As a Gen Xer I have a fairly indifferent attitude towards social media. Twitter is useful for my particular job and helps me blow off some steam now and then. Facebook is fine for keeping up with people I don’t actually know anymore and it used to be an interesting venue for political discussion before everyone started hating everyone they disagree with. Instagram? Well, I don’t really get it, but it’s innocuous enough. So I figured Tik Tok would be similar. I was wrong.
I didn’t really know what Tik Tok was. I had seen passing reference to it here and there, and as the oldest member of the Federalist staff I had heard a few of my colleagues who don’t remember the Clinton presidency mention it. I had a vague idea that it involved like, video selfies, or something? So in an effort to stay hip, I thought I’d download the app and check it out. Huge mistake.
I struggle to know where to begin. I quickly gathered upon opening the app that it presents videos, up to 15 seconds long — because I mean, who has more than 15 seconds — usually involving people directly facing what I assume is their smart phone. But as I swiped up to view more videos, and more videos, troubling trends began to emerge. I felt myself being sucked into a horrible world of youthful anxiety masked as self-confidence.
There seem to be a few basic tropes at work on the platform. A predominant one is a scantily clad girl, or several, many of whom don’t seem old enough to drive, dancing, or just flaunting themselves to music that I didn’t know existed and that I now regret knowing about. Now, I don’t have a daughter, but if I did these videos would be enough reason for her to never own a phone. As a 45-year-old man I felt deeply disturbed, but I imagine there are plenty of other 45-year-old men who feel, well, other ways about it.
Another popular theme is the practical joke. One in particular features a person in a hardware store placing a bucket on another person’s head, and then one on his own before the other person takes hers off. Then the perpetrator pretends to have no knowledge about how the mysterious incident occurred. Now, the big problem here isn’t that it’s stupid, but that there seem to be thousands of iterations involving thousands of participants of this “joke.” This takes time and effort, to drive to the store, set up your camera, and pull off the joke. And that’s assuming both people aren’t just in on it.
Next are the magic tricks. Almost all of the magic tricks require us to forget that it is possible to pause and restart a video recording. I’m 45 and even I know that. I gather the “skill” here is being able to cut the video in such a way that it looks seamless. Fair enough, but once again labor-intensive. And to what end?
In one of the more offensive examples that crossed my screen, an American related his first four days in China by counting them off in a Chinese accent, and narrowing the picture each time. The apparent levity here, was that along with the accent, his eyes were getting narrower. This was something along the lines of a suggested video. Yeesh.
Andy Warhol said in approximately 1466 AD, I think, that in the future everyone would have 15 minutes of fame. Seems he was a bit off. Fifteen seconds is plenty for the kids of today, and I guess that’s why I find the whole thing kind of terrifying. In my day (I get to say that now), the closest thing we had to this was idiot teenagers who goofed off behind the weatherman doing a live shot on the local news. The operative word being “idiot.” Nobody actually thought that was cool.
But equally terrifying is the mind-numbing repetition: 15 seconds, swipe up, 15 seconds, swipe up, ad infinitum. Here’s another version of the one I just saw, swipe up, here’s another version of another one I just saw, swipe up. And the blaring music and the bubble text, and the LOVE MY CONTENT! Good lord. It’s a hellscape. Sorry.
Now look, I’m not saying that today’s teenagers should be smoking, listening to depressing music, and reading Kerouac and Sylvia Plath. I know those days are gone. But did they have to be replaced by this? I guess you could call it good wholesome fun, but I call it a tragedy and I think the creators of this awful platform should be brought up on charges.
I’m not a big “end of days for civilization” guy, but Tik Tok is shaking my confidence. I know a lot of my fellow Gen Xers think that’s probably hyperbole, but it isn’t. I would say that you should go check it out for yourself, but I am a trained journalist and media critic. I’m prepared to face this horror, and I don’t advise lay Gen Xers take this journey.
But if you do, be prepared. You might not come out the other side quite the same.