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Why Is TikTok Alone Identified With Distasteful Content?

It feels so long when the mainstream media hailed “the sheer suddenness”, “the unexpected nature” and “the unpredictability of the move” that the government made to ensure its citizens’ safety in a very competent and befitting manner of banning 59 apps invented by its aggressive neighbour, the rest of us shed tears of grief mixed with the pride of the sacrifice of which the opportunity arrives very rarely in one’s lifetime. Among the 59 apps banned, TikTok was a widely popular app that penetrated the deepest recesses of the Indian subcontinent in a way that it could become a model of sorts to be replicated later in the dream of digital India as and when it materialises for all.

For the pretentious snobberies of a group consuming internet and social media, the content created on TikTok was a mere laughing stock of ‘cringeworthy’ and problematic material and there is no dearth of ridicule and jeer it has received by meme accounts on Instagram. Such accounts ‘progressively’ mock TikTok videos to grow their followers. Be as it may, there is also no dearth of the internet users who have celebrated the existence of this medium.

TikTok had an explosive potential of democratising various art forms and giving it right in the hands of the people who were consuming it anyway. A cursory understanding of “popular”, as Raymond Williams puts it, is to understand that it emphasises the “shift in perspective” which further makes things to “be seen from the point of view of the people rather than from those seeking favour or power over them”. It is formed by the existing culture as much as it affects it.

Instagram, Twitter, and other similar platforms are very limited in their reachability and usage. In contrast, Tiktok is able to reach the people on fringes who have remained only at the receiving end of the popular art forms for ages. TikTok allows them to contribute to that actively. It also has triggered a change in social media content creation and copyright which can also be seen as an inadvertent advantage for its users. For decades the only art form that flourished in this country has been cinema.

Films have been defining the popular culture at different points of time since the inception of the industry. TikTok in India has indeed achieved a new pinnacle as the TikTokers used this medium to live out their desires shaped by the same films that have sold them the stories of fantasies and triumph. Filmmaking is an expensive medium, and for a long time television has been its inexpensive substitute. However, television too is another behemoth held by agencies, networks and production houses.

Youtube was the only internet comparable to stand against television as it allowed new independent creators to grow and gain their audience by creating and distributing their original content. But over the years, YouTube has emulated a similar standard of television. Corporate channels entered YouTube and other individual creators succumbed to meet those same industry standards and only the ones who stood the competition survived to grow further.

Added to that, being a YouTuber is hard — the technical requirements exclude most of the people, whereas TikTok brought a shift from DSLRs to an average phone camera. From lip-syncing to dancing to absolutely absurd – the internet’s culture has thrived on TikTok and brought the users closer. It was one of the first platforms where people could attain the same or even more popular status than the stars of the film industry. TikTokers were actively using an indoctrinated vocabulary of Bollywood, but they also subverted it by contextualising the whole of it in their respective environment.

For example, Dinesh Pawar (@mr.dineshpawar) who belongs to the Pardhi tribe in Maharashtra, danced on Bollywood classics with his wife. Not only did he take the role and centrality of a hero in his narrative but also replaced the set with his village. For most, these locales have never been in the imagination of those songs.

Pawar, of course, did not have the resources to replicate the background, but what it produced was a significant shift in the perception of the aesthetic of Bollywood songs in the public imagination. There are thousands of TikTokers who have made similar videos and are also very popular with millions of followers appreciating their content.

Tiktok also plays around with the copyright law by using songs and dialogues from other media resources and makes a way around it by using an edited and truncated version as a way of transformative work as it allowed its users to recreate a new version of the film in their way on the phones available to them. This was in stark contrast with YouTube, where companies are notorious for blocking and claiming the copyrights over creator’s videos. Most of the media used by the content creators on YouTube is under free and fair use but denying them to the creators seems to be an autocratic measure taken by a powerful internet platform.

YouTube is already a giant. It has a plethora of creators with new ones joining it every day, but not everyone gets recognition. Most of them do not even get viewed, but TikTok has been able not to let that happen. Since most of the content is even shorter than a minute, it allows TikTok to stream a lot of it, which in turn increases the possibility of exposure for the majority of its users. Had it not been for TikTok, people like Armaan Rathod, an out of work car washer, but an excellent dancer would not have been visible to the choreographer Remo D’Souza.

