미디엄ouths agape, we’ve all cringed and borne witness to that infamous (and now deleted) TikTok video of a young woman doing a selfie dance routine in a newborn intensive care unit, next to her very ill infant’s hospital bed. “‘Li’l Lee was taken in cause of low oxygen. He tested positive for RSV. Waiting for him to breathe better on his own,’” read the caption, as she danced to Nessa Barrett’s If You Love Me while miming cradling motions.
For many internet commenters, the video was evidence of a society hell-bent on collapse. “This is the kind of stuff Black Mirror warns us about,” wrote one person on Reddit. Another asked, “Is this real or just some gross ‘social experiment’?” (It’s real.)
This is not the first time a video like this has gone viral. In TikTok’s early days, when it was known as Musical.ly, a teen shared a 비디오 of himself dancing heart gestures and lip-syncing Justin Bieber while in the background his grandfather lay on his deathbed, while his grandmother wept.
How do we explain people doing TikTok dances in the middle of moments of grief, pain and mourning? You might think that Gen Z hasn’t been taught how to properly deal with trauma. But that doesn’t seem right, especially since they admirably are the generation that dismantled the taboo of discussing mental health, some even going as far as self-diagnosing and listing their ailments on social media bios. Thanks to Gen Z, people are finally comfortable with publicly sharing their troubles with peers.
아직도, there is something remarkable about the degree to which we are beginning to stage public expressions of grief, like this 비디오 of a woman bawling over her dead snake.
Despite the myriad venomous responses knocking her for positioning a camera specifically to capture and share her bereft wailing, I actually, to my surprise, found the video quite moving. Crying snake woman stirred something in me. I’m unable to watch someone breaking down with a dead animal in their arms without getting teary-eyed myself. I’ve had to say goodbye to beloved pets before, and seeing someone experience relatable heartbreak opens my old wounds right back up.
아직도, we are not used to public displays of grief – and even less so when they take place to jaunty music on social media. Short of North Korean-style forced public mourning, we’ve been conditioned to wear black, weep and meet a minimum requirement of depression weeks after the death of a loved one.
That’s why when we see a video of two sisters processing the death of their mother by singing and dancing Rick and Morty in front of her open casket, or a clip of a woman twerking over the casket of a beloved deceased, some of us react with confusion or even outrage. How dare they express that type of emotion during this dark life event! What we fail to do is acknowledge our morose western predisposition and that many cultures permit dancing around death, like the beloved dancing pallbearers from Ghana.
There’s no right way to grieve. And why should grief be private? Teenager Reese Hardy has been anointed the flag bearer for the everyday person’s struggle. Reese cry-dancing to Mariah Carey’s Obsessed over her post-breakup, at-home hair-dye fail has 3.8m views and serves as the official meme of toughing it out in hard times – life-changing or trivial. TikTok’s cringeworthy public displays of emotion could actually be the gift we didn’t know we need: the message that it’s OK to be in our feelings … together.
If TikTok is the looking glass into our dystopian future, it’s clear that we can dance through tragedy. Optimism and openness during sadness are precisely the virtues we need to survive this world. We now have permission to put our rawest emotions on display; just because they are set up on a tripod doesn’t mean they are not real and authentic. 그래서, to all the moms and teens in hospitals and funeral homes: keep dancing.