Everything that's freaking people out about TikTok should have already freaked them out about Tumblr.
Plus Internet historians, unboxing videos, and femcels.
Happy almost-Monday, everyone.
Everything that's freaking people out about TikTok should have already freaked them out about Tumblr. TikTok has had almost no novel impact on people’s behaviors. Well… let me walk that back. It has, just not across the axes people like to talk about.
From self-diagnoses to Dissociative Identity Disorder more specifically to the cultish takedown of West Elm Caleb to the fact that journalists use TikTok as a free content-generator to the self-perception warping power of TikTok’s many video filters.
None of these things are new—in any way.
You can identify each and every one from the dawn of the Internet forward.
You might be thinking, “Well, this is the first time it’s penetrating the mainstream!” No. The first time it’s impacting kids then? Also no.
Take mental illness Münchausen-by-Internet and identity-musical-chairs. Problems since the beginning, but beginning to have a more significant impact on teenagers on MySpace, LiveJournal, and even last.fm or band forums.
Remember cutting? How all emo and scene kids were depressed bisexuals?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Multiple Systems (DID) have always had an internet presence, and in the same way that they do on TikTok. The latest I’d date these as newsworthy problems is the 2010s, circa Tumblr.
This doesn’t mean it’s not worth using TikTok as a lens to examine these issues, but if any of these things are ‘new’ to you, you don’t know your Internet history. I’m sorry.
One place where we should give TikTok credit is that it changes consumption habits in a more significant way than other platforms. TikTok has encouraged an interesting curation/appreciation cycle (trend upcycling?) that you sort of see with Pinterest and Tumblr, but it’s much more effective on Tumblr.
Random things get dredged up, e.g. old songs, candies, meals, clothing styles, from whomever’s memory, we sit with it for a few weeks or months, and then it enters a sort of memory-archive.
I like it. I think it’s a lot better than perpetual creation.
The best Internet historians are on YouTube. This is a good segue into something I’ve noticed and have probably mentioned here before. Some of the best Internet history reporting out there happens on YouTube. It doesn’t take itself seriously; it’s often by young women; it’s some of the best content we have.
Here’s one of my favorite videos by Lily Alexandre, “Millions of Dead Genders: A MOGAI retrospective.” OfHerbsandAltars also does really interesting, albeit niche, work. But they’re not the only ones— StrangeAeons does Tumblr archeology, and my very dear friend MemeAnalysis does…well, exactly what you’d expect with a name like MemeAnalysis.
Performative kindness in the comments section on TikTok. So, I’m not going to link to any TikToks here, because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and I think this whole thing might be more reflective of something rotten in my own psychology than a real trend.
But I’ve noticed a sort of performative kindness or supportiveness in the comments section of TikToks where people would, under any other circumstances, be made fun of.
Below average looking people excited about a new outfit. Lame magic tricks. Bad art someone obviously tried very hard at. Well-known facts trodden out as new information. Botched cake recipes. The kind of thing where, I hate to say it, my own knee-jerk (internal only!) reaction is mean. I always rush to the comments section when I see videos like this, only to see hundreds or thousands of “Gorgeous!” or “You’re killing it!” or “Great job!”
It makes me feel…weirdly sad? Guilty?
It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed occasionally on Twitter, but, again, mostly on TikTok. It’s certainly not something that happens with any regularity on YouTube. I wonder if it’s a new kind of etiquette, endemic to true digital natives, who have seen people been torn down online too many times to allow it happen again. “Protect him/her at all costs,” but they don’t have to say it. They just do it.
This Wired piece is a good summation of something I’ve long been trying to communicate on this Substack. Read it. And then read Playing Fans by Paul Booth, which you may already have picked up if you’re a regular around these parts.
Femcels. I’ve been seeing a lot of public-facing (as opposed to walled gardens, like Discords or private subreddits) femcel content from young women online lately. I don’t think it “means” anything, or at least means anything more than I’ve already talked about with sex negativity trends more generally.
Femcels have existed forever, and have existed under that name as a subculture since at least I was a teenager. (I was one.) I’m glad they’re getting increased visibility though because not every woman is desirable. Not every woman knows what it means to be hot and young.
If any of you are reading this: I support you. Fuck the notion that casual sex is empowering, but also fuck the “heheheh I’m such a hot little bimbo” shit. Some women are ugly. The idea is not to redefine ugliness—it’s that ugly women shouldn’t be treated like shit because men don’t deign them fuckable. ✊✊✊
As an aside, I’m sorry half this newsletter has been me complaining about how long various communities have existed.
Bebop & Bebe. Every so often, an account like this pops up. This one has already generated some conspiracy theories: a silenced brother, the mother is in danger, the daughter is danger. My opinion? It’s just a repeat of Venus Angelic. The mom wanted to be an influencer, missed her chance, is living vicariously through her kid.
I talked with Wesley Yang about West Elm Caleb, my theory about how Tumblr impacted the media, and invented histories. I think you have to download the Callin app to listen to it, but it was a pretty fun conversation.
Unboxing and surprise toys have been trending for a minute now. I think it’s something to pay attention to. There’s a part of me that thinks that they’re so popular because they’re amenable to creating videos around, but it’s probably more important that they can’t be passively consumed. You have to touch them. Break them. Dig into them. It makes me wonder if it hints at a desire for a more embodied life? Am I overthinking this one? That and the whole slime thing that just won’t seem to go away…
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