I’m going to begin this piece by acknowledging that last week, Fanfyte ran two reviews that were decidedly in favor of an Abortion Rights Are Human Rights! shirt that CM Punk wore on an episode of AEW Dynamite. This is a political statement he’s now made twice when performing in the state of Texas, which passed an abortion law allowing private citizens to sue abortion providers and others aiding in an abortion that takes place six weeks after conception. This is concurrent with a leaked Supreme Court opinion which seems to foreshadow the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which would return the question of the legality of abortion to the jurisdiction of individual states, causing a healthcare and civil rights catastrophe for people who can give birth in Republican-controlled states.
You might say that I ran those reviews because I agree with the politics advocated by the shirt. I would say yes, you are correct. And thus one could imply that I am writing an essay about Britt Baker’s Johnny Depp shirt, a piece that is, spoiler alert, negative, because I disagree with its implied message. I suppose so, otherwise the body of this review would read something like “A grayscale image of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow character from The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise on a black t-shirt, 3/10.”
But I’m not reviewing aesthetics here, nor was I doing so in my review of CM Punk’s abortion rights shirt. And since I think one is the result of the other, I guess I’ll go back to the statement Punk was making in Texas before digging into Baker’s shirt.
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What’s so remarkable about CM Punk’s decision to wear a shirt supporting abortion rights is that he was almost assuredly one of a small handful of people outside of the pundit class that week who appeared on television voicing their support for the issue. Abortion is one of the most important subjects in American political life, the ramifications for each new, clever restriction of access or wholesale abolishment of the medical procedure are beyond measure, but it is also a subject deemed impolite for discussion, which is to say that there is an assumed (but nonexistent) majority of people in favor of abolishing it who do not want to hear from the other side — kind of like the brand of homophobe who just doesn’t want gay people being gay in public, but somehow more puritanical.
The public discussion of abortion is such that many politicians couch what is, all debate aside, a perfectly routine medical procedure in terms like “reproductive freedom.” The “good guys” in positions of power in this debate are so afraid of the word “abortion,” so afraid that it will lose them an election, that they largely avoid it.
So for a wrestler to wear a pro-abortion shirt on a wrestling show in Texas of all places? As my friend and Fanfyte contributor Ed Blair put it, it’s “truly depressing that a pro wrestler has more guts when it comes to abortion rights than most people in power.”
I don’t know anything about AEW policy regarding what talent can and can’t wear on the air, but it stands to reason that if CM Punk can wear an issue-based shirt, then others can, too. Wrestlers, being as complex and strange and wonderful and opinionated as anybody else, aren’t always going to wear shirts that I agree with.
But, y’all, is there not one goddamn corner of the universe anybody can occupy without having to confront Johnny Depp’s defamation lawsuit against Amber Heard?
— AEW on TV (@AEWonTV) May 27, 2022
Obviously, the answer is “no.” It constantly trends on Twitter, dominates TikTok and Instagram, has spawned an endless array of merchandise, has dedicated coverage on dozens of websites, plays constantly on television, revamps interest in Depp’s old films, comes up randomly in conversations that have nothing to do with the trial, and lives, generally, in the air as a reminder of the swiftness with which people will side with problematic men who are accused of intimate partner violence so long as they are perceived as being more worthy of adulation than the partners who accuse them, whether or not they’re seen as problematic themselves.
Abortion does not have that level of access to mainstream discussion. It is a world of ignored warnings, harassed individual actors like patients, doctors, and volunteers, silenced instances of clinic bombings, and the constant threat of state legislature and lawsuits against that legislature that either fail or succeed by the skin of their teeth. None of this, generally speaking, is flashy enough to warrant coverage unless the very worst possible outcomes are made reality.
But my complaint isn’t based on attention, not really. The Depp/Heard lawsuit has gone on for six weeks now, and one of the recurrent themes of it is how the “firehose” of coverage surrounding it has been a disaster for people who have been the victim of sexual violence. Most of my intersection with the trial has been victims describing how watching Amber Heard retraumatize herself through testimony and cross-examination had them reliving their own trauma, or worrying that Depp’s defamation case could become a strategy to silence victims in the future, regardless of whether or not his lawsuit succeeds. Concerns like that have been voiced by attorneys, psychotherapists, and others, all while the case is folded and refolded into popular culture as a completely normal thing to obsess about, like sports, Marvel movies, and professional wrestling.
So yeah. Britt Baker wearing a Johnny Depp shirt on Rampage on the first day of jury deliberations in the Depp/Heard lawsuit is a choice she’s free to make and that AEW is free to greenlight. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t get the pleasure of watching some jerk rip up his CM Punk sign over a t-shirt he didn’t like. There is a difference, though, between angering and retraumatizing, between supporting the right to an abortion and proliferating a trial-turned-meme whose affect on the victims of abuse, regardless of the verdict, has been stated over and over again, only to be drowned out by a crowd gloating at stills of a sobbing woman’s face.
And here that is in professional wrestling, in the celebrity gossip equivalent of a thin blue line t-shirt. How fun.