Amy Roberts: Tulsa, TikTok and teens
It’s been several months, long before quarantine and COVID were part of our daily vernacular, but I distinctly remember standing in the produce aisle at the grocery store picking out peppers and feeling like I was suddenly a stagehand at a recital. A group of teenagers had started dancing near the bananas. There was some giggling and just enough choreography to confirm the performance wasn’t entirely spontaneous. A few phones recorded their moves. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I had just had a chemical peel and did not want to be the random red-faced bystander making a cameo appearance in this video, so I quickly turned down the next aisle.
Later, a friend of mine who has young teenagers informed me this not-so-impromptu dance party had likely been uploaded to a social media platform called TikTok, something she was only aware of because her kids were also prone to dancing at the grocery store. “It’s OK you don’t know about it,” she assured me. “You’re too old.”
Aside from my age, my distinct reluctance to break out into song and/or dance in random public places might be another logical reason this app hadn’t been on my radar. It seemed kind of pointless to me, so I didn’t give it any additional thought.
At least not until this weekend when news broke suggesting teens on TikTok trolled the president by reserving tickets to his Tulsa rally they never intended to use. The exaggerated RSVP list topped out near one million ticket holders, exciting everyone in the administration. But just over 6,000 people showed up for the rally and Sean Spicer wasn’t around to insist the crowd was actually much larger than it looked. In all, the stadium wasn’t even half full.
While many are calling the effort to reserve tickets a teenage “prank,” I’d argue it was activism. Orchestrating such a widescale call to action and managing to keep it under wraps is nothing short of impressive. When I was in high school, my group of friends couldn’t even pull off a surprise party. We ordered a cake for our friend from the bakery where she worked. She ended up making her own cake and writing her name on it. That’s the kind of simple-minded thought we had at 15. Today’s teens might not be old enough to vote, but damn if they can’t make a statement. Or keep a secret.
Because there was no RSVP capacity, and seating was first-come, first-served, it’s unlikely we will ever know for certain how much of the more than half-empty stadium was due to this coordinated effort, and how much was due to a myriad of other things — like people realizing over 120,000 dead Americans, Great Depression levels of unemployment, and nationwide protests against racism and police brutality all have one common denominator. Regardless, one thing we definitely do know is an event that was supposed to be the ultimate ego boost for Trump turned out to be the political equivalent of the Fyre Festival. It was a complete flop.
And that’s just the attendance. It gets worse when you realize what the president actually said to those adoring fans who equaled roughly the population of Nephi. “Here’s the bad part, when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases,” Trump told the crowd. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down please.’”
Those same people later tried to defend the comment as a joke, which doesn’t exactly make it any better. Either the president made a joke at the expense of more than 120,000 dead Americans, or he actually tried to slow testing during a pandemic. Which makes about as much medical sense as telling women if they stop taking pregnancy tests, they’ll stop being pregnant.
Until this weekend, I might have claimed the president’s logic made about as much sense as dancing in front of bananas, but now I know better.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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