TikTok magic, DID, Valeria Lukyanova, and more.

Happy Saturday, friends.

  • First, some housekeeping. I am most certainly updating this thing too much—what do you guys think about sending a digest of posts if I do more than one or two posts a week? I’m sorry to be spamming your inboxes. I’ve just got a lot to say, and I really do treat this more as a blog than a Substack.

    (As an aside, I’m starting to see TikToks that advertise Substacks. That has thrown me for a loop!)

  • TikTok magic. Is it just me, or is TikTok a more magical platform than other forms of social media? I mean this in the most literal sense. I see more meme formats that are supposed to have some kind of impact on your real life (‘save this to your drafts and something will happen,’ ‘play this sound and the love of your life will text you,’ et al.) than I did when chain e-mails were still a thing.

    TikTok is full of egregores.

    And that’s to say nothing about tarot card readings, the this-is-a-sign videos, and the prevalence of manifestation talk.

  • DID. I’m still thinking about that Input mag article about TikTok DID from over the summer.

    It was a great article, don’t get me wrong, but I was a little bit bothered by the fact that it didn’t go deeper. This isn’t a trend that’s unique to TikTok, even if TikTok gives it a new shape.

    DID has had an internet presence for a long, long time. Like, since the early 90s long. It has deep roots in text-based roleplaying, starting with MUDs and even making an appearance on Neopets of all places, where it also had a robust community. From there you see significant growth on Tumblr, where it dovetailed with both media fandom and identity fandom.

    The early internet was chock full of different types of support groups though, so there’s likely some rich history there, too. If memory serves, there were definitely people claiming to have DID on the pro-ana boards I visited once upon a time. I think it’s an interesting Internet behavior and deserves a much richer investigation.

  • Valerie Lukyanova. Speaking of things that deserve rich investigations, I’m seeing a lot of Zoomers share old photos of one of my favorite Russian baddies, Valeria Lukyanova. Valeria is interesting in her own right as a Photoshop-addicted, former-Satanist, allegedly-Breatherian, self-proclaimed ‘human barbie’ and Starseed(!) but she also slots into a trend that I think has been totally under-appreciated: living dolls.

    There are a lot of weird threads here. The whole living doll thing was a YouTube/Tumblr-anchored trend that grew out of j-fashion. It became something of a sideshow as Venus Palermo slowly climbed to micro-celebrity status.

    I always described it as ‘white women performing as Japanese women performing as white women.’ That’s maybe a misunderstanding of what the look was all about, but that’s how adolescent Default Friend understood it. It stressed big eyes, neoteny, and lithe bodies.

    I truly consider its brief popularity a cultural touchpoint, as many different groups converged there: k-pop stans, Tumblr nymphets, all of the Tumblr ‘soft’ aesthetic movements, moodboard obsessees, pro-anorexics, social justice warriors (it was an early and quiet battleground of ‘culture appropriation’ accusations), Vice journalists hungry for clicks, TLC producers hungry for views, imageboard-bound anti-fans hungry for gossip, YouTube content creators as a cohesive group.

    It’s also in this moment you see the early seeds of Korean fashion overtaking Japanese fashion as trendy to an American audience. There are at least two theses lurking here—if anyone has the bandwidth to dig them out.

  • TikTok and people with disabilities. I know that TikTok gets a lot of hate for being designed for attractive, able-bodied people, but a part of me wonders how true that is. My experience of TikTok has never been super-polished, quasi-frat bros living in Hype Houses or 89-lb-teen girls dancing provocatively.

    I am served more videos by disabled creators than I am on any other platform. And these creators aren’t harshly bullied or treated as jokes, either, they’re taken seriously. They ostensibly make friends, or at least have supporters, and they’re at a bare minimum visible—even if only to me.

    This kind of diversity of content (which is very evocative of my early web experiences) doesn’t stop at ability, either. I also see a range of ages, subcultures, professions, and economic classes represented on TikTok, and not in small numbers.

    This might speak more to me than TikTok itself, who knows. But assuming it doesn’t, something that I admire about the platform is that it seems to give a voice to people who may not be able to use other forms of social media easily.

    Many of my 25-year-old+ meatspace pals have sort of rolled their eyes and shrugged TikTok off, saying something like, “I’m too old, I don’t get how to use it.” I won’t fully unpack why this annoys the shit out of me, but I will say this: TikTok isn’t confusing. Arguably, it’s significantly more accessible than YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook.

    TikTok is addictive, a source of entertainment. I don’t disagree that it’s probably mining information about us, too. But there is also such a wealth of use cases, from cooking to language learning to enabling people who may be less comfortable with typing to share their lives and experiences. It’s not all brain rot.

    I’m starting to sound like a bad parody of a too-optimistic tech bro though, so I’ll close this letter out here.