Cheap data packs and TikTok might just have finally made the Internet truly democratic in India — and to enjoy the benefits, we have to live with the warts. Orkut was fun. It was a simple “cool” platform, where the only thing we were crazy about were testimonials. We wanted our BFFs to write […]
Cheap data packs and TikTok might just have finally made the Internet truly democratic in India — and to enjoy the benefits, we have to live with the warts.
Orkut was fun. It was a simple “cool” platform, where the only thing we were crazy about were testimonials. We wanted our BFFs to write long-ass You-are-the-best-a-friend-can-get notes, publicly, as a show of solidarity and affection. We would join fun groups, have meaningless chat threads, befriend that cute girl you spotted during the inter-school fest and wait for her to come online, and that was that. Then Facebook happened, and we just scooped up the same social media behavioural pattern and dumped it on FB. Heck, we didn’t even know what “social media” was, back then. It was a website. It was very difficult to explain what it was to our parents, and why we were obsessed with it.
Today, social media is a money-hungry, business, and virality behemoth that is absolutely out of control. It has fed into human narcissism, need for approval, hunger for fame and money, and is even proposing itself as a shiny career option for a new generation. FB is not about friends anymore. It’s a corporation.
But back when we were in school, and starting off at college, Facebook wasn’t democratic. For starters, the Internet wasn’t as mobile as it is now. So, only computers had websites. That reads funny today, doesn’t it? On top of that, both Orkut and Facebook were only in English. Websites were mostly in English too. The internet was a members-only club. Today, well, the story is very different. And unfortunately, the privileged are not happy.
The viral Dolly Parton challenge from last year captured the distinctive personalities of social media apps – it’s based on what people want to achieve from their presence on said platforms. Facebook is an aggregator of news and networking. It’s the introduction to social media. Our parents start off with FB, many might not even graduate to others. Instagram comes next, as a perception platform. Instagram is about the good life, about self-love, about flaunting, about how-amazing-you-should-think-my-life-is. LinkedIn is to project professionalism and cerebrality. Dating apps are mostly for hooking up (let’s be honest, please). Snapchat is, well, dead, right?
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Then what human need does TikTok satisfy? Its predecessors, Dubsmash and Musica.ly, both lip-sync apps, didn’t get the kind of flak TikTok is getting in India because they were mostly harmless sing-alongs or movie dialogue say-alongs. TikTok, in India, after Dhinchak Pooja, has become the definition of cringe content. Now, let’s get something out of the way – bawdy and boisterous comedy has always had mass appeal. From Rakhi Sawant to Comedy Circus shows, hyper-slapstick has been enjoyed and lauded. This is because, unlike the wit and dry sarcasm that defines British humour, popular Indian humour (as seen in regional comedies, in folk theatre and then cinema, and jester or “kautuk” traditions) are more akin to the belly-jiggling, bawdy loudness of American humour. For example, in Marathi lavnis or Bengali jaatras, clownish characters, OTT effeminate men, sex-crazed older men falling for nubile young waifs – and so on and so forth – are common tropes. Those tropes naturally translated to TV stand-ups and Archana Puran Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu couldn’t be happier (side note: we mustn’t forget that Indian pop culture has had a strong tradition of sarcasm, satire, and parody. Jaspal Bhatti is a shining example from the ‘90s). But, Indians have always been a country of thin-skinned people who have never been able to take a joke. We don’t enjoy being laughed at. Then how does one explain TikTok’s content? The sheer idiocy, clownish antics, exaggerated effeminacy, near lunatic behaviour – how are we suddenly a country of people who are okay with being laughed at? Is it the lure of fame and vitality? Is it because we hope to make money?
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Or, is it that a whole generation is completely unaware of how foolish they look?
