Issue #14: Gravestone memes, TikTok gossip and a day in the life of the kids of influencers

A sporadic download of things from around the internet that are piquing my interest right now, intellectualised for your enjoyment.

Drop me a line if you think there’s something I’ve missed, pls!

1. This picture of Grant Gustin crouching next to a faux grave is a 2020 mood

At the end of last month, actor Echo Kellum posted an image of his The Flash co-star Grant Gustin next to the fictional grave of one of the show’s characters. Later that day, it was re-posted to Reddit with the caption, ‘When the guy who stole your girl dies’. It’s since evolved to encompass all kinds of deaths and cancellations, the most clear cut of which is this one:

As with most memes, there are a tonne of sub-genres, but none feel more relevant than those that refer to cancel culture. We’re constantly being told that people have been cancelled, trends have peaked, social tools have died and that memes are over. The proverbial death of people (or their reputations, at least), brands and memes just doesn’t feel that serious anymore.

TL;DR: An image of someone crouching playfully next to a fake grave feels relevant to a time in which countless people, brands and reputations are ‘killed’ or cancelled on a weekly basis.

2. @TikTokRoom is an Instagram-based gossip column for TikTok drama

If you need an update on the romance between Gabby Morrison and Andre Swilley, or speculation over The Hype House’s latest sponsorships, look no further than Instagram account @TikTokRoom. Its content consists of screenshots and videos that highlight the best bits from the minutiae of interactions between TikTok stars, often from the comments. It looks like this:

Borrowing its name from the godmother of Instagram-based gossip accounts, @TheShadeRoom (the second-most followed Instagram account, which specifically covers black celebrity and influencer gossip in the US), @TikTokRoom is one in a slew of gossip handles that are making headway among teen audiences right now – there’s an incredible think piece covering this shift, which you can find here.

This is the 2020 version of the trashy magazine. But I reckon there’s another reason these channels are taking off. They tap into the Gen Z habit of finding shortcuts through the expansive rabbit hole of social. This audience is accustomed to having an abundance of content at their fingertips – whether it’s the 10,000+ posts on @AFTV targeted at young Arsenal FC fans, or the endless content associated with HBO hit Euphoria. They’re not afraid of huge quantities of content, but they are seeking out quality – and they’re using aggregators and niche news accounts to do it. 

Here, this behaviour is replicated. This audience wants to stay on top of the drama their favourite TikTokers are involved in, but many won’t be bothered to trawl through the comments. Enter @TikTokRoom, providing a filtered down version of the highlights, all accessible via a single handle.

TL;DR: With so much content available to us, aggregators and news sources serving even the most niche content genres are increasingly important filters.

3. This influencer’s teenage kid makes some important statements about the meaning of consent

This is a post from Reddit’s beloved AITA (aka. Am I The Asshole?) subreddit, who got t-shirts and hoodies for themselves and their sister with phrases like ‘No photos’, ‘No videos’, ‘I do not consent to be photographed’, ‘No means no’, ‘Respect my privacy’ and ‘No profiting off my image’ printed on them. 

The post addresses concerns over their consent to photos being constantly snapped and uploaded without their permission and, in particular, their mother’s feeling that discussing the issue alongside notions of ‘consent’ implies a far more serious invasion of personal space. It’s a perfect snapshot of how values shift between generations.

While previous generations might have seen the value shifts of their children and grandchildren – from taking up veganism to a demand for tighter regulation on sexual misconduct in the workplace – as over-the-top or ridiculous, those shifts in value systems have happened at a glacial pace, over the course of multiple decades and sometimes generations.

Comparatively, the mother of a teenager today is being confronted with a fundamental shift in belief systems in the space of a few short years. Against this backdrop, people (and businesses) need to be increasingly agile and flexible when it comes to understanding what people value and believe. That said, it is ironic that the next generation’s backlash against parents of Instagram is set to play out in digital spaces.

TL;DR: The life cycle of belief systems are more rapid than ever, with important terms like ‘consent’ constantly evolving to encompass emerging spaces that demand cultural sensitivity.

I stumbled across (and was sent!) a tonne of insanely interesting reading in the last month, too. Find some of the best below…

‘Why are pop songs getting sadder than they used to be?’
Some academics conducted a sentiment analysis of song lyrics from the last few decades and found that negative words around sadness and hate have consistently increased, while words around love and joy have decreased. There are countless potential cultural drivers of this (some explored in the article), but what I find interesting is that the shift towards negativity pre-dates the internet. It's easy to blame digitisation and social media for the uptick in societal negativity, but this study implies that more and wider cultural drivers are at play. Aeon (February 4th)

‘How Bon Appétit accidentally made YouTube’s most beloved stars’
Bon Appétit is a YouTube mainstay, with more than five million subscribers. This article explores how it’s achieved such success given that it’s basically an offshoot of a fancy Condé Nast food mag. It signals that notions of authenticity (the world’s most meaningless word, I know, but stay with me) have shifted so drastically that it really isn’t out of reach for brands now. While once, brands and authenticity were mutually exclusive, now, they can co-exist. Further, the Bon Appétit chefs are living, breathing examples of how you can remain interesting and real, while selling your soul to a corporate employer. Buzzfeed (February 8th)

‘Digital Harm And Addiction: An anthropological view’
Digital anthropologist Theodora Sutton has written a paper on findings from ethnographic fieldwork in a ‘digital detox’ retreat, and she has some opinions on how we frame digital wellness. While prevailing media narratives tend to relate it back to ‘health’, Sutton argues that it’s more about our values, and the potential social and cultural harm tech can cause. This makes a lot of sense to me. Whether it’s people logging off Facebook because they feel passionately about democracy, or parents banning screens from the table because they value quality family time, many tech restrictions have nothing at all to do with our personal health, but with the collective instead. Oxford Internet Institute (February 4th)

'YouTube’s secretive top kids channel expands into merchandise'
This article provides an insightful case study into YouTube kids channel Cocomelon, which draws around 2.5 billion views a month. The article itself is about the launch of the channel’s merchandise range, but what I found most interesting is the call out of the channel’s most popular video, Bath Song, which has been viewed 2.3 billion times. A childcare-specific take on the infamous Baby Shark, it’s pretty wild that one of the most popular videos on YouTube is designed specifically to make parents lives easier. It’s emblematic of the fact that social and screens have become mainstays as parenting aids. Bloomberg (February 10th)

'TikTok's digital blackface problem'
This is an excellent article from my favourite Medium blog OneZero, discussing the problematic ways in which white teens adopt black and brown culture online. While digital cultural appropriation is not new, TikTok is being highlighted as a platform where it can proliferate. Given that its premise and design is built upon the decontextualisation of audio, it leaves users more open than most platforms to using symbolism and references without full understanding of the original source. If cultural respectfulness is rooted in knowledge and understanding, TikTok is rife with opportunities for young audiences to trip up. OneZero (February 12th)

Other important internet finds: