We live in an age of mass social media consumption; people crave content and, more importantly, platforms that can provide them with comedic sketches and viral, quotable jargon. First, there was Vine, the now-defunct six-second looping video app that resulted in a generation that now obsess over making short, viral videos.
Now, the prevailing platform is TikTok, a cross between Vine and the now-extinct lip-syncing app Musical.ly. Branded as a “video-sharing social networking service,” TikTok users create short videos—up to a minute long—with content ranging from narrative stories to dance montages.
One scroll down the “For You” tab, a curated page in the app that presents the user with videos that cater to their past viewing history, showcases the range of possible TikToks. Commonly, bass-heavy rap music roars in the background as teens mimic choreographed dance trends created by popular users. Other videos can be as simple as pranks, dares or compilations of memorable events.
Giulia Cancro ’22, an avid TikTok user, believes that, despite some initial hesitation, the app has now found its place amongst teens.
“I think at first a lot of people really rejected it because they thought that [TikTok] was kind of stupid, because it started with a lot of dances and [was] for younger people,” Cancro said. “But I think once [TikTok] became acknowledged as kind of a ‘Vine 2,’ people accepted it more. And I think that … it’s a humor outlet as well as a creative outlet.”
TikTok boasts over 500 million users, ranging from the average teenager to major news publications such as the Washington Post. Recently, colleges and universities have begun creating accounts to highlight their school’s quirks and oddities. Kenyon College is one of those schools.
The Kenyon account, run by students in collaboration with the Office of Communications, has 11 videos published on its page. The videos combine elements of Kenyon life with popular trends that have circulated the app. For example, one video shows a group of students in a North Campus Apartment recreating a viral video of Kylie Jenner crooning “Rise and Shine” to wake her sleeping daughter Stormi up from a nap. Another, the first posted on the account, pans over the trees next to the College Gates and the crows located on the top of Ransom Hall, as an audio recording asserts that all birds died in 1986 and have been replaced by spies controlled by the bourgeoisie.
Miles Shebar ’20, one of the students who runs Kenyon’s TikTok account, finds inspiration for these videos in both the app and his imagination.
“The magic of TikTok is that a lot of inspirations can be other TikToks themselves and taking memes that were already popular and giving them a Kenyon flair,” Shebar said. “TikTok is this place in the dark recesses of the human mind that is completely controlled by algorithms. Inspiration comes from really, really weird [and] diverse things.”
However, while the videos have often been received well, the Kenyon TikTok account has had its share of controversy, stemming from a video recorded in mid-October. The video begins with a shot of a stack of David Foster Wallace’s book, “This is Water.” The book is currently sent to all accepted students as a part of their admissions decision and is a slightly edited version of the famous address Foster Wallace delivered at the College’s 2005 commencement.
The video then shows Shebar and J.T. Baldassarre ’20, the other student manager of the account, taping a copy of a book to each foot and exploring campus — specifically walking down Middle Path and into the Church of the Holy Spirit. As they walk, a verse from Iggy Azalea’s 2013 single “Work” plays in the background. The lyrics read: “Walk a mile in these Louboutins / But they don’t wear these s**ts where I’m from.”
The reception on the app itself was positive; one user even went so far to say, “prediction: viral.”
However, the video was also posted on Kenyon’s official Twitter account. While Kenyon’s TikTok account boasts a respectable 151 followers, Kenyon’s Twitter has comfortably over 10,000, and its followers were less than pleased.
“Not only is this wasting resources during the climate crisis, y’all are literally dragging one of the best commencement speeches ever delivered on the ground — in turn dirtying Wallace’s legacy and our graduation ceremony all to be ‘funny,’” one user said.
“Please delete this,” said another.
However, the creators of the video remained unfazed.
“I laughed all the way to the bank,” Shebar said when asked about his reaction to the criticism. “I mean, [I don’t] think that we’re destroying David Foster Wallace’s legacy by taking two copies of a famous book that every [admitted student] gets in the mail and returning them—yes, a bit dirtier, but still in readable condition. I didn’t think we were wasting resources in a climate crisis.”
The controversy was short-lived, and Shebar has returned to crafting unique TikToks for the College’s account. While Shebar doesn’t know what’s next for the account, he believes it serves as a great utility to encourage dialouge.
“I think as long as it creates a conversation,” Shebar said, “that it’s a fundamentally good thing.”