TikTok’s critics – including me – are people who are affected by this fact: TikTokers think that they are creating “quality” content and are actually doing a great job. Now, that’s worrisome. Because, we wouldn’t care much if the clear motive for anybody’s foolhardy was making money. Instagram is all about that. I see bloggers who used to be senior print journalists uploading childish crap on Instagram, but I don’t give it too much thought because I know that they are earning from it. The host of fashion “influencers” must be tired of producing “how to wear a thong in 5 different ways this karva chauth” videos, but are doing it because that is what’s making them the moolah. Instagram, with posts, stories and IGTv, also provides enough avenues to quench your thirst for fame and being visible. Heck, there’s YouTube for that too. So, these are evidently not the motives. Other than a Nandita Srivastava scenario (TV comedienne, Bharti, loved Nandita’s TikTok content so much that she gifted her 5 lakh rupees), most TikTok creators are not minting money from their content. When TikTok’s critics are accused of classism, it’s because they are arguing with a beloved Indian logic – quality is subjective. What is cringe to you might not be cringe for someone else. The moment you “cringe” at something, you are looking down at it, and that is a class flex. The other reason why the critics are being hated upon is that they now have to relent the Internet to everybody. Remember when the Internet was just for the chosen few? Today, it’s not the case. You don’t have to be educated to use the Internet. You don’t need to know English – the badge of class, upward mobility, and prosperity in lower and middle-class India – to use the Internet. Your driver can send you a friend request on Facebook. You can leave a million comments on your favourite actress’s post and tell her that she straight up sucks, without any repercussions. You can sing and act and dance like your favourite hero, and share it with the world. Here is something that lets you be the aspirational version of yourself without having to acquire any aspiration-specific skill set – you don’t need an acting course or music training, for example. This actually happened: my plumber brought his 15-year-old nephew along to help him fix my shower. The fellow hasn’t been to school ever, had been in Bombay for just four months, but he boomeranged my shower spouting water when the job was done. I. Was. Stunned.
The TikTok vs YouTube feud was juvenile. It’s not like YouTubers are the purveyors of cerebral or intellectual fodder. Their highhandedness reeks of classism too, creating a sense of app hierarchy. These are young kids who are acting like they are the big boys in the yard just because they enjoy viewership, make shit tons of money, and have collaborated on a couple of videos with Bollywood celebrities. Let’s get this straight: Screaming at your followers to rake up your viewership as their pet project, or promising to share your nudes if they do so, is Poonam Pandey behaviour. What is this enrage-the-fans-to-beat-that-dude’s-viewership business? Just because PewDiePie did it, doesn’t mean you have to too. Make your own rules. Also, if making money and being a Bollywood celebrity was enough, many a Vivek Oberoi would be a happier man. Please sit up and realise the longevity of quality content. When one such YouTuber “roasted” TikTokers (also, I am tired of how the word is misused – a roast is not hurling insults at someone and expecting it to be taken as comedy. A roast is a pre-decided give-and-take, where both parties get to hurl truth bombs. It is not one-sided net practice. Idiots), others thought that they could start “roasting” whomever they want. What followed was the Elvish Yadav-Kusha Kapila episode. I watched his episode. My ears bled. Packing so much vitriol, misogyny, fat-shaming, ageism, and misinformation in 11 minutes, takes some serious talent. Not to mention his juvenile followers who commented “Social media pe ho, hate toh milega hi. Roneka nahi”. Hashtag Facepalm.
So, with TikTok raging – and definitely becoming the next big thing, because brands are hotly sniffing around it, and you know what happens when a community-building app suddenly gains money-making attributes – and a world where uneducated young kids have the freedom to spew anything they want, how does one keep oneself from losing it?
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Well, the same democracy that empowers them, empowers you too. The Internet gives everybody the freedom to create whatever they want. If a CarryMinati wants to take potshots at TikTok, a Bhuvan Bam goes into the streets during the lockdown to talk to migrant families, and other poverty-stricken members of society, on how they are making ends meet. Li Ziqi produces the best food content I have come across. Mark Rober’s science experiments are a delight. The Internet has enough entertainment for everybody. Like in a democracy, we live and let live and it all depends on the choices you make. TikTok will survive, these YouTube “roasters” will make more content, and find funding too, but that doesn’t mean the good guys aren’t out there. Both Sooraj Pancholi and Ayushmann Khurrana get releases, right? Whom you choose to watch, makes all the difference.
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