TikTok, Comedy, and the Arab American Identity
By: Emily Tain/Arab America Contributing Writer
With social media platforms growing by the minute, globalization has been as easy as ever. At the click of a button, you can share content with millions upon millions of users worldwide. Coming in at #2 on the Apple App Store, TikTok is an up and coming app for teens and adults alike. This article will discuss TikTok’s origin and the different ways Arab TikTokers use comedy and parody to relay the Arab American experience. It later features a personal interview with a popular TikToker in this field.
After the death of Vine, an app where users recorded six-second videos, Millennials and older Generation Z’s desired anything bearing a resemblance to the retrospectively under-appreciated app. Thousands of channels on YouTube create “Vine Compilations” in which people edit together iconic Vines just to relieve the feeling of scrolling on the app.
Into the arena comes Musical.ly, released in 2014, on which users could use uploaded or recorded audios for videos. In its genesis, however, the app was mostly used by tweens and teens. Therefore, when the Beijing company ByteDance bought the app and renamed it, fans of Vine were hesitant to join the platform. Musical.ly’s reputation of lip-syncing to songs or movie scenes was not appealing to Vine’s audience, as Vine was used mostly for comedic videos. In 2018, however, some previous Vine users started downloading the app now called TikTok. While the lip-syncers and the dancers continued to post, more and more comedic and informational videos were being added by the day.
The Revolutionary “For You” Page
What separates TikTok from other social media apps is its “For You” Page. While you can choose to only view posts from people you follow, you can also scroll infinitely on a feed curated to your interests. Apps like Instagram and Twitter require you to follow users in order to keep content on your feed, and when you have viewed everything that has been posted, you have to seek out additional content. TikTok essentially does this work for you on the “For You” Page, allowing you to watch as much as you would care to in one sitting.
As mentioned, TikTok is known to the mainstream media as an app that Generation Z uses to create dancing videos to random songs. When one looks further, a plethora of content beyond dancing can be found. This varies from point of view (POV) videos to cooking tutorials to impersonations to pranks. On such a globally popular app, it is no surprise that Arab and Arab American users have risen in popularity. And, like many others, Arab teens and young adults express themselves through comedy.
Arab American TikTokers are well aware of the negative stereotypes surrounding their ethnic and religious identity. For some, the best way to cope with this is to make fun of themselves or the stereotype. This can diminish the power of the stereotype and its implications. Using irony to make serious statements become jokes allows the victims reclaim the narrative surrounding their identity. Comedic TikToks are not always about making fun of stereotypes, this is just one way that Arabs -and many other oppressed peoples- use the platform. Another facet of comedic TikToks are those that make popular trends relate to Arab culture. This ranges from Arabic memes to creating POV videos about going to an Arab family’s house to “Never Have I Ever: Muslims Edition.”
Fortunately, I was able to interview @diane_homs, a Syrian TikTok user with over 84,000 followers. Diane’s content is primarily Arab comedy, rotating between English and Arabic. She also includes captions in both languages in order to make her videos accessible.
Question 1: How did you first get into using TikTok?
“I feel like this is the answer you get when you ask anyone how to get on TikTok but it truly started out just as a joke. My friends had it and we became completely obsessed with it. I laughed at them for spending so much time on the app and refused to download it. After going through some videos with them, though, I realized it was kind of like Vine which was an app I absolutely loved. So I downloaded it […] around August but didn’t start actually making videos until December, as I was studying for my dental exam.”
Question 2: How has your identity as an Arab shaped your content?
“My first ever video was using an English sound, but that didn’t really take off (and I never even anticipated it to do so because I just wanted to make it for fun). I later heard a sound about Muslims and got a video idea for it. That one took off. After seeing the greater view[er] interaction I received from [my] video about being Muslim, I figured I would just stick with that niche. Eventually, as I put out more ‘Arab’ content, I started seeing more Arab content pop up on my For You Page. I started to get many messages from people saying that they loved my content and were so happy to see Arab comedy so I just continued to roll with it.”
Diane, from Homs, Syria, is also known for her strong Homsi accent. This has led other Syrians to her page, and her comments “were filled with other Syrians expressing their pride for their country.”
Question 3: What do you enjoy the most about TikTok and its community?
“The thing I enjoy most about TikTok is probably the Arab community that I never even knew existed. This ranges from my followers expressing their Middle Eastern pride to the many many amazing people I have met along the way!”
(Through the app, Diane was able to join a group chat composed solely of Arab TikTokers.)
“At first, this group started out on Instagram but then migrated to Snapchat and now we all have an iMessage group where we constantly talk and FaceTime. I love each and every one of them and still get baffled from time to time that I would have never met any of them had I not posted [her first viral video]. They are truly my support system and more importantly, great friends.”
Huge thank you to Diane for sharing her insight and experience!
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