My granddaughter is thirteen, a full-fledged teenager of the twenty-first century. Look Accordingly, as a devoted grandfather, I make an effort to understand her world so that we can compare notes; this means I’ve spent a fair amount of time exploring the world of TikTok.
For those of you unfamiliar with TikTok, it is a video-sharing social networking service originating in China. Users can create videos of up to 60-seconds in length, viewable by TikTok’s world-wide audience of 689 million. Nearly 100-million Americans use TikTok every month, and the app has been downloaded over six-billion times.
My granddaughter uses TikTok to explore posts about teenaged actors she likes and posts her own videos about them she’s created; to do so, she’s mastered filming, editing, adding voice overs, music and other effects using software on her smart phone. Like I said, she’s very twenty-first century.
In my case, I’m just exploring TikTok, which looks to me like the land of the Id. Sigmund Freud, whose first name was originally Schlomo, proposed that the Id, Ego and Superego comprise a constellation of psychological forces from which our personalities emerge and are expressed. The Id represents our behavioral and emotional instincts, the Superego represents the conscience that arises in response to the Id, and the Ego mediates between the Id and the Superego. Or so Schlomo believed.
From what I’ve observed, TikTok consists mostly of Id – emotion-laden videos filled with primal content – sexy, abusive, rant-filled, shaming, profane and gross. If motivated, I could direct my experience by liking videos about gardening, and I may well do that, but in the meantime, I find myself both fascinated and repulsed by TikTok’s general content. The Superego seems to not exist in TikTok land, where self-embarrassment and the embarrassment of others is a high-octane, shameless activity.
TikTok’s a 24/7 stream of videos about tree-felling, cooking and construction; but wait, there’s more. A young man stuffs his mouth the spiciest foods he can find, intent upon testing human limits. Foul-mouthed mothers verbally abuse adult children followed by a variety of anti-Biden, pro-Trump video screeds spreading QAnon-style theories and belittlement. Physical deformity is on display, along with videos recorded by drivers stopped by police officers; verbally challenging police officers appears to be growing in popularity. There’s plenty of just barely disguised sexual content, much of it intentionally provocative and descending into good old-fashioned foul-mouthed, poor taste. And finally, I can report a plethora of videos about repulsive surgeries, liposuction, and wart removal.
In the case of TikTok, Ego’s role is less about mediation than promotion. Like other social media services, video content can be “liked” and followers accumulated. In large part the TikTok system is designed to encourage shameless self-exposure, not just self-expression. It’s perfectly obvious that many of the videos are created with just one purpose in mind: accumulating as many likes and followers as possible. Not all 689 million TikTok users will become famous or super-rich, but the statistics don’t matter; what matters is being getting attention.
The land of the Id and the home of the crazed, a place of no inhibition ruled by primal instinct and emotion, visiting TikTok is like spending time at a human zoo where uncaged animal selves are constantly on display.