The week in culture #009

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, we’re exploring the impossibility of TikTok’s #HandGesture Effect, why a man in a kebab shop went viral, and bad date stories on Twitter.

The #HandGestureChallenge sets people up to fail
TikTok’s Hand Gesture effect is making the rounds right now. I would try to explain it, but it’s easier for me to show you. It looks like this:


The first person who ever tried this filter must have been like #foryou #fyp #handgestures #ThatsWhatILike #futuretech #hardtimes

♬ Hard Times by Paramore – janapaige

The Effect has been around for a while, but it’s recently re-emerged in light of a couple of challenges. The #HardTimes challenge and the #CaughtOut challenge both require people to get creative with the three snapshots at the top of the frame to tell a story or create an optical illusion, rather than just snap some cute selfies. This is particularly difficult given how glitchy the Effect is to use. Which is why the videos that have gained the most traction are the fails. Like this one:


偏差値3です。#ストーリーシャッター #tiktok教室

♬ オリジナル楽曲 – 中町綾

The popularity of TikTok’s self-effacing content style has been defined by a desire to take ourselves less seriously online. With this in mind, it rings true to TikTok’s ethos that the most popular videos from a challenge are not the ones of people nailing it, but of those laughing at themselves when they get it wrong. The description on the platform’s #HandGestures hashtag page further confirms this, reading: ‘Use our Creative Effect and show us your #HandGestures gone wrong.’It’s not just about the lols attached to messing up a bit, either. On TikTok, not everything is about the end result – it’s about the time, energy and joy that are poured into the process of content creation itself. This challenge – and these videos, in particular – elevates the joy in the making of the video above the final output.

TL;DR: TikTok users take as much joy in the creation of the video itself as they do in the curation of their feeds.

This kebab shop brawl is the ultimate metaphor for our times
Last week, a 52-year-old man called Chris from Portsmouth in the UK witnessed a fight in a kebab shop. While the scuffle slowly escalated, he quietly tried to mind his own business as he tucked into his box of chips with his headphones in. Unfortunately for Chris, the internet had other ideas.

Initially, the main subject of the video’s widespread appeal was the calm veneer Chris maintained while chaos ensued in the background. But as is wont in matters of the internet, it didn’t take long for the video to be plucked from its context, and used as a vehicle to talk about the conflict that defines the socio-political context of the scene, which would soon become a meme. Memes like this one:

Other entries referenced award season disputes, existential horror and the ongoing Millennials vs. Boomer debacle. Regardless of subject, though, they all touch on the same point. In lots of ways, a kebab shop brawl – a casual, everyday situation invaded with sudden and unnecessary conflict – is the perfect metaphor for what being a social media user feels like in 2020. Regardless of where we are, our phones act as windows into the wider world. Chaos and conflict of a global scale have never felt more present in everyday life. And sometimes it’s as funny as it is terrible.

TL;DR: In our feeds, global conflict – from natural disasters to societal conflict – are presented alongside the everyday, making these issues feel closer to home.

This Twitter thread about bad dates is a feast of cringe content
Earlier this week, someone posted this:

The responses are a smorgasbord of cringe content, largely consisting of bodged dates arranged via apps. On the surface, this thread is a tell-all on modern love – navigating the pros and cons (mostly cons) of tech-enabled hook-ups, amid oversized clouds of vape smoke, dead phone batteries, and heated conversations about the patriarchy

But (of course) it also says a lot about the kind of content that appeals to us. Recent years have seen people grow weary of the pressure to present ourselves as perfect online, and as a result, content that highlights the fact that it’s OK to be human has been gaining traction – from the cutting content found on the Am I The Asshole subreddit to the more joyful wealth of cringe content on TikTok.

This thread sits comfortably in this genre, combining a relatable and funny-because-it-hurts tone with an open invite for others to participate, and add their story to the steaming pile of human awkwardness. Every contribution reminds contributors and onlookers alike that we survive the horrors of embarrassment in social situations. Think of this thread as a group therapy session. 

TL;DR: People take pleasure in retelling negative emotional experiences in safe digital spaces – it’s cathartic.