Are You Too Old For TikTok?
Illustration: Moya Garrison-Msingwana

Are You Too Old For TikTok?

You’re definitely too old to film yourself doing a dumb-ass dance — but not for enjoying what those dances mean.

Illustration: Moya Garrison-Msingwana

I’m 33 years old. It’s a weird age, teetering between being in touch and stuck in my ways. And I know I’m not the only one standing at the intersection of Young Buck and Old Head. Every time something comes along, whether it’s slang or pop culture or a new tech platform, you confront the same question: Am I too old for this? That’s why I’m here — to work through these conundrums on your behalf, on a weekly basis. Together, hopefully, we can face some harsh truths about our own washed-ness.

You really want to learn someone’s personality? Take a look at their social media portfolio. It’s crucial whether you’re scouting prospective employees, friends, or people you’ll later regret having sex with. If they’re only on LinkedIn and Facebook, chances are they use words like “disruption” and listen to some problematic podcasts. If they IG and tweet all day, they might just be a millennial with a lot on their mind and zero sense of boundaries. They don’t have any social media accounts at all? Clearly they’re hiding from their family so they can cheat in peace. (Look, these are the rules; I didn’t make them.)

So when a new form of social media pops up, we have to be sure that it fits into our personalities and portfolios. We don’t want to step too far beyond our abilities and end up looking foolish by trying to keep up with the newest trends. As we get older, the new social media entities that pop up seem younger and younger. For instance, I never got into Snapchat, mostly because I never understood the appeal of wearing an invisible animated clown nose. But the newest social media behemoth has wedged its way into my heart, allowing me to fall in love with it even though I don’t even have the app on my phone.

We are absolutely too damn old to try to make TikToks for a few reasons — not the least of which is the fact that there is nothing as funny as a witty teenager. When they get to roasting you, you lose every single time. Trust me. I teach a bunch of them.

TikTok, owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance, is similar to Vine (RIP) in that it’s built around sharing small, digestible videos. It has also become one of the most popular new sites with half a billion users worldwide and 1.5 billion downloads. Forty-one percent of users are age 16–24. The videos on TikTok can also be uploaded to Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, meaning that they can go viral on any given day, even creating new teenage stars in the process.

So where do we old people fit in? Well, we don’t, despite what media outlets like the Washington Post think. TikTok is a young person’s game. We are absolutely too damn old to try to make funny TikToks for a few reasons — not the least of which is the fact that there is nothing as funny as a witty teenager. When they get to roasting you, you lose every single time. Trust me. I teach a bunch of them. Kids are just hilarious in ways that we are not.

Besides, the cruelty of life, the existential realization that it’s all coming to an end, and, y’know, bills, all conspire to ruin our ability to create joy. I loaded up TikTok on my phone with the hope of creating something funny for an adoring audience of none, and ended up just staring blankly into a screen while exactly zero thoughts came into my mind.

But fear not. Even though we may look like fools trying to create TikToks, there’s a valid and essential reason to enjoy consuming them — and even to go out of your way to watch as many as possible. It’s all about the current state of what makes us laugh.

If you turn on any Netflix special from Dave Chappelle to Bill Burr to Kevin Hart, you’ll hear endless complaining about how they can’t be funny anymore because they can’t be “controversial.” Of course, that’s coded language for them being upset their jabs at marginalized communities can’t go on unchecked. Mainstream comedy has been one long vent session about the state of the world and why it’s impossible to make people laugh. Quite frankly, it’s all a drag. Every stand-up special starts with a promise that the comedians would be funnier if they could make fun of LGBT folks or make rape jokes, which, to be honest, pretty much ruins the fun of most comedy specials.

The beauty of TikTok is that it dispels those myths utterly. The app is full of 15-year-olds being more creative and hilarious than your favorite grumpy comedian is bothering to be anymore. TikToks, especially once filtered through to our other social media outlets, show a world where teenagers are being genuinely hilarious and bringing joy to the world.

As many folks learned in the past week, one of TikTok’s biggest viral crazes has been a dance called the Renegade, created by Jalaiah Harmon, a 14-year-old Black girl from Atlanta. As is often the case with anything Black people create, the dance was co-opted, gentrified, and monetized by white TikTok users who leveraged its popularity to appear at the Super Bowl and All-Star Weekend. But thanks to a groundswell of support and a New York Times article about the situation, Harmon finally got the attention she deserved and looks to be earning money for her family.

While Harmon’s story has a happy ending story, it’s also a reminder TikTok is a space for us to support Black people like Jalaiah and ensure their ideas get the credit they deserve. TikTok is full of future choreographers, comedians, directors, producers, and musicians. Maybe we have a moral imperative to amplify those Black creatives and next generation of geniuses. We should at least do what we can to make sure they get the credit they deserve before their corners of the internet get replaced by Pure Barre studios and a Starbucks.

Of course, there’s a whole dark world of TikTok where they’re, like, sticking wire hangers in electrical sockets and some racist dude makes pasta, but we don’t have to see those if we don’t actually have the app. Just wait for something wholesome and beautiful to trickle down your Twitter timeline and you can feel better about the future.

So where does that leave us and TikTok? You probably want to stay away from the app itself. Stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t enjoy the videos the app creates. Take a look at them as they skedaddle through your timelines. You’ll smile. You’ll laugh. You’ll want to snuggle with some sort of furry animal. You’ll see what life-threatening trend your teenager is doing for social media clout. It’s a win/win. Just, please, stay away from the record button.