News National Garry Linnell: TikTok is ‘brain-dead, idiotic, witless’ and I absolutely love it
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Garry Linnell: TikTok is ‘brain-dead, idiotic, witless’ and I absolutely love it

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I wanted to hate it.

I wanted to sneer, to sniff disdainfully, to complain loudly about its breathtaking superficiality and its brain-dead, idiotic, witless, mindless content.

I wanted to exhaust every synonym for stupidity and condemn those who enjoy it as shallow, pea-brained morons whose idea of entertainment is queueing for hours to attend a toenail clipping competition.

I wanted to accuse it of being nothing more than a mirror reflecting the glib and trivial values that dominate modern society.

But instead, I fell in love with TikTok.

If you haven’t heard of this Chinese-owned, short-form video sharing platform, then you either don’t know anyone under the age of 30 or you have been taking this self-isolating thing as seriously as those Japanese soldiers who hid in the jungle for 30 years after World War II ended.

In just two years since its worldwide release, TikTok has gained more than one billion users and almost two million in Australia.

@devinfox22##itwasntmechallenge ##goldenretriever♬ It Wasn’t Me – Shaggy

It has turned teenage girls who once danced in front of their bedroom mirrors using a hairbrush for a microphone while lip-synching to their favourite songs into multi-millionaires who … dance in their bedrooms while lip-synching to their favourite songs.

It has transformed teenage boys obsessed with juvenile pranks and fart jokes into global cult figures who film themselves performing juvenile pranks and who … well, lip-synch and dance awkwardly, too.

But TikTok, which also allows you to waste hours watching people fold towels in intriguing new ways or revealing how to turn your pantry into an aircraft hangar, is now caught in the crossfire of rising American-Chinese tensions.

Last week Donald Trump signed an order that will ban the digital platform from the United States by the middle of September unless TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, sells it to Microsoft.

Mr Trump is just one of many politicians claiming TikTok – and another Chinese-owned social and mobile payment app called WeChat – is a high-security risk with the potential to provide the Chinese government with enormous personal and transactional data.

It’s a flimsy argument in an age when high-resolution images of your car licence plate can be captured by orbiting satellites, security agencies track your movements using your phone data and global giants like Google and Facebook know far more about your buying and spending habits than your partner.

But rather than dwell on the political gunfight between East and West, the bigger issue is: Why is TikTok so popular?

Garry Linnell is on the TikTok train. Photo: TND

Most members of my family had been using the app for a while, except me.

The reason was simple: I’m a curmudgeonly man in his mid-50s who believes music peaked in 1975 with Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album.

My idea of high culture is hauling bewildered friends to a remote RSL club, elbowing my way through the mosh pit of pensioners, kicking aside their walking frames, and singing loudly to The Angels performing a live version of Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?

Did I really need to watch pimply teenagers playing air guitar while looking meaningful and mysterious?

Been there. Done that. Err … still do (but only when no one else is home).

But last week I figured it was time to find out why everyone else has been spending so much time hunched over their phones laughing hysterically or crying out in amazement.

And I thought they must have been reading this column …

I was determined to loathe TikTok and the first few minutes seemed to confirm my worst fears.

There was Addison Rae Easterling – an American university student with the mandatory plastic smile and one of those baggy tracksuits you only ever used to be able to buy from a larger gentleman’s store – gyrating and twerking to some crappy rap song.

For this, she is now worth $5 million a year, has her own merchandising brand and is sponsored by companies like Reebok.

Next up was Charli D’Amelio (worth $4 million, according to Forbes) – or maybe it was her sister Dixie ($2.9 million) – who looks the same.

Doesn’t matter. The gene for self-obsession and Dad-style dancing clearly runs strongly in the family.

@maymothedogmission impawsible: cheesy crackers for beagles edition ##disguisechallenge ##dogs ##ad♬ Mission Impossible Theme (Movie Trailer Mix) – Dominik Hauser

TikTok, as I feared, was nothing more than a video version of all the thumping and out-of-tune singing that took place in my sister’s locked bedroom four decades ago.

But some furious scrolling and searching soon uncovered real gems, like two young comedians who use the moniker @theinspiredunemployed and have a skit mocking Australian slang that is genuinely funny.

Because I watched that, the TikTok algorithm began throwing up other similar recommendations.

Feeling adventurous, I came across tantalising short-cut recipes (well, they have to be when all you have is 60 seconds), glowing critiques of the greatest movie in history – Interstellar – and even good folk lip-syncing to Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?

In other words, TikTok had me worked out long before I had its measure.

Like most things in our lives that depend on cryptic computer code, it quickly learned my likes and dislikes, adapted to my requests and was eager to please.

My wife should be so smart.

A couple of hours later my phone battery was almost dead and I couldn’t have cared less if a cadre of Chinese spies hunched over their computers in a secretive Beijing warehouse now had their hands on my library card details and other personal data.

I had been lured into the world of TikTok.

All I have to do now is learn how to twerk.

Garry Linnell was director of News and Current Affairs for the Nine network in the mid-2000s. He has also been editorial director for Fairfax and is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Bulletin magazine