Opinion | TikTok and Classism

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By James Fishwick, First Year History

During quarantine you will have done well not to have been consumed by TikTok, and waste away hours of potential productivity swiping up and down on funny, cringy and sometimes concerning videos. Amongst the football TikToks, quarantine jokes, dance trends and staged pranks there is a genre that is perpetuating an ugly truth of society. Within TikTok there is a variety of videos that follow self-described identities such as ‘rich, private school, middle-class’ which construct a vision of 21st century classism.

The various genres of #privateschool #rich #middleclass have 653 million, 2.7 billion and 141 million views respectively. A large amount of views and interactions with content that realistically only 7% (proportion of people in the UK who are privately educated) and 25% (proportion of the UK who are recognised as ‘established middle class’) can relate to. This creates a strange environment where displaying your personal wealth, or the wealth of your family materialistically can be achieved through a 15 to 60-second-long video.

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Anyone who goes to Bristol University will know that we are famous for being a middle-class, private-school University (you only need to see the worrying amount of Bristruths about signet rings). It is concerning to see so many of this wealth-orientated content reflecting a world that so many feel isolated from, as too can be the case at university.

At first, I thought the various videos were quite funny and interesting.

I was entertained seeing how my 1970s pre-fabrication, Ofsted rated inadequate, northern comprehensive shaped up to schools who were judged on whether or not they had separate cricket and polo fields. After passing this moment of interest it then struck me how TikTok videos such as ‘private school check’ and ‘put a finger down middle-class edition’ could engrain the already rigid UK class system within a generation of young people.

Bristol's art world goes virtual

Dissecting the ‘middle-class themed’ videos, a popular challenge is to put a finger down if you have done or relate to a supposedly middle-class thing. Many also do it with their parents, friends, or a family member, just for fun I assume. So below I am going to do it myself.

‘Put a finger down if’:

If you own more than one house.

Surprisingly, no.

If your favourite hymn is Jerusalem.

To be honest I do quite like Jerusalem, but the harvest festival song is a contender.

If you have been to the bluebird in Chelsea.

I am going to assume it is a restaurant, and by this you can most likely guess I haven’t.

If you have been to the pig.

Again, big assumption that is a restaurant, but why are there so many restaurants name ‘The’ insert animal name.

If you own a lab or a beagle.

No but my dad has always wanted a beagle or a basset hound.

If you have been shooting or hunting.

Lol no.

If you enjoy a Sunday morning walk.

I mean I would go for one, but my family doesn’t actively promote them.

If you own something Hunter or Barbour.

Nope, I don’t have money to burn.

If you own a tweed suit.

Nope, I don’t have money to burn.

If you can ski.

I went on the ski trip in year 10, that I paid for myself, was fun. So yes, to an extent I can ski.

If you have been to the ballet.

No.

If you like opera.

Like DnB, I could probably get into it if wanted.

If you are a Tory.

Nope, and you will also come to realise that since around the 1980s class is no longer the best indicator as to how people vote.

If you have been to Salcombe.

No, I do not know where Salcombe is, as a result I have never been.

There is a section of TikTok which reinforces negative stereotypes about class difference

Now of course this is quite arbitrary, and one by themself or all together are not definite indicators of whether someone is middle class or not, and that the term middle class does refer to a much larger group than could possibly afford such luxuries.

But the intent and the idea of this ‘challenge’, if one wants to call it such, just reinforces classist ideas that frankly are unhealthy in a society and on a platform where many young people are active. If people begin to see these as a means by which to value and measure their successes, it is going to be hard when they realise that owning two houses is more expensive than it seems.

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I think the largest issue around class discussion on TikTok is surrounding private schools. This is not to say that people who attend private schools are bad, but the presence that they have on this social media platform is unlike any other.

On other platforms the odd article may be shared regarding private schools and educational inequality, and on Instagram only if you knew people who went to private schools would you possibly see any traditions and events that they have. But on TikTok, you can view tours of the grounds, see boarding houses and the traditions that any state schooler would find more than alien to their own experiences.

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Popular accounts such as ‘Schöffel gang’ (I had to google what a Schöffel is, and I can guarantee I shall not be buying one due to price and style) have upwards of 1.5 million likes and 85,000 followers, with many other accounts similar to them. Amongst their own jokes about mullets, signet rings and daddy’s money, which at times are funny, the distinct wealth divide of the UK can be seen. A lot of their content is them making fun of themselves, but other videos can show the sneery, dark side to the rigid class system within society. I have seen videos that I hope only joke about the ‘playing cricket at the state school and the coach passes out hand sanitizer’ or the ‘things I overheard at private school… with the following statements being some of the most out of touch and privileged things’.

From this we have to address that all people at any end of the class spectrum would do good to disassemble structures, stereotypes, and prejudices against one another because there is really no need for it.

Who would have thought the class war would start on TikTok of all places.

Featured Image: Kon Karempelas


Do you think that TikTok can perpetuate harmful stereotypes?

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