Is TikTok chaotic? Yes. Is it free and f*cking hilarious? Also yes.
I’m not saying 38 years old is the ideal target market for TikTok, but they didn’t turn me away at the door. I downloaded TikTok because I realized that people were talking about singlehood in a really positive and productive way over there (my god I have such hope for the kids) but then I quickly realized that TikTok, if you pay your own rent, is an amazing place for comedy. There are way more funny people in this world than have ever been given a one-hour special, and it’s pretty clear they’re out to take over the world 60 seconds at a time. Why should this matter to Netflix? Why should anything ever matter to something as rich as Netflix? Because I downloaded TikTok a week ago and haven’t turned on my television since. And if this is happening to a grown ass adult with plantar fasciitis and an accountant on speed dial, how the hell do they intend to hold the attention of the youth?
I’m burning through cell phone battery, taking 20 minutes longer to get out of bed or fall asleep, and distracting myself from respectable pursuits like reading, connecting with friends, and using the Dyson. This shouldn’t be happening, I’m not the intended audience. But if you have a sense of humor your phone bill is paid, TikTok’ll take ya.
This isn’t something I’m proud of. Do I want to watch content with actual production value, scripts, plots, actors, and soundtracks with songs I actually recognize? Sure. Just as soon as I finish crying with laughter at TikTok oh wait I don’t have to finish ever because it is an endless sinkhole of hilarity that I am entirely unincentivised to leave. Scary Fact #1: It’s easier to get sucked into TikTok than Netflix. I’m one what-should-I-watch-hurry-my-dinner-is-losing-warmth evening away from actually unsubscribing and using my television as a blank canvas upon which to do a paint-by-number Van Gogh. TikTok doesn’t make you search for shit. It has home run after home run lined up and eager to keep you such good company that you eat your pasta in the kitchen standing up.
It’s not the brevity. Quibi tried that short shit and it didn’t work. There’s more to it than that. I think appetites for entirely unprofessional content are increasing by the day, while at the same time a sort of talent is emerging among TikTokers. If you’re able to be funny, helpful, or dazzling in a tiny ass window of time, consistently? Friend, you’re onto something. Scary Fact #2: Normal people are getting to be just as entertaining if not more so than perfectly manicured famous people.
TikTok doesn’t cost anything. I think this goes without saying that it’s Scary Fact #3. In a world of ever-increasing subscription services (I mean hello, I have one) there’s a corner of the internet that’s making us laugh our eyeliner off and it doesn’t cost a monthly fee and you don’t have to run a cable into the back of it. Yes, I have to watch ads for those goddamned leggings but they’re even making the ads far less of an eyesore than the forced garbage we have to suffer through to watch a fake eyelash tutorial on YouTube. If I see one more mattress ad I swear to god.
There’s a real magic to content that’s dreamt up as potentially viral but then delivered in a way that doesn’t feel fake. We know we’re watching someone performing, but it doesn’t have the polish of the performances we’re used to, and somehow, that’s a good thing. Scary Fact #4: We like it raw. Watch a few videos from hilarious content creators on TikTok then try to go watch something scripted on Netflix later. It’s insane, but a dude with a beard in a terrible wig pretending to be Jennifer Coolidge in his living room is more entertaining than something that cost millions to create. I find this to be a really intriguing development in the human condition but honestly I think Netflix should start squirreling away cash.
There’s a solid chance this will last me for about another week before I realize that TikTok is nothing but a way to waste time I could be spending making money or nutritious meals, and I delete the damn thing. That’s very much on the table. I never felt this sucked in by Instagram, which really speaks to the addictive nature of TikTok. I have the maturity and willpower to walk away (I think), but I don’t know if the kids could do it. I think they’re there, entertaining each other by the millions, and with something so enthralling I worry the won’t notice or need entertainment anywhere else. Anyway these are just thoughts. I’m going to go watch someone make a soufflé omelette in 60 seconds y’all have a good night.
Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster. You can read all her Medium essays here.