I don’t watch TV. I don’t even own one. I just don’t find movie stars nearly as interesting as the regular people on TikTok, who can be relied upon to deliver extraordinary, often hilarious, often touching, often inspiring performances from the settings of their everyday lives.
Some of the best creators on TikTok have made TikTok-ing into a career. They plan new videos, recruit new characters—moms, pets, Karens—and scope out new places to shoot. TikTok’s influence on mainstream media is probably just beginning.
David Byrne saw all of this coming back in 1978. At the end of Side A of the Talking Heads’ 1978 LP More Songs About Buildings and Food you’ll find a track called “Found a Job” that contains these prescient lines:
“There’s nothing on tonight,” he said, “I don’t know what’s the matter!”
“Nothing’s ever on,” she said, “so I don’t know why you bother”
We’ve heard this little scene, we’ve heard it many times
People fighting over little things and wasting precious time
They might be better off, I think, the way it seems to me
Making up their own shows, which might be better than TV
Judy’s in the bedroom, inventing situations
Bob is on the street today, scouting up locations
They’ve enlisted all their family
They’ve enlisted all their friends
It helped save their relationship
And made it work again
The media world was very different when Byrne wrote those lines. The Hollywood “star system,” after all, was born of an earlier time in our technological evolution when making movies required expensive equipment and access to one-to-many distribution systems such as broadcast and cable networks. With smartphones and the internet and social media and apps like TikTok, we’ve graduated to a more democratic many-to-many broadcast paradigm.
TV networks and their streaming competitors such as Netflix will distribute Hollywood’s products for a long time to come. And there’s no doubt that big studio budgets and star actors can still produce great shows. But I suspect that amateur video will play an ever-bigger role in the future of entertainment.
As for Byrne and the Talking Heads, until the release of More Songs About Buildings and Food, the band was just an ill-fitting fixture of first-wave CBGBs punk rock, along with others such as the Ramones and Blondie. But, like Blondie, the Heads had their creative sights set on something higher than punk. Seymour Stein signed the band to Sire and soon rebranded them as “new wave,” which made U.S. DJs feel easier about playing their records. Good thing, because More Songs contained the hit–a brilliant cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”–that got Byrne and company recognized as the funky, strange, world-beat outfit that would eventually fill stadiums.