Arman Rathod: The TikTok Dance Icon

A car washer from Gujarat became a national dancing sensation… one TikTok video at a time. 🕺 😎

Posted by Brut India on Friday, June 26, 2020

 

Rathod not only gained recognition but also received a scholarship from choreographer Terence Lewis, otherwise, he too would have to wait for a talent show’s casting director to exploit his reality into a marketed reality of television show melodrama. Unlike that, TikTok enabled him and gave full authority over his image. This kind of exposure given by TikTok may earn the creators the attention from such talent shows. Another creator Jaydeep Gohil (@hydroman) makes videos underwater, which is no less than an achievement in itself.

 

Moreover, to condense a story with a beginning, middle and end within or under 15 to 60 seconds is an innovation. It may appear easy, but an additional creative skill is indeed required to accomplish this. Tiktok also offers a variety of content across categories — from cooking videos to educational videos, dance tutorials or just videos that may seem to make no sense.

The internet is a postmodern playground where everything references everything and TikTok is its closest embodiment. TikTok appears to include anyone and everyone across languages and nationalities. One could see foreigners lip-syncing on Indian dialogues and recreating meme templates viral in India and vice versa. David Warner, (@davidwarner31) a famous Australian cricketer, could be seen dancing with his family on Indian songs.

 

This has spread across the different communities which might remain oblivious to each other on other platforms but remained in such proximity on TikTok. TikTok is the social media app for the people who never got to experience the power of the internet.

TikTok gave significant visibility to those Queer and Trans people who would have never made it to the annual parade otherwise. Earlier, they had been part of only a few small and closed groups on other social media apps. On TikTok, they came forward from all walks of life without any shame and fear. They have also faced a lot of ridiculing by other meme pages and roast channels on Instagram and Youtube.

This was no different from the mockery of people cross-dressing on the television shows to evoke cheap laughter for years now. It can be notably seen with a Tiktoker Monty Roy (@montiiroyreal) who has received a lot of hate for dressing up as a woman by people who have been just ignorant to the community. However, the constant effort that the likes of Roy have been putting despite the hate by putting themselves out there has exposed the Queer and Trans community to a society that has lived through their lives oblivious to the world that breathes diametrically opposed to them, right under their noses.

This constant hate on the internet that tags TikTik as cringe is venomous hatred which stems from the middle-class desire to occupy and reign on the rural and minority spaces that keeps them standing in their positions. TikTok is also not exempt from loathsome content, but that is available everywhere. Why then is TikTok alone identified with distasteful content?

College and school kids play-act their toxic masculinity and hypocritical ideas of brotherhood and gender roles. As they perform and end their shot with a slow-motion walk on Satisfya, the rest of the internet finds its sacrificial goat further to cleanse the palette of their cultured taste. This kind of content is then used by some popular YouTubers and meme pages online to spread hate for TikTokers and snobbishly overlook the wider aspect of TikTok which ranges across categories of content. This only adds to their growth in popularity by ridiculing these TikTokers.

It is an unfortunate oversight which exposes the bigotry of people that have been going on a rampage against the prevalent nepotism in the film industry and on the other hand are so unforgiving to the people who try to create their content to the best of their capabilities and talent.

While new alternative as Chingari and Likee are coming up and Instagram has accommodated itself to have features like TikTok, as it did with Snapchat years ago. None of them seems to be able to replace the same reach and global effect as TikTok. TikTok is just an entertaining medium for bouts of escapist laughter.

A few months back, a news reporter on my screen asked a woman protesting at the modern Indian counterpart of Tiananmen Square, “Don’t you watch news channels? Do you know what they are saying about you all?” “No, I don’t. I don’t care either. I just watch TikTok videos and enjoy,” she smirked and replied. Singing alone will not get us through the dark times; we need laughter too. And to survive the fresh trauma this pandemic is causing globally, TikTok is no less than a blessing. I would prescribe you to explore TikTok for a stress-relieving joyful session if it wasn’t banned.

About the author: Ashutosh Kumar studies literature at University of Delhi and he hopes to graduate at least by this year’s end. He is insulated from high culture snobs and worships all things popular and millennial. For his pastime, he enjoys exploring the limits of the internet.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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