By Dom Serafini
At breakfast at my hotel in Singapore — when I was there for the ATF in early December 2022 — I regularly saw a girl of about five years old staring at a cellular phone while eating at a table with her parents. At one point she would start waving her hands and jumping up and down. The scene was repeated daily.
One night, at dinner in the huge food court that is Singapore’s Victorian era Lau Pa Sat, a girl of about eight, who was sitting with her mother near my table, got off her stool and starting dancing and pirouetting. An acquaintance at my table explained that she was showing off on TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media platform. It was then that I realized that the five-year-old was probably doing the same at breakfast.
Back in the U.S., while trying to find something to watch on TV, I stopped on a syndicated morning show that was featuring a loquacious young girl of about 10 who was hailed as a social media phenomenon because of her large TikTok following. Thousands, it seemed, liked watching her dance and make faces on the app.
Then, a month later, in early January 2023, The Wall Street Journal featured a front cover story about an 89-year-old grandmother from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who has 2.4 million TikTok followers who enjoy watching 30-second videos of her dancing. And, according to the Journal, she’s not the only one. Indeed, the financial paper discovered another grandmother, a 92-year-old from Connecticut, who’s also a TikTok phenomenon. Both geriatrics have managed to earn thousands of dollars from sponsors.
Now, one has to admire the grandmothers who want to make money, and the children who want their 15 minutes of fame, and one can justify the sponsors and the social media platform, both of whom want to capitalize on the audience, but one has to pity the millions and millions of people who seem to have nothing better to do than watch these videos of grandmas and/or grandkids dancing.
Granted, I still don’t understand the humor behind the silly 1969-1974 BBC TV series Monty Python’s Flying Circus, yet it was a big hit, and paved the way for this new TikTok era. And, even though the Chinese social media platform’s name seems to reference the tick-tock of a clock, it rhymes with “knock-knock,” making one think of the famously unfunny jokes.
What’s not a joke is the implication of this TikTok phenomenon. Or the cause of it. The implication is that an overwhelming number of consumers, especially in the U.S., are looking for cheap forms of entertainment. The problem is that the U.S. entertainment industry has pushed for too many paid services, which have become too expensive for the general public to sustain, while, at the same time, making free services, such as broadcast television, less appealing. In some European countries, like Italy for example, where broadcast is still supported at the corporate level, free TV services still command a 70 percent share, and TikTok is not knocking on anyone’s door (or screen for that matter)!