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Those Fine Young Communists

How the schizoid discourse of TikTok captured the youth, and why their clueless elders are the bigger problem

Isaac Simpson
May 01, 2024



Say to your 3-year-old daughter “I am the king.” Her response will be something along the lines, “No, I am the king.” Maybe “no, Mama is the king.” Perhaps “no, you’re the elephant.” She certainly will not say “yes, you are the king” or “you are a great king.” She will flip the hierarchy so that you, the closest thing to a king she knows, is anything but.

I remember my time as a communist. A brief, angry, dark time. I’d left a career in law and been fired from another one in advertising. I was bartending and freelancing for LA Weekly for $50 an article. I forced down the Communist Manifesto alongside a sausage egg and cheese, hungover, at a low-end coffee shop in Miracle Mile.

It was 2015 and Trump was still a twinkle in the media’s eye. Bernie was my option. I went around criticizing capitalism. Pharma and landlords really pissed me off. I had no idea what I was talking about. I attempted to get involved in organizing. At my bartending job, there was a skinny mustachioed Colombian who carried around a leather-bound notebook. A busboy. He muttered communist-ly in the breakroom. I tried to ingratiate myself with him, maybe get invited to a meeting or something. He could sense I wasn’t right, and pushed me off.

There was the socialist Vice writer I had coffee with at The Bungalow on Larchmont. Race came up and destroyed any hope of a relationship there. Then there was the LA Tenant’s Rights meeting, affiliated with DSA. A group of 15-20 sitting around in a circle like an AA meeting, we had to state our pronouns and our preferred language. They passed around rotting headsets that were supposed to auto-translate, but they didn’t work. By the time we were done fumbling and stating, 15 minutes remained to discuss protesting landlords who were conducting mass evictions. I never went back.

Instead, I dedicated myself to digging out of the hole I was in. The shroud of my communism began to lift. The anger always caused me pain anyway. I discovered I was better without it.

The communist instinct tempts the youthful soul as it seeks God. The communist is always anti-God because he is hypersocialized. God, for him, is the collective. Today’s Westerners are taught that empathy is an evolved behavior—it’s what makes us human. We see a state of nature with empathy-lacking proto-humans killing and eating each other due to their glaring lack of care for the other. God, they believe, is a crutch for those not progressively evolved enough to care just for the sake of it. The communist, however, is truly evolved, because he doesn’t need a man up in the sky to have empathy for others. This self-congratulatory belief is the foundation of his self-worth.

Except, the communists have it reversed. “Empathy” is in reality the most primitive instinct we have. The opposite of what makes us divine. It perverts and inverts the sort of hierarchical superstructures that elevate us above monkeys and bugs. It is our ability to reject the herd, not to stick to it, that makes us the most “human.” And God is the key to doing this. God is shorthand for empathy toward a relationship that makes no earthly sense. All of humanity’s specialness derives from our ability to tear ourselves away from the comfort of the crowd and connect with something larger than ourselves. The books, movies, and theater that have risen to the top of Western civilization foster the relationship between the individual and that cosmic irrational mission, whether we call it God or not.

TikTok is the opposite of that drive. TikTok is the crowd. TikTok is fertile ground for communism to take root.

TikTok, as we know it, began as, a Chinese karaoke app. The app was designed to pair clips from songs with users singing into the camera. It was so cringey no American could’ve possibly dreamt it up, but it exploded from East to West, just like karaoke did. It’s interesting because as a copying function, karaoke is more collectivist and buglike, and thus more primitive, than your typical Western activity. It appeals, at first, to a childish, underdeveloped instinct that makes enlightenment-infused Westerners uncomfortable. If Facebook started with elite college students, TikTok started with flyover-state 13-year-olds who lacked the self-consciousness that would stop them from unironically lip-syncing to Britney Spears for all the world to see.

The necessity of matching trending songs with cringe-inducing selfie videos presented an interesting algorithmic challenge. You needed to analyze many different streams of data to determine what was interesting content versus what was less interesting content. It was a similar challenge for YouTube and the defunct short-video app Vine, but made even more complicated by the secondary stream of trending audio clips. (The music industry embraced TikTok very early on because it’s the easiest way to spread short clips of hot songs without forfeiting ownership of the full track.) Then throw in the normal factors of likes, shares, and full views—not into a “social network” dashboard, but into a single, one-at-a-time, swipe-able feed. It’s actually an incredible invention.

In my new professional life, I learned to master the TikTok algorithm. It’s an odd beast, quite different from prior forms of virality on Twitter or Instagram or even YouTube. The most important part is the first three seconds. The algorithm selects videos that people tend to watch for more than three seconds, and puts those in the central scroll of more users. Also important are how long people watch and whether the underlying sound is trending. I won’t get too much into what this means, but remember, this is originally a karaoke app. So, the way a video sounds, and whether it’s a reaction to another sound, are vitally important. Likes, shares, and engagements are far less heavily weighted than time viewed in the feed.

This strange algorithmic set of factors creates a sort of negative exposure of Instagram. Where on Instagram, being smiley and breathtakingly perfect gets you lots of likes and therefore virality, on TikTok, the opposite is true.

The moment of enlightenment for me was watching what looked like a boy band heartthrob, wet mop and all, except he was smoking a cigarette and lamenting his “mental health” at a construction site. And he had over 500,000 followers.

It wasn’t an act. There is literally a smoking, construction-working mental health heartthrob influencer on TikTok. The more natural, flawed, and weird you seem, the longer people look at your video. The funnier you are, the more people will stop the scroll. And finally, the more apparently truthful you are, within a certain context, the more your video will be amplified in the algorithm.

