the fandom extends beyond Piggy to the very case that I am talking about now. On May 27, 2020 — two years to the day prior to closing arguments in the Depp v. Heard defamation trial and four years to the day subsequent to the restraining order filing by Amber Heard that set it in motion — Tough Pigs published an article speculating who could replace David Bowie as Jareth in a rumored Labyrinth sequel (which, if it ever happens, will probably turn out to be a reboot like the Fraggle Rock project). The article itself didn’t mention either Johnny Depp or Amber Heard, but this exchange took place in the forum thread associated with the article:
Now … if this exchange had taken place in 2016, or 2018, or even as late as 2019, I probably would have considered it fair to be “infuriated” with Johnny Depp, even though I didn’t necessarily share the feeling myself. But this was in mid-2020, several months after audio had been released to the public in which Amber Heard ADMITTED to abusing Johnny:
Tell the world […] “I, Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim too of domestic violence.” […] And see how many people believe or side with you.
If there were a literal abusers’ handbook, that phrase would be provided as a template under the heading, “How To Break Your Victim’s Spirit”. I don’t know everything about domestic violence, but I know that abusers maintain control by isolating their victims from other people and gaslighting them into believing that their accounts are not credible.
If it were a “he said/she said,” scenario in which there was little outside evidence to corroborate one side or the other, I can imagine being angry about Johnny alleging domestic violence after she did because it might look like he was trying to steal some sympathy for himself. But again, we hear the admission in her own words.
With that said, I’m willing to give Joe and his wife the benefit of the doubt that maybe they hadn’t seen that story yet. But if they had, I don’t understand how they could dismiss or discount it. Again, it’s HER OWN WORDS, not an interpretation of her words by somebody else. What possible context could ameliorate that statement? And what kind of callous monster becomes “infuriated” with someone for getting beat up by somebody else? That’s victim blaming, which is always BS regardless of where on the gender spectrum the victim falls.
No one (including me, to my shame) challenged Joe in that thread. But I’ll tell you what infuriates me: The fact that the fandom helps to prop up the domestic violence double standard by laughing at Miss Piggy and not calling out her behavior, and then uses that same double standard to casually malign someone who has suffered real trauma.
To my knowledge, there has been no discussion on the forum of the case since. Which kind of makes sense because they do tend to stick to Muppet-adjacent matters and not start new threads to discuss weighty real-world issues. I wish I knew how to interpret their silence, whether it’s shame for past inappropriate comments or an unwillingness to amplify the voice of someone whom they still believe to be an abuser despite all evidence to the contrary. Of course, it could also just be a lack of interest one way or the other.
There is one Tough Pigs writer who is willing to acknowledge that Miss Piggy’s behavior can be problematic:
I want to give her credit for that, but I’m not sure how much credit she deserves. When she says, “Men can be victims, and women can be assailants,” does she really mean it? Or is it just a token concession to appease audience members like me, e.g., “Theoretically, men CAN be victims, but…”? She identifies Miss Piggy’s aggressive behavior toward Rudolf Nureyev during the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as an example of how she can be problematic. But the same writer also wrote the Tough Pigs review of that episode, and back then, she didn’t raise any objections to Miss Piggy’s behavior, just to the song’s lyrics (which I personally don’t find as triggering as “Working at the Car Wash Blues,” but I can see how they could be). That seems inconsistent, but I want to believe that, over the intervening years, she may have had an experience of some kind that changed her perspective. If that’s the case, I wish she had addressed the discrepancy explicitly.
Due to the status of the litigants in the Depp/Heard case, it has garnered a lot of attention, and I think that’s both good and bad. I don’t like the idea of the media outlets capitalizing it and exploiting it, reading things into the testimonies that aren’t really there to put their own spin on the narrative. On the other hand, I do think that the exposure this case is getting is helping to raise awareness of domestic violence against men, which is long overdue.
Johnny Depp is a celebrity; therefore, his trial garners a lot of attention. But there are so many more survivors who don’t feel they can tell their stories because they don’t fit the picture of what abuse looks like, who can’t seek help because the resources aren’t available to them. I’m not just talking about men abused by women; I’m also talking about people in same-sex relationships and especially — especially — transgender people.
I am calling on the Muppet team and the Muppet fandom to help with this necessary and long-overdue paradigm shift. I entreat them to stop normalizing Miss Piggy’s behavior and thus enabling and apologizing for female perpetrators of domestic violence.
And to anyone who needs to find a new strong female role model to fill the void, I recommend Camille Vasquez.
At this moment, as I type these words, the jury is literally still out on who the abuser was in the relationship between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. This article presumes that it is Amber, and I know that some of you reading may have concerns about that.
I want you to know that it is not a presumption that I make lightly. I believe strongly that any allegation of abuse or violence — no matter who it comes from or when — has to be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. And I’m well aware that, historically, it was nearly impossible for women who experienced domestic violence to get any recourse. Not to say that it’s easy now, but in the past, the law regarded women as chattel of their husbands and doctors believed women were inherently crazy. (The word “hysteria” literally means “the condition of having a uterus.”)
Everyone deserves the chance to tell their story. At the start of the process, everyone should receive the benefit of the doubt.
However, now the process is nearly at its completion. Amber has had the chance to tell her story, the jury is weighing the evidence, and we who are not on the jury have the opportunity to review evidence that the jury does not have access to, such as recordings that were inadmissible and analyses done after the fact. And as much as I want to be able to say that reasonable people can have a difference of opinion, Amber’s testimony flies in the face of logic and reason. Not only does it defy the facts of the case, in some places it actually defies the laws of physics.
Personally, it is painful for me, having been an LGBT+ ally for 25 years, to have to speak out against Amber Heard knowing that she’s bisexual. But being LGBT+ doesn’t excuse anyone from bad behavior. Everyone has to be held to the same standards; that’s the definition of equality.
I want to leave you with this final thought: If this trial were just an exercise in institutionalized misogyny, as some in the media claim, then female survivors of abuse would be rallying around Amber Heard. That’s not what’s happening. Look at the comment sections of the trial excerpts on YouTube; they’re full of comments from self-identified survivors across the gender spectrum. Overwhelmingly, abuse survivors, regardless of gender, express support for Johnny. Not only do they not support or identify with Amber, some of them even comment that she reminds them of their own abusers.
I defer to the real survivors.