“Don’t F**k with Cats” Exposes a Peculiar Double Standard of Cyber Justice
It was one of the most upsetting documentaries I’ve ever seen, and not just because of the heinous crimes.
This article contains spoilers.
The spectacle of the grotesque and good old-fashioned shock-value have been the bedrock of true crime documentaries, and as this decade comes to a close Netflix’s limited series Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer has all the above in spades. The documentary revolves around the horrific murder of Jun Lin and closely profiles his narcissistic, intelligent, fame-obsessed murderer Luka Magnotta who first gained a low-level of notoriety when he anonymously uploaded videos harming kittens.
The main storytellers of the series are Deanna “Baudi Moovan” Thompson and “John Green”, two tech-savvy cyber vigilantes who dedicated eighteen months of their lives following every lead that popped up to locate Magnotta and report him to the proper authorities. The title of the series is explained by Thompson, who asserted that even though the Internet is a lawless land where anything goes, there is one rule. Thompson describes it as Rule Zero, that you don’t fuck with cats. And in many ways, this completely makes sense. Cats have always had an important role in meme culture and the popularity of the internet in general. From NyanCat, to Grumpy Cat, to the tens of thousands of funny cat pictures and videos circulating, we have been using cats’ stoic and lovably erratic nature as a canvass to project our emotions onto for much of the internet’s existence. However as I continued to watch the series, an unsettling feeling creeped up from the pit of my stomach. It definitely came from the unfortunate fate of Jun Lin and the intimate look into a clearly disturbed individual, but a hefty portion of the lump in my throat came from the series itself, and what it revealed about our capacity to care.
Seeing the visceral reaction reaction people had to the animal abuse videos, viewing how effectively and diligently so many strangers galvanized to conduct an international manhunt in the name of kittens left me completely flabbergasted. They created public and private forums dedicated to crowdsourcing clues, they combed through the plethora of doctored photos and fan pages Magnotta created for himself, they analyzed every frame and every pixel of the cat abuse videos, and even utilized Google Earth and vacuum manufacturing information to track his every move. It’s crucial to note they did all of this before he even harmed a human. And while it is true that they kept tabs so closely on Magnotta out of fear of him committing murder, there was a peculiar imbalance in the reaction to human suffering and animal suffering.
Don’t F**k with Cats has been chastised for its poor journalistic integrity several times, and one of the more bizarre devices the documentary utilizes is making Thompson watch the snuff films as she describes the torture in detail. It’s definitely an artistic… choice, but in the second episode after Thompson recaps the final video (the one that shows the gruesome murder of Jun Lin and the torture of a puppy), she describes the shock they all felt seeing Magnotta finally progress to murder and puzzlingly states,
Certainly, we were worried about the human being that he just killed. But why the dog?
She watches eight full minutes of unspeakable acts being done to Jun Lin but only begins to breakdown when the puppy is introduced and has to shut the computer? Thompson is not alone, as even the Sergeant Detective Claudette Hamlin has no issue recounting what happened to Lin calmly, but has to stop the interview completely and breaks down on camera when she had to say what happened to the puppy. The emotion itself is not the problem, it’s the lack of fair distribution of the emotion for Lin and for the animals. I do not mean to vilify Thompson or Hamlin, as what they feel is valid but to me it is indicative of the much larger problem of the wide-sweeping effects of desensitization.
Some have dubbed the current era as the Age of the Leaderless Revolution, as social media has altered the landscape of protest and has amplified situations of suffering the world over. A quick Google search will produce a plethora of videos showing Hong Kong’s struggle for independence, the timeline of the Gaza Uprising, and countless instances of American police brutality. It is almost impossible to login to a social network and scroll without coming across a great atrocity happening anywhere in the world, yet the outrage or sheer solidarity for something like that nowhere near rivals the upheaval that occurred to track down Magnotta from non-affected groups. This is not to diminish the work of organizers who led these movements, those same links also contain some of the most powerful, effective, inspiring grassroots organizing in human history, however this is to point out that collective effort from those not affected by the issues has fallen short.
And in the same breath, it is most likely due to the daily barrage of the horrors of the world that prompt some not to care as passionately as others. I have to admit that I have definitely seen more videos of people being shot in the street than kittens dying but desensitization can lead to a multitude of problems, the worst of them being indifference. Don’t F**k with Cats highlighted the effectiveness of outrage but the documentary itself symbolizes the injustice in outrage. It’s a shame that cyber-vigilante causes aren’t a one-size-fits-all affair and that when it comes to harm of anyone who isn’t a cat, membership in the group seems to be required to care. If two people can spend months decrypting messages, researching vacuum cleaner manufacturing information, and analyzing a few pixels to ascertain what continent a murderer is in, think at how much could be accomplished from a few people paying more attention to the HD videos circulating of brutality, violence, and suffering.