The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.
The cat is wearing a blond wig. A tiny, plastic hand attached to an index finger comes from the bottom corner of this frame and swipes the orange cat’s whiskered nose. The same cat is seen in the video wearing a black bandana and wig. I was slapped across the face by him and he said, “Johnny, you hit my face.” You just hit me.'” I’d been avoiding this video for days, ever since reading about it in Rolling Stone. It reportedly got millions of views on TikTok but then went missing. Nevertheless, there it was, in my carousel of suggested reels on Instagram, where the algorithm has figured out I love cat videos–but not that I dislike social media mockery of domestic abuse allegations.
Ever since the defamation trial between Johnny Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard began in April, a certain kind of stan culture has formed around it. Depp is suing Heard for $50 million, claiming that an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post about being a “public figure representing domestic abuse” has been damaging to his reputation and career. The piece does not mention the actor. Depp denied the allegations. The jury is considering Heard’s countersuit. The courtroom scenes are going viral on social media ,, particularly TikTok where people reenact or ridicule the given testimony. Heard’s testimony is the audio used in that cat clip. Another video, which shows Heard on the stand, is overlaid with a video from Kim Kardashian on Saturday Night Live saying “so cringe.” It currently has more than 5 million likes.
Fandom has often intersected with celebrity trials, going back to the throngs of supporters who showed up in Santa Barbara, California, to support Michael Jackson in 2005. In some instances the attention has put the public eye back on overlooked stories, like Britney Spears’ conservatorship, which took a turn thanks to the #FreeBritney movement. The attention that has been given to the Depp/Heard trial is particularly disturbing. It’s one thing to support a celebrity in a legal case, but it’s quite another to make memes mocking someone who claims they were hit by their partner.
Internet commentary thrives on unsavory topics, and TikTok is no exception. (And, for what it’s worth, TikTok has reportedly removed some of the videos using audio of Heard’s testimony.) People make fun of politicians and all issues. This case is a prime example of how to use it as fodder for reaction videos and reenactment videos in order to generate clicks. Perhaps because it seems more focused on one person and one situation than the larger topic and the many voices that weigh in, it seems particularly egregious. Although most of the ridicule seems directed at Heard (an unnerving trend within the trend), both she and Depp are claiming damages to themselves and their lives in this case, so would it be too much to ask, as The Guardian did this week, to “treat a somber issue somberly”? A lot of the memeification surrounding the trial stems from Depp’s supporters wanting Heard to be given a fair chance and trying to discredit him. But as the Cut wrote, “no matter how damning the evidence may look in court, social media tells a different story,” with Instagram memes and YouTube comments intent on framing Depp as a victim and Heard as an actor putting on a show. The case will ultimately be decided by a jury, but in the meantime the #justiceforjohnnydepp hashtag on TikTok has more than 10 billion views; the #justiceforamberheard hashtag has a more modest 39 million. Claire Lampen, The Cut’s Claire Lampen, pointed out that #MeToo has brought us “a woman who recounts, in agonizing detail,” the abuse of a very famous man. “Why, in 2022, do so many people seem to hate her for it?”
Part of the answer may lie in the fact that while the internet doesn’t forget, it does have a rose-tinted memory. If you are famous, people can choose to recall your part in Pirates of the Caribbean and ignore all else. It can also reca