Put very simply, where conspiracy theories and gender red pills have zero place on traditional Instagram, and even on Twitter will generally produce mostly eye rolls, on TikTok a “last honest man” type with crazy eyes and wild haircut who piques your interest about North Sentinel Island or MK Ultra can have a major impact. Instagram is ego. TikTok is id. It’s what we really want to see, not what we want to be publicly associated with.

And thus we arrive back at the new information system at the core of the generational divide. Millennials are perfect mini-boomers. They love BIG HEROES and BIG STORIES, with clear black and white, good and evil. They like PERFECT BODIES and EPIC WEEKENDS. Their informatics, from Hollywood films all the way down to Instagram, supported this kind of traditional BIG storytelling.

Beyond millennials there’s a new sort of chasm. It’s all about subtlety, little moments, depressing weekends, comic characters unpacked in seven seconds, models like Julia Fox recording their faces with literally no makeup, not the look of no makeup. Weirdness, bizarreness, and flaws are appreciated. We are leaving the age of autism, where everything must be perfect and lines must be clean, and entering the age of schizophrenia.

So what happens to the soul of the angry youth in the state of nature? It leans, inevitably, toward communism.

So where does this leave us with regard to viral communism and the Jews? A relevant anecdote. I learned how to use TikTok from a zoomer freelancer of mine, a young rich girl from the Valley. She was half-Jewish, 23 years old. She came with me a couple times to Shabbat dinner with my rabbi, who runs a hip Chabad house for young professionals in Echo Park. She bore all the signs and signals of a well-to-do mischling girl, a desire to embrace Judaism purely for the status it afforded her and to impress her older Jewish boyfriend. But, this was also a smart person. A good head on her shoulders. A lot of talent and potential.

That said, her politics represented complete derangement. Gay-ally. Trans-ally. BLM-ally. COVID mask adherent. Girlboss celebrator. And, I would assume today, Palestine-ally. So how does a smart, young, ambitious white girl receive these beliefs? Especially if she’s Jewish?

Well, beyond the daily birth control and Lexapro (real), the answer is that there are no elder-masculine inputs in her information regime. There sure used to be—his name was Steven Spielberg. His generation of Hollywood told the American story during her youth, and she listened. But then where did he go? Who filled in after him? Who would tell young girls like her about the importance of tolerance? Of not judging people by their race or skin? That Hamas are terrorists who would kill every American, not to mention Jew, with a finger snap if they could? Even my Jewish mother, after Oct. 7, said “well there’s two sides to the story.” She would’ve never said that in 2006. What changed?

What changed is that the elder males who still remain inside Hollywood and media are now deathly afraid of cancellation. I have a friend who works for a core big American TV show with veteran writers. “They’re all based!” he says, “It’s crazy! They’re just afraid to say anything!” So in the upper echelons you have a new regime of fear. Everything that comes out of it feels clenched and forced. So where do youth turn for content? Away from the TV, and toward their phones.

And inside the phone, it is chaos. Zero social immune system has been developed to control the schizoid narratives it propagates. Our elders haven’t developed any ability to understand it, let alone inject it with any sort of positive message.

So what happens to the soul of the angry youth in the state of nature? It leans, inevitably, toward communism. Until it sees some trajectory toward success and respect in its own life, or until an adult in the room gives it something better to believe in.

Now Congress is considering banning TikTok, which is one of the growing list of things Donald Trump was right about and that the regime initially resisted, but can no longer avoid. Of course, Congress is uniformly anti-TikTok for the same reason it’s generally pro-Israel—because its network of patrons and donors demands it. And they demand it because TikTok is being blamed for a rise in antisemitism that is impossible to ignore or deny. I wouldn’t even call it a “rise in antisemitism,” I would call it more like a return to the normal condition of the relationship between Jews and gentiles, which has been nonhostile for maybe 0.1% of its history. Nothing is more Lindy than hating Jews.

Which is why “banning TikTok” misses the point entirely. TikTok is being scapegoated for something unavoidable, very similar to how Facebook was scapegoated for the rise of Trump. Mimetic art is the art of our time, the carrier of all relevant messages. It will replace TV, just as TV replaced theater and books. There is simply no avoiding this result. The scroll is here, and it’s not going anywhere. Plop a young person on a couch and give them a book, a remote control, and a phone. They will pick the phone every single time. Nowhere will they hear “No, I am king!”

The ideology of anti-worship is the ideology of the infant, of the child, and of youth. They have always been iconoclasts and “rebels” and this is part of what we love about them. However, the older generations must instill and enforce respect for the morals of the structure. They must successfully handle the inevitable hierarchy-reversal attempts of the younger generation. This is how a society survives.

The problem is not that the Steven Spielbergs of the world are unwilling to learn TikTok. The problem is a regime that’s not talented or innovative enough to create compelling work in a shifting environment. When we say “the left can’t meme,” what we really mean is “the regime can’t meme.” The people whose job it is to push culture forward, to harness the natural talent arising from the youth (for example on Frogtwitter or r/wallstreetbets) and ensure that at least some of it is used to keep everyone properly propagandized enough to not be communists, have been replaced by mediocre Girlboss apparatchiks and racial apartheid freaks.

Of course, we aren’t allowed to talk about this kind of thing in our ever more (quite literally) castrated and suffocating official media. But we are on TikTok.

Isaac Simpson writes and hosts The Carousel on Substack. He is the founder of WILL, a marketing and PR agency in Los Angeles. He tweets at @DisgracedProp.