The cat is wearing a blonde wig. From the lower corner of the frame, a tiny plastic hand sticks out, attached to a finger, brushing the muzzle of the orange feline. The video then cuts to another image of the same cat, now dressed up in a black wig and bandana; the voiceover says: “I was leaving the bedroom. He slapped me in the face and I said, ‘Johnny, you hit me’”. I had been avoiding the video for days, ever since I read about it Rolling Stone. It seems that before disappearing the clip got million views on TikTok. But now I found it in my carousel of suggested videos on Instagram, where the algorithm had figured out that I love cat videos, but not that I hate when on social media allegations of domestic violence are ridiculed.
Since April started the Libel trial between Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Hearda particular form of stand cultures. Depp is suing Heard for fifty million dollars, claiming that an article written for the Washington Post in which the actress claims to be a “public figure representing domestic violencedamaged his reputation and career (the article did not mention the actor by name). Depp has denied the allegations and the trial jury is considering a counter-complaint from Heard. As the case moves towards the conclusion, the scenes of the trial went viral on social media, and especially on TikTok, where users reconstruct or ridicule the testimonies. The audio clip described at the beginning of this article is taken from Heard’s testimony. Another video, which shows the actress on the witness stand, is superimposed on a clip in which Kim Kardashian exclaims “i know cringe” to the Saturday Night Livewhich currently has more than five million likes.
It is not the first time that the communities of fans encounter trials involving celebrities. The first case probably dates back to the crowds of supporters who showed up in Santa Barbara, California, to support Michael Jackson in 2005. In some cases, the interest of fans has brought public attention back to little-told stories, such as that of Britney Spears, who made a breakthrough thanks to the #FreeBritney movement. But there is a particularly disturbing element in the attention paid to the trial between Depp and Heard. It’s one thing to support a celebrity involved in proceedings, it’s another thing to create memes that mock those who report being beaten by their partner.
Comments on unpleasant topics find fertile ground on Internet, and TikTok is no exception (for what it’s worth, the platform appears to have removed some of the videos that use audio from Heard’s testimonial). People make fun of politics and politicians on any topic. But using this case to make videos for the purpose of getting clicks is particularly despicable, perhaps because the goal seems to be to target a person and a situation specific. Though most of the teasing is apparently directed at Heard (a disturbing trend within a trend), both the actress and Depp claim they’ve been harmed in this affair. It would be too much to ask, therefore, how did the Guardianfrom “treat a serious matter seriously“?
Most of the memes surrounding the trial have been made by Depp supporters, who demand that the actor be given fair treatment, and thus seek to discredit Heard. But, as he writes The Cut“however overwhelming the evidence may seem in court, social media tells a different story.”, with Instagram memes and YouTube comments going all out to present Depp as a victim and Heard as an actress engaged in an act. The trial will be decided by a jury, but in the meantime on TikTok the hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp has exceeded ten billion views, while #justiceforamberheard has collected 39 million. After years of #MeToo, there is “a woman who recounts, in heartbreaking detail, the violence she allegedly suffered from a very famous man – underlines Claire Lampen of The Cut –. How come, in 2022, so many people they seem to hate her for this reason?“.
Part of the answer may lie in the fact that even though I don’t forget anything, the internet has a distorted memory. If you are a celebrity, fans may want to remember your role in Pirates of the Caribbean and ignore everything else. How could they remember that you were once married to a figure they admire and forget that you are a person. There seems to be one ingrained misogyny — and, more generally, an ingrained distrust of women who report abuse — in social media’s treatment of Heard. But beyond that, there is also another moral: people who choose to report will not be believed and maybe even laughed at. Life online is capable of making celebrities appear only in the form we want to see them. It makes them unreal. It can turn Depp into a swashbuckling adventurer and reduce Heard’s tearful testimony to a TikTok soundtrack. It’s a trend we didn’t need.
This article originally appeared on Wired US.