I wish I weren’t having to type this, but abuse and trauma are not something to mock. Ever.
This past Saturday May 14, 2022, Saturday Night Live decided to make a sketch about the highly publicized and talked about public defamation trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Ultimately, you’d expect a cultural comedic staple 47 years running to know not to do this, but alas here we are.
Yes, comedy can be used to cope with trauma, but given the fact that we are not Heard or Depp, it’s not our trauma to decide to joke about.
First, they make fun of the defecation claim made in the case and the claim that Heard threw a bottle at Depp and severed part of his finger. Then there’s the fun little aspect that all the cleaners in the skit are marginalized (Black and Brown), but that’s not the problematic part we’re going to focus on right now.
The writers at SNL sat around a table, looked at a real, public case where people were hurt, and said “let’s joke about this.”
A network show with national reach and cultural impact like SNL bears a certain responsibility to the public. Sure, poking fun at current events can be, and often is, important. Satire can be powerful, but only when it is paired with a thoughtfully drawn line over what is and isn’t fair game.
Whenever trauma and domestic abuse are involved, that line needs to be thicker than cold peanut butter.
When our culture trivializes trauma, we create an unsafe environment for abuse victims to come forward with their experiences, past, present, and potentially future. This sketch could have made a strong satirical statement about this trial and what it says about our society. It did not. This isn’t advocacy; it’s the complete opposite.
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