Helloooo Sternal Journalists!
First of all, if you’re like, “What the heck is this?” you’re probably one of my sister’s friends. She just gave me your e-mail without asking, but is pretty sure you’ll like it.
Welcome, Mollie’s Maniacs. You (as is everyone!) are welcome to unsubscribe the second this becomes a nuisance.
But we’ll get right into this.
Let’s get right into this, shall we? I had an idea for what I wanted to write about this week at the beginning of the week (rare), but I’ve again left it til the waning hours of the week as I skim across a light buzz propelled by an imperial stout and Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy R3CONF1GUR3D to actually start writing (anti-rare. The yoozh).
That’s important mostly because a massive, world-changing thing happened this week, and might have made me feel like I shouldn’t write about…
TikTok. What I was planning to write about was TikTok. And I’m still gonna write about TikTok, because I think it’s actually relevant to the horrors that the President did at the Capitol this week. We’ll (hopefully) get there eventually, but let’s start with my initial thought.
You have a relationship with TikTok (You! Whoever you are!)
I’m in the midst of writing a thing about how I don’t like sports, and how/whether that has affected my life. One of the central truths I’ve come across in the interviewing and writing of this thing is that, unlike many other facets of culture, everyone has a relationship with sports. People either love, like, or roll their eyes at it.
TikTok is the same, if a bit more binary. You either think TikTok is dumb or you are addicted to TikTok. And what I need to get everyone on the same page about as soon as possible is that TikTok is not dumb.
A few weeks ago, a family group chat that I’m a part of sent this tweet:
Both the Tweet (written by a 40-ish something man) and the text that shared the tweet (sent by a 60-ish something man) were pretty enamored with the “TikTok clip.”
The problem really lies in the tone behind “Bit of a masterpiece, like a whole movie in a TikTok clip.” This ran through the whole thread, the sentiment of, “Oh my gah! It is like a whole movie in a TikTok! How’d he do that? That’s so impressive. And with TikTok? He made something interesting on TikTok, he deserves a prize woooow.”
Which it is like a whole movie in a TikTok. But here’s the thing:
THAT’S KIND OF
THE WHOLE POINT
OF FUCKIN’ TIKTOK.
Every great TikTok (which is, by design, most of the TikToks you see in the app) is just a film, a music video, a sketch, a stand up set, a self help book, in TikTok form.
And don’t mistake what I’m saying. It’s a solid ‘Tok. But the tone of the tweet thread and the group chat by these non-TikTok initiated was that this in particular was a very unusually clever use of a not clever medium. In actuality, it is a run-of-the-mill standardly clever use of an even cleverer medium.
I might argue that half of TikTok’s whole shtick is cleverness. The other is cuteness. If anyone spent twenty minutes on TikTok, they would not only find something they find clever or cute, they would have an app that, unlike instagram or Twitter where you have to wade through the lives and thoughts of people you like and respect, shows you exclusively the things you find clever and cute. In a non-stop, unavoidable waterfall of content.
But to bring it back: the above is a normally good TikTok, not a groundbreakingly great one. But because everyone already has a relationship with TikTok, these people who have never used it but just roll their eyes at it, come across a TikTok they like, and instead of thinking, “Huh. This is great. Maybe TikToks are great,” they think, “Wow! Somehow, against all odds, someone created something with TikTok that I find entertaining. What an anomaly!”
That is annoying for all of the reasons I laid out in “Most Writing is Bad,” but it’s worrisome because then none of those people find out that…
TikTok is severely addictive.
A couple weeks ago, I posted on Instagram that I had written to Instagram’s help e-mail that I would like them to separate the search function from the discover page “because I go to double check the spelling of a friend’s baby’s name and wind up watching 3 hours of NLE Choppe conspiracy videos.” This was mostly a joke because the coupling of the search function with the discover page is a thinly veiled trick they play on the user to get them to stay in the app longer.
I am sure that they would never do that because it would give me a much healthier, and therefore less active, relationship with Instagram. But for me to have a healthier, less active relationship with TikTok, TikTok would need to… delete TikTok?
If you’ve never used it, I can’t really explain why it’s great any better than someone who has used heroin could like give you the feeling of doing heroin. I could explain the tactics: doing away with borders, immediately playing a TikTok with sound as soon as you open the app, their eerily on-point algorithm, the memefication.
