First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
A South African TikTok star named Troy Sheperds has a habit of making his 1.5 million followers laugh with his playful skits, but a fortnight ago his video mocking feminists pushed things forward too far for many of his fans.
In her video, Things Feminists Do That Bother Me, Sheperds starts off by saying, “When they say men are garbage, then throw that huge rant.” [how] “My mother is a bitch, but thank goodness I have my dad around, but men are rubbish.”
âAll hating white males, I never understood it. Oh my god shut up, Bradley, you got [white male] privilege and you’ve enjoyed the company since you were little, âadded Sheperds, who, by the way, is black.
Speaking in a high-pitched voice meant to mimic the feminists who annoy him so much, Sheperds also talks about toxic masculinity. âLast night my brother got into a fight with his best friend and instead of hugging him they punched. It’s toxic masculinity, âhe said.
Critics were quick to mount, as was the nature of the social media jokes and instant responses. Girls Against Oppression, a South African feminist Instagram account, said: âWe are offended that he has chosen to ignore the mass trauma faced by people facing gender-based violence (GBV) in this country. . [Sheperds] Said he was tired of hearing “toxic masculinity” and “men are garbage”, well Troy I have news for you, women in South Africa are tired of being raped, killed , assaulted and murdered. Next time, before you make such bad remarks, do your research.
Another reviewer was YouTuber Thando Mbhele, who described Sheperds’ video as “ignorant” in his own video. In Shepherds’ comments on #MenAreTrash, he ignored how men were often complicit in the violent and sexist ways men treated women, Mbhele said.
“What is it that the worst part is that the struggles of women in South Africa have been documented, and yet people still choose ignorance, âMbhele said in her video.
On her TikTok page, many users called out Sheperds for undermining efforts against GBV. In response, he repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. âI don’t belittle GBV. I never would either. I am not ignorant. I want to know where I went wrong. What did I say or do in this video? He replied to one of TikTok’s comments.
With the teenage influencer rising to prominence on TikTok, it’s hard to tell if Sheperds, who has said in podcast interviews that he wants to grow his brand beyond TikTok, is using what marketers are calling âOutrage marketing,â said Nqobile Bundwini, a marketer. lecturer at the University of Cape Town. Outrageous marketing is designed to increase sales of a product or service or increase engagement on social media by saying something outrageous. It worked because it garnered media and public attention, Bundwini said. âEven when we’re baited, we can’t help but feel emotional. What this tactic does is it mobilizes critics and those who are loyal, âBundwini said. While outrage marketing is high risk, for some people and brands it has done them little harm, Bundwini said.
Regardless of Sheperds’ motivation, his video didn’t negatively impact his followers and he didn’t lose any of his 1.5 million followers. He posts mostly in English, but it’s interspersed with a few Setswana.
He posted his first TikTok video in 2019.
Its fame on the social media platform is indicative of its wider popularity, which saw a huge surge in downloads during the lockdown – especially among young people. Globally, the app, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, and launched in 2016, has 800 million users and 6 million users in South Africa.
Dinesh Balliah, a journalism and media educator from South Africa, says TikTok’s main audience is “generally younger, with ages between 16 and 40, although TikTok’s terms of service suggest that users can only be 13 years old. The culture of influencers is pretty trendy right now. with many users of platforms like Instagram and TikTok seeing these spaces as opportunities for popularity or fame.
Sheperds’ pull appears to be the result of his relativity. Sheperds, who said in a podcast interview that he studies drama, did skits poking fun at students in class and the boys’ reaction to being dumped in front of a movie.
He did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
Priscilla Boshoff, lecturer in media studies at Rhodes University, said that for many young people, TikTok is about “having fun, showing off your talent, whether it’s singing, dancing or playing an instrument” .
But the appeal of TikTok to many young people, who are looking to become famous and make money while they’re at it, is how it allows stars to make money with the app.
On platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, highly-followed users often earn money by branding campaigns and not necessarily with the app; TikTok subverts this by allowing TikTok users to send money directly to TikTok stars.
In a podcast interview last year, Sheperds said that many TikTokkers, including himself, make money this way.
Users buy something called âcoinsâ and then once the creator of TikTok goes to TikTok live, those coins are sent to the star by the users. TikTok took 50% of those coins, Sheperds said.
Once the TikTok star receives these coins, they can be turned into “diamonds,” which can be converted to cash through PayPal.
What does the Sheperds video tell us?
But what does Sheperds’ video – which ignores the toxic masculinity, power relations, and privilege of white men in a country of rampant gender-based violence – says about TikTok?
Videos like Sheperds’ had to be understood in the context of the contested gender terrain in South Africa, Boshoff said. “We have a Constitution that guarantees the rights of women but we also have this aggressive patriarchy,” she added.
Boshoff said TikTok appeared to be lighter in weight than other social media apps.
“Looking at the shepherds” [social media] page, you can tell he wants to make fun of social norms. The joke can be powerful if it tackles social injustice and makes social injustice visible, but laughter also has the effect of trivializing real anger at a problem, so it’s like a two-edged sword. Said Boshoff.
And like all social media platforms, racism is often displayed. Last year, two white high school students in the United States were kicked out for making a racist video. In the original video, the teens poured cups of water onto a piece of paper labeled with the n word as “ingredients” to make a person black; the cups were labeled “go to jail”, “have no father” and “steal from people”.
Like any social media platform, there was going to be some good and some bad, said Sarah Hoffman, director of Clickd, a digital law firm.
“But TikTok can [be] and has been used for good. There are teens who have booked tickets for [Donald] Trump’s rally with the intention of not going. There is also a lot of body positivity content that I hope will impact teens, âHoffman said. Sheperds posted another video this week defending his annoying comments by feminists.
His video “was not about all feminists,” but rather “some feminists” who abuse phrases like toxic masculinity and #MenAreTrash, he said. âObviously not all feminists abuse these words in this way, but there are people who claim to be feminists and abuse these words and this video was aimed at them,â Sheperds said. He also denied making jokes about gender-based violence.
“I never made any jokes about GBV, people took it out of context and said I said that, but I didn’t.”
At the time of publication, Annoying Things, according to feminists, had registered 317,000 views. DM168
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