*Rolling Stone reports on the story of Joey Cassanova, a retired MMA fighter who, on April 7th, 2021, uploaded a video to his TikTok page with the message, “If you only knew what I’ve been through.” He filmed himself pretending to be riddled by bullets that symbolized his past trauma: child abuse, foster care, being molested, depression, PTSD, the murder of his ex-wife, the loss of his father two months ago, three heart attacks.
“Somehow I’m still here,” the message at the end of the video says as Cassanova stares defiantly at the viewer, arms folded.
When he checked TikTok just a few hours later, he couldn’t believe it had drawn more than 1.2 million views (it now has nearly 10 million), and that people were using the audio to make their own clips with the same format. To his dismay, however, many of the videos were from white creators appearing to mock his. Their “trauma” were things like having small boobs, being allergic to peanuts, or how one creator’s bathtub jet didn’t work.
There are now more than 185,000 videos under the audio, most of which are totally divorced from the original context of Cassanova’s video, and very few of which credit him. And while it’s unclear how many of the creators who participated knew of Cassanova’s original video, that doesn’t make it any less painful for him to see the trend. “They saw it, they stole it, and they ignored the pain behind the story,” he says.
Watching people use the trend to recount their own minor inconveniences or first-world problems “put me in a mental stress. It was like reliving the trauma,” he says. He made the original video to encourage his male followers to “have feelings and speak their mind when they’re going through something”; but the response to his original video made him feel like he would have been better off staying silent.
Ultimately, he does not regret putting the video up, as he says he’s also received countless DMs from people thanking him for sharing his story. Nor does he harbor ill will toward creators who jumped on the trend without knowing about the source material, many of whom, like the one whose bathtub jets didn’t work, have deleted their own version and apologized to him directly. But he says it hurts to watch a moment of vulnerability on his part go viral for all the wrong reasons.
“If people use the trend to tell their story, that’s fine,” he says. “Use it to tell your story. But to make it a trend to be like a comedy, I felt like that was very heartless.”