But none of that conveys to you the cascading euphoria of scrolling through this thing that snuggles you tighter and tighter into a mental baby bjorn with every flick. I can’t use words to give you the lock-in-key feeling of seeing a TikTok about a TikTok about a TikTok that uses a sound from a totally different TikTok you didn’t think would ever know about the first three.
And the addiction part of it is really not great. Addiction never is. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a relatively brand new creative medium/tool that people are using to create small pieces of art (“it’s like a whole movie”) that interact with and inspire each other at breakneck speed. There are, in fact, cool things about that!
Here’s where those motherfuckers who roll their eyes come in!
If TikTok users are the only ones who know TikTok makes cool shit, they/we will die in brain prison. We as a society (Note to Julian/from Julian: every time you start a sentence with “We as a society,” you overreach. Not from Julian/to Julian: I don’t care!) we as a society gotta come together and admit that TikTok is pretty fuckin’ cool so that there are enough non-users to tell the users “Hey friend, this is pretty fuckin’ cool, but maybe don’t do it so much.” That messaging is just slightly more empathetic and educated than the current tack: “Hey idiot, get off that dumb thing that has no merit.” Bit of a rascally sting to it.
If we elevate TikTok to art, it just might feel boring enough for us to look at other things.
In short: Old people! Come ruin TikTok, please!
Didn’t I say I was going to relate this back to the Capitol Siege?
Oh yeah, I did! Before I say anything, leading a deadly siege on the United States Capitol to unsteal an already abundantly unstolen election is way worse than and different from people being addicted to TikTok.
But I think it came as such a shock to so many people (whether it be cable news onlookers or the law enforcement officers in charge of protecting the modern cradle of democracy) because a lot of people roll their eyes at a lot of things.
Take QAnon. We give QAnon a lot of shit, and we should. But I think we should also acknowledge that QAnon is probably pretty fun to get involved with. It is terrible. People have lost lives, loved ones, livelihoods to it. But for the people who have willingly or unwillingly thrown away logic and practicality to get into it, it’s like a 3D celebrity word search murder mystery. You get clues! You get to use your imagination and work with friends to build exciting new realities. It’s improv fascism!
And it still warrants every effort to stamp it out not just because it’s so destructive, but because it’s clearly so alluring! Do I wanna know someone’s wackadoo theories about how Leon Panetta drinks a daily Slurpee made only from the blood of public school kids? Of course I do. I’m not going to indulge because I know it’s destructive, but I can at least acknowledge the insidious wonder that pulls people into that life.
And Iiiiii’m not totally sure what the answer is here. Of course I’m not. I wouldn’t have waited til Sunday night if I had an answer to the duping of half of America. I think we’re past my TikTok solution of “make it boring.” But it’s something I’m continuing to think about. I welcome your thoughts!
And now, further reading and recommendations!
“How TikTok Holds Our Attention,” New Yorker. Jia Tolentino. I read this a while back, and if you want to hear more about TikTok addiction from a writer you should absolutely trust way more than my wackadoo ass (that’s two “wackadoos” in one Journal!), you should too!
“E Unibus Plural: Television and US Fiction,” Review of Contemporary Fiction. David Foster Wallace. I read this one an even further while back, meant to reread before writing this, and did not succeed. Hopefully, I’ll read it again in the future and write a better version of this. He really gets our relationship with media. There’s a whole chapter of Infinite Jest (a book about a short film so addictive that it kills you) that basically predicts the entire SnapChat product from way back in the 90s. Would love to have known what he thought of TikTok.
Soul. Disney+. If you’ve been meaning to watch it, go ahead! It had the ending I wanted Queen’s Gambit to have. (Do @ me if you have feelings/questions about that take, it’s knowingly inflammatory).
“Joust Me.” A.Leech. This is the new single from one of Mollie’s many talented friends, and when she gave me the illicit list of e-mails, she also told me about his song, and I said, “Daaang, this bumps, let’s toss it in the recs.” Give it some spins!
And since I can embed way easier on Substack, might I recommend this album:
Oooor this one:
That’s all for now! Much love to all of you! Drink water and take care of yourselves!