TikTok // circulating laughter through improvised creativity from a place of distance

It is day 49 of lockdown and uncertainty has become our daily bread. Each day we wake up to try again in this new normal. What is certain though, is that there has been increased usage of social media platforms and apps by the South African online community and even more certain than this is the continuous rise of the TikTok app. Laughter is not uncomplicated, and meme culture is arguably the closest embodiment of a form of visual and written language based cultural production rooted in mechanisms of coping that seeks to find some form of recuperative emotion even in the heaviest of times and circumstances; meshing it with sarcasm, “truth”, and affective relatability in a single image. Now, the cultural space memes are rooted in has evolved with the appearance of apps such as TikTok to encompass the use of short-form videos as a way of circulating positive emotion through humour.

Previously called musical.ly, TikTok was officially launched to the world in 2017 and is owned by Chinese company ByteDance and five years prior to its international launch it was only available to China. After having enormous growth, the app recorded 1.5 billion downloads globally in 2019. The short-form video app allows its users to express themselves and explore their creativity by creating 60 second videos. These videos see various individuals lip-syncing, dancing, talking or creating comedic skits with the use of music and user-friendly filters. What is certain is that the app will not be going away anytime soon due to the great reception it was met with since its international launch. In addition to the humorous and creative content created by ordinary people, TikTok has initiated the “at-home” campaign in which it collaborates with various South African celebrities and online content creators with the aim of making entertaining and stimulating the creativity of its users while in lockdown or social distancing. By pushing the hastags #AtHomeWithMe, #HappyAtHome, and #FitAtHome the app encourages its users to engage with the TikTok community and join in on the fun; further encouraging moments of laughter and fun despite what is going on all around them.

Laughter is radical. In its healing capacity, in the intricacies of social life it exposes, in its capacity to offer — even if momentarily — a moment of solace in belly forged escape. It has become a valued and accessible coping mechanism for many in processing intimate pains but also moments of socio-political uncertainty. “What’s great about being part of the TikTok community is that there’s an outlet for many to share their views and experiences around the coronavirus pandemic,” said a use of the app, Kelly. “But it’s also a place to make some good light-hearted content to bring the masses out of the stress they may be feeling around the Covid-19 outbreak.” – Dancer and choreographer Kelly Kikx, interview with The Citizen.

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