The most recent and most laughable on-line fad erupted in late January, when magnificence influencers on TikTok—lots of them younger white ladies—began importing clips of a selected, however not notably novel, skincare hack as a part of their nighttime routine: lathering their faces in Vaseline.
Referred to as “slugging,” the follow is supposed to behave as a sort of age-freezing elixir. Its identify is drawn from a nook of South Korean TikTok and alludes to snail slime, which has a gloss much like Vaseline (one other widespread model utilized by sluggers is Aquaphor). In a single video posted that month, advertising scholar @Abbikuy’s face is caked within the gooey substance as she mimics the audio of a Black creator, a standard trope on the app. The video is layered with textual content that reads: “When my bf asks me why I come to mattress trying like a greasy founding father.” At 4.3 million views, it’s amongst her highest-performing posts. However regardless of the video’s viral enchantment, it was nothing new. Petroleum jelly has been used in Black households for generations as a restorative balm—equal elements moisturizer, lubricant, and therapeutic ointment.
What the popularization of slugging on the web represents is an ongoing, and unmistakably American, battle over possession: the masking of cultural theft as cultural literacy. It ought to come as no shock that slugging movies have garnered tons of of tens of millions of views. TikTok’s cloth is woven by with appropriation. Possession is a shared vocabulary on the app. Nothing is ever one’s alone.
It’s no secret: Black tradition drives popular culture. It’s “the unique avant-garde,” as Felipe Luciano, a former TV producer, has stated. However I typically marvel if appropriation is a prerequisite of Black tradition going mainstream. What’s taking place at the moment is an acceleration of a phenomenon that started within the late Eighties, when firms began to intentionally mine Black cool as hip-hop was turning into a world power. The incorporation of social media into this—which allows individuals to make, form, and share something they need and name it their very own, even when it’s not—additional helps to distort what we expertise on these platforms. Feeds are flooded with tradition that, translated by the display screen of a creator who is just fascinated by clout, comes throughout as hole and cheapened.
What’s shocking, nonetheless, is how slugging movies on TikTok—together with a cacophony of different macro- and micro-crazes throughout the social web—have ushered in a exceptional, and remarkably demanding, new interval. Generated, propelled, and legitimized by social platforms, traits won’t ever be the identical.
A technology’s foreign money is measured in traits, the moments that make an period mouthwateringly memorable. Solely these fads are not dictated by a handful of tastemakers. As a substitute, what will get topped as cool is usually decided by how properly a development appeals to the rhythms of a particular platform. An thought’s creative or cultural cachet is determined by how simply it may be executed with the instruments supplied. Earlier than the web demanded our consideration 24/7, tv, radio, and life-style magazines had a really particular grip on the zeitgeist, combing youth tradition to find out the following craze. Now, gauging cool is a much more democratic endeavor, and the escalating velocity of digital tradition implies that fads can come and go earlier than they even peak. Mediated by platforms, all traits, to a level, grow to be memes, our major language of the web, the digital tongue all of us communicate.