The Amber Heard memes are getting weirder
Jokes about domestic violence are trending.
I did not blog my way through #MeToo for this! —Kate
Last year, the release of Framing Britney Spears inspired countless tweets from Gen-Xers and gErIaTrIc MiLleNnIaLs expressing more or less the same sentiment: We are all to blame for how Spears was treated by the public 20 years ago. Younger people, in turn, unleashed an onslaught of smug replies pointing out that they were too busy learning how to read to have contributed in any meaningful way to the public harassment of the singer.
Having witnessed this reckoning, I thought my generation would be loath to ever indulge in their own gleeful mockery of a struggling celebrity. Instead, just 15 months later, people are using a Snapchat filter to make fun of Amber Heard crying while recounting allegations of abuse against Johnny Depp.
Depp is suing Heard for publishing allegations that implied that he was violent and abusive during their relationship. Last month, BuzzFeed wrote about the memeification of the defamation trial, and the way pro-Depp sentiments have dominated online spaces.
When it comes to Heard and Depp, there is a massive difference in how viral the posts go depending on which person it is supporting — on TikTok, videos under the #JusticeForAmberHeard hashtag have over 21 million views, but ones under #JusticeForJohnnyDepp have over 5 billion. On Facebook, there have been 1,667 posts this week using the hashtag supporting Depp, with a total of over 7 million interactions (likes and shares), and the one for Heard has just 16 posts with 10,415 interactions.
Things have only gotten weirder. When I realized that, for some reason, TikTok was serving me content about the trial that was consistently pro-Depp, not to mention thoughtless and reductive, I began quickly scrolling past those videos to try and prevent the algorithm from showing me more. But no matter how much I have scrolled, how few nanoseconds I have spent on the videos, content about this trial has continued to balloon onto my feed. I've seen videos of creators lining up outside the courtroom like they’re on standby for Saturday Night Live, TikTok comedians I once respected doing impersonations of Heard’s lawyer, prominent creators jokily lip-syncing a viral TikTok sound of Heard detailing the alleged physical abuse, and even a cutesy video by Washington Post (???).
I genuinely feel insane.
I do not have strong allegiances to either party—both allege violent behavior and, unlike many of the people online, I can’t and won't confidently claim one person is lying and one person is telling the truth. But mocking the allegations doesn’t make you neutral. It makes you an asshole.
Johnny Depp’s young fanbase seriously mobilized on his behalf online, and that seems to be skewing the algorithms in his favor. Content riffing on a serious, complex case involving, among other things, an accusation of sexual assault using a glass bottle, is now low-hanging fruit for views, and creators are cashing in. TikTok rewards users for jumping aboard a trending topic or sound. As more and more people have done this, the content has grown more and more disengaged from the tragic reality of the case, and the less I've able to avoid jokes about domestic violence on my FYP.
Watching people be so callous in real time has got me thinking about how all this is going to look months and years from now. Depp and Heard's case will not be decided in the court of public opinion. The jury can’t see your memes. But your followers can, and they just might remember them.
If you're wondering what happened to my mentions after I wrote the post above, watch this TikTok.