Three Things This Week
1. America Runs on Charli
What it is: Dunkin’ recently made TikTok star Charli D'Amelio's go-to order an official item on the menu.
Why it’s an act of marketing genius: Connecticut native Charli D’Amelio is known for three things: her viral TikTok dance videos, her authentic (and often teary-eyed) Instagram Lives with fans, and carrying an ever-present, mega-size iced coffee. Charli’s favorite drink (cold brewed coffee with whole milk and three pumps of caramel, in case you’re interested) launched as a Dunkin’ menu item on September 9. To market her eponymous drink, a tie-dye clad Charli dances enthusiastically with coffee in hand to a hip-hop song called “The Charli,” which is the perfect TikTok clickbait. If the TikTok enthusiast under your roof is suddenly “running on Dunkin’,” this is why.
2. TikTok Fails Its Users, Big Time
What it is: Over the weekend, footage of a man who live-streamed his death by suicide was edited into harmless-looking TikToks. TikTok’s main “For You Page” algorithm started recommending the posts before it could be contained, exposing countless users to this graphic, heartbreaking footage.
Why it’s a feature, not a bug, of TikTok’s interface: Much has been made over the past year about the possibility that TikTok is used as a tool of Chinese “spyware,” and we’ve yet to know what the outcome of that political battle will be. But perhaps the real hidden danger of the app isn’t its role in geopolitical conflict, but how its algorithms recommend videos they can’t fully comprehend. Young users in the thousands flooded the comment sections of these truly evil posts, and dozens more posted reaction videos on Instagram and other platforms urging viewers to “stay off TikTok” for the weekend, confessing that the footage was “haunting” them and giving them nightmares. When you bring this up to your teen, do it gently, keeping in mind that the posts were deceptively spliced so that they didn’t appear to be upsetting or violent, and your teen most likely wasn't seeking out the footage. But do ask about what they saw, and if they want to talk about it.
3. Singing the Screentime Blues
What it is: With notifications, texts, and social media always beckoning, teens and adults are looking for a way to send the message that they’re “not available” (language).
Why this thing has legs: If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic restrictions over the past year, it might be this: Being online gets old! While screens continue to be the main source of social interaction for kids who are remote learning, socialization via smartphones can easily become exhausting. And now that notices of all of our obligations come through our handheld devices, people of all ages are looking for ways to “politely disconnect.” We suspect that some forward-thinking app developers will be working on a new auto-reply feature, which can respond to any and all notifications with an “away” message (circa the heyday of AOL Instant Messenger). Until such a thing becomes widely available, ask your teen if they’re sick of their screen yet. Talk as a family about ways to put digital life on “pause,” and try to set an example by doing it yourself for a few hours each day.
Spotlight: September is Suicide Awareness Month. According to a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, Gen Z has reported the most mental health problems among the generations. That is why we want you to feel equipped this month to have amazing conversations with the next generation about mental health! Join 12 Christian mental health, parenting, and discipleship experts for a free digital event, September 15th–22nd. Sign up today and start having life-saving conversations with the next generation.
The Cost of Unity
On this day 19 years ago, terrorists hijacked four American planes, crashing two of them into the World Trade Center, and one into the Pentagon. 2,977 people died, and 6,000 more were injured. Americans who disagreed on many issues came to see al-Qaeda as their common enemy, and “a spirit of unity and togetherness” defined the weeks and months following.
When the pandemic began, some speculated that COVID-19 would be Gen Z’s 9/11—but one thing it definitely has not done is unify us. For many, fears of governmental overreach and economic downturn outweighed the fear of contagion, and the country has not moved in a single, unified direction. To be unified requires a common goal that’s big enough to outweigh individual differences—a vision everyone thinks is beautiful enough, or an enemy horrible enough, to inspire coordinated action.
This week, some Americans thought they found such an enemy in Netflix’s new movie Cuties. Conservative writer Graham Allen tweeted, “As divided as we are….I think we ALL can agree that sexualizing our children is abhorrent and @netflix should have to answer for promoting pedophilia on their platform!!” Some reviewers then criticized the criticism, saying that people were mistaking the film’s depictions for a promotion of what it depicted. Regardless, in a rare moment of apparent consensus, both left-wingers and right-wingers began leaving the streaming giant in droves.
Next week, no doubt, the internet will be on to another controversy and there will be new outrage, new scapegoats, and new reasons to call 2020 the worst year ever. In the midst of all this, as impossible as it may seem, the church is still called to be a people marked by the promotion of unity and peace. This is not a peace that requires pretending that everything is fine, or a peace for the in-group at the expense of outsiders—it is a peace and unity based on what Jesus purchased. As political tension continues to increase over these next few weeks, may 9/11 serve as a reminder that there can be unity even in disagreement. Take some time to discuss these questions with your family: "Why do you think unity is so important to God?" "What things are worth fighting for? What things aren't?" "How can we as a family become more united?"