Lesson of the Day: ‘48 Hours in the Strange and Beautiful World of TikTok’

Lesson of the Day: ‘48 Hours in the Strange and Beautiful World of TikTok’

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Featured Article: “48 Hours in the Strange and Beautiful World of TikTok

TikTok is an app that many teenagers are already likely familiar with — adults, less so. In this feature, five critics of The New York Times with different specialties and varying familiarity with the app go down the TikTok rabbit hole and share what they found.

This lesson uses critical media literacy as a framework for examining TikTok. Students consider who created the app, how it gets their attention and how a user’s point of view influences his or her interpretation of it.

Do you use TikTok? What are your favorite videos? Do you ever post your own? What do you love — or hate — about the app?

Take a few minutes to scroll through the videos in the featured article and think critically about what you see. (Note: You can click on the users’ screen names to view the videos with sound.)

Then, discuss the following questions:

  • What do you think the purpose of TikTok is? To inform, persuade, entertain or a combination of the three? How do you know?

  • What techniques does the app use to engage users?

  • Who do you think the target audience is? Why do you think this?

  • What do you think about TikTok? Why?

Read the article, then answer the following questions. (Note to teachers: If you’re doing this in a classroom context, you might jigsaw this article, assigning individuals or small groups to read each of the five essays and answer the corresponding questions.)

1. Where did TikTok come from? Why do the writers describe it as a “cultural force”?

2. James Poniewozik, a TV critic, sees TikTok as a form of entertainment. How does he feel when he’s on the app and why?

3. Amanda Hess, a critic-at-large who writes about internet culture for The Times, compares TikTok to other social networks, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In what ways does she see TikTok as similar to and different from these social media sites?

4. Jon Caramanica, pop music critic, analyzes the music in TikTok videos. What role does he see music playing on the platform and why?

5. Gia Kourlas, a dance critic, looks at TikTok users’ dance moves. According to her, what makes dancing videos on the platform so magnetic?

6. Finally, Wesley Morris, a critic-at-large, is more critical of the app. What about TikTok does he find unsatisfying or irritating and why?

7. Which essay resonates with you and your experiences on the app the most? Which one resonates the least? Why?

Imagine The Times wants to add one more essay to this collection — this one from a teenager’s perspective — and you have been asked to write it.

Compose your own short piece with your take on TikTok. Like the essays above you have read, you might choose to do one or more of the following:

  • Choose one of your favorite TikTok videos (or create your own) and break it down. What happens in it? What makes it special, interesting or otherwise culturally significant? What does it demonstrate about the platform as a whole?

  • Dive deep into one aspect of TikTok — the music, the dance challenges, the theatricality, the memes. Do you find this element entertaining or obnoxious? Why?

  • Compare TikTok to other forms of social media. What makes it unique? Do you find it more entertaining than television, movies or other video platforms? Why or why not?

  • Give an honest review. What do you think of TikTok? How does your point of view as a teenager influence your interpretation of it?

  • Explain what you think TikTok as a whole says about our society, culture or the world today. Why do you think the app has become such a “cultural force”?