The humiliation of Amber Heard is both modern and medieval

Michele Dauber, a law professor at Stanford University who studies gender violence, said she has been “unnerved” by the display of schadenfreude over Ms. Heard’s debasement in this public forum. “There is a glee, a kind of delight, that is being taken in watching her be humiliated,” she told me.

There’s something almost pornographic about the voyeurism involved, with a kink for every predilection: fame, beauty, drugs, extreme wealth, a private island, five penthouse apartments, fecal matter left on a marital bed, bloody messages written on walls, even an appearance by the moment’s most controversial man, the billionaire Elon Musk, whom Ms. Heard dated briefly. As “Saturday Night Live” satirized it in a sketch last week, boy is it “fun” to watch.

And, honestly, why wouldn’t it be? Whether you believe Ms. Heard or not, watching a woman excoriated in public has been popular entertainment since the Middle Ages. Somehow, Ms. Heard seems to have become a stand-in for every evil, lying woman getting her comeuppance — alpha queen bees in high school, the girl who slept with your boyfriend or girlfriend, every manipulative ex. She is Eve, she is Medusa, she is Lady Macbeth. She evokes vamps and vampires, wicked stepmothers, witches. As one Twitter user put it, she is an example of “toxic femininity” and a reason to never date younger women. Pass the popcorn.

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