The week in culture #06

Lore Oxford

The internet is full of content that can make us laugh, freak us out and fill us with hope for the human race. But it’s more than just trolls and lols. If you know what to look for, memes, tweets and everything in between can serve as an early warning system for cultural and behavioural shifts.

This week, among other things, we’re exploring ‘rise and shine’, influencer fatigue and teachers on TikTok.

Twitter could be the new home of how-to content
The popularisation of the thread has seen Twitter narratives grow in length and complexity, but it’s not just the format that’s evolving. The content itself is also diversifying, as people take this new format and apply it to a wider range of subjects. Take this thread:

The ‘how-to’ has historically been more at home on platforms like YouTube, where complex ideas can be expressed with clarity and simplicity. But the thread format perfectly lends itself to step-by-step guides – especially since Twitter has started labelling tweets to make digesting content in threads and conversations clearer. Increasingly, we could see Twitter become an open forum for anyone to seek out expertise with ease and clarity.

TL;DR: Twitter has become a forum for more than witty repartee; people are looking to users for expertise in a digestible format.

Kylie Jenner has harnessed ‘Rise and Shine’ memes for financial gain
Earlier this month, Kylie Jenner conducted a tour of the Kylie Cosmetics office. Less than a minute from the end of the 16 minute, 19 second video, Kylie lets herself into her daughter’s playroom to wake her up, singing ‘rise and shine’. The internet – more specifically, TikTok – went wild. Over the course of the following two weeks, videos with the #riseandshine hashtag were viewed more than a billion times, breaking all prior records on the platform. Videos like this one:

Ever the digital-first business woman, Kylie lent into the uptick in mentions. She retweeted a few of her favourite TikToks, released a limited line of hoodies featuring a freshly designed ‘rise and shine’ motif (all of which are now sold out), and – most outrageously – is now exploring the possibility of trademarking the phrase. 

Following in the footsteps of older sibling Kim – who has similarly monetised public embarrassment in the meme arena, most notably ‘Crying Kim’ – Kylie is abiding by the oldest and truest idiom. Only no publicity is bad publicity. But she’s also exercising an understanding of a number of newer rules, which make for hypereffective digital marketing:

TL;DR: In a maturing digital landscape, memes are more monetisable than ever.

This video essay demonstrates Netflix’s respect for its audiences
Last week, Netflix uploaded a video essay from writer Aniefiok Ekpoudom, breaking down key themes around masculinity from British TV drama TOP BOY – a show that’s centred around the everyday dramas of a group of young black men in London. Find it here:

Netflix is renowned for giving the communities its content represents a voice. Prism, which was launched during Pride Month, is an Instagram feed that focuses exclusively on the platform’s LGBTQ+ content, while the streaming service’s Strong Black Lead division is a team of black executives tasked with amplifying content for people of colour.

In a similar vein, by giving Ekpoudom’s analysis of TOP BOY a platform (rather than creating similar content internally) Netflix can shine a light on the emotional resonance of its content. It demonstrates the platform’s commitment to accurately representing the audiences its content speaks to, by letting its audience speak for themselves.

TL;DR: Netflix is happy to take a back seat, and let the communities it content represents do the talking instead.

This tweet perfectly captures the backlash against influencer culture
This year has seen influencers as a group take a real hit. People were furious when it came to light that fashion blogger Marissa Fuchs had pitched her extravagant engagement celebrations out to brands. Nashville-based Tiffany Mitchell drew outrage after she posted glossy photos of herself to Instagram, crumpled on the side of the road following a motorcycle crash. And people have consistently hated on YouTube make-up artist James Charles for, among other things, being James Charles. Public perceptions of these internet personalities are in decline, and their supposed authenticity is drawing cynicism. See this tweet:

Part of the problem is that ‘influencers’ have historically been characterised by an authenticity that’s rooted in a self-made persona. But in 2019, many social-born creators and influencers have drawn their followings through privilege, nepotism and being able to afford the latest iPhone. Kylie Jenner is an ‘influencer’, for example.

As the digital landscape has matured, a wealth divide – in terms of income *and* followers – has emerged. This is a problem for the 1% of the digital world; the more elite they’re perceived to be, the less relatable and authentic they seem. It’s why the internet kicked off when Forbes named Kylie Jenner the ‘youngest self-made billionaire ever’ – setting aside her privileged upbringing. And it’s why influencer culture in general is taking a hit right now.    

TL;DR: The social hierarchies of the internet – once dictated by authenticity and democratic ideals – have become as imbalanced and divided as they are offline. 

@chemteacherphil is one in a growing body of TikTok teachers 
TikTok is broadly perceived to be a haven for Gen Zers who spend their time lip syncing, staging makeovers and performing extravagant, synchronised dance routines. But as the platform moves into the public consciousness, people (read: grown-ups) are harnessing the platform for a wider range of reasons. One of these people is @chemteacherphil. He posts videos like this one: 

Phil Cook is a chemistry teacher who also boasts a presence on YouTube and Instagram, where he shares educational and tutorial-style chemistry videos’. But on TikTok, he’s drawn an almost 500,000-strong following in less than two months. And he’s not the only one to find a fruitful crossover between conventional education and TikTok – Mr Papetti is another teacher who’s taken to the platform, while a number of teachers across the US have even launched TikTok clubs, where students collaborate to create platform-specific content. Meanwhile, the platform itself is harnessing this sense of purpose, launching an educational programme in India.

The desire to transform TikTok into a platform for more than lols, is rooted in its audience and their cultural context. Launched in 2016, it’s the first social platform of its scale to be born into an era of self-aware anxiety around social media consumption – especially among realistic and digital-savvy Gen Zers. As a result, teens have been quick to harness it for uses beyond social validation and viral reach. Combined with its looping, bite-sized format – ideal for conveying ideas with satisfying simplicity – it’s no surprise that educational content is killing it on TikTok right now.

TL;DR: Born into an era of caution around social, TikTok is being harnessed for education and community – not just lols.