Recently I was allowed to take a look into the brain of a friend. This is exactly how my brain works, she said in an incomprehensible TikTok video. It was a dreamlike succession of niches. Music, television, film, video games and internet culture ran rampant. I heard an electronic song by the inventive British musician Aphex Twin, while watching scenes from Japanese anime series, the Scottish film Trainspotting, and the American sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
I’ve hung in anti-squat houses of alternative, artsy minds often enough as a student to know that this is the media they like. Niche enough to derive their quirkiness from it. Familiar enough to find other quirky ghosts to join in the conversation.
The videos are characterized with the hashtag #nichetok, a corner of generation Z on TikTok that should not become too well known. I see teenagers commenting that “the old niche talks were better.” They were shared between May and October this year and then had barely ten thousand viewers. Now it can easily be a hundred thousand in a few days. “Nichetok is on a rapid downward spiral,” laments another. It’s all totally unoriginal, not niche at all. “This is as niche as Coca-Cola.” The same songs from Oasis or The Smiths are used too often.
Originality is ultimately what it’s all about with Generation Z, the generation that is constantly looking for the right incentives in a digital age where it is bombarded with media. Especially on TikTok, where the videos follow each other endlessly. The mood is nihilistic. “Can’t wait for the next trend to make me feel something,” writes one niche watcher. “Nothing makes me feel anything these days.”
These edited films are a perfect example of ‘remix culture’, where creativity comes from copying and combining elements from films, literature, video games, television, comics, the news, and so on. Something apparently new, but essentially ‘remixed’ is created.
Remix culture is inherent in technology and the Internet, writes American legal scholar Lawrence Lessig in his book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (2008). Bits of media are more accessible than ever, our phones are full of images. Take, for example, the election photo of Sigrid Kaag, in which she cheered on a table. It was further shared on Twitter with texts such as: ‘When you appear to have an intermediate hour’, and: ‘When the frikandel sandwiches are in the bonus.’
#Nichetok was doomed from the start to be catapulted into the mainstream. The most popular creators on TikTok are so successful because they have their own niche and build an audience with it. And that is precisely why TikTok is a source of creative content.
Media images are also constantly swirling around in my head. When applying my face cream, for example, I see Dwight Schrute from the American sitcom The Office in front of me who skinned a baby doll’s face and applied it to his own face. Just like the serial killer Leatherface from the horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, who uses the faces of his victims as a mask.
Newsletter NRC Future Affairs
The most exciting pieces about the future of tech, economy, climate and megatrends