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.
My favorite #TikTok couple recreating my fav song!
Follow mr.dineshpawar on TikTok if you havnt already! pic.twitter.com/ildaBNwMO8
— Bhupendra (@ibhupendra) March 8, 2020
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.
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 is still my favorite David Warner family TikTok. His daughter in the back has my heart. Cute 😙 pic.twitter.com/LOnfd3zUUo
— Pakhi (@whysomuchnoise) June 22, 2020
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.