Connect with us
Image: Sundance Film Festival

Film

TikTok, Boom. Takes a Too-Scattered Look at the Popular App

Sundance 2022: TikTok, Boom.

TikTok is more than just the popular social media app of the moment. It’s also, for anyone below a certain age, essentially the primary delivery mechanism for entertainment. 

In addition to that, TikTok is a vehicle for political activism, an example of both the virtues and pitfalls of social media and the cause of international business intrigue. 

All of that, and way more, is the subject of the documentary TikTok, Boom. Not to be confused with Tick… Tick… Boom, the Andrew Garfield musical that only came out a little over two months ago, the title, and its slightly different (but equally weird) punctuation makes it almost impossible to Google- and would seem to guarantee that Netflix won’t ever be its streaming partner. 

TikTok, Boom. was directed by Shalini Kantayya, who made last year’s very good documentary about racism in AI and face-recognition software, Coded Bias. This new film is much less focused, and therefore considerably less successful. The film jumps around to different subjects, to the point of distraction. Kind of like TikTok itself, come to think of it. 

An even bigger issue is that the film has just about nothing new to say about TikTok.

The documentary looks at all that, plus, well, every other angle there is to explore about TikTok. Part of the film consists of profiles of a trio of popular TikTok users, including one teenage girl who creatively smuggled a message about the Chinese genocide of the Uyghurs into a makeup tutorial. 

The film also offers a history of TikTok as a business, and especially how it’s become the first major foreign challenger to the dominance of Facebook and other American social media companies. 

There’s also the question of just how much control the Chinese government has over it; the conclusion seems to be that they don’t, although parent company Bytedance’s content moderation seems to not let through anything that could possibly upset Beijing. This isn’t great, obviously, but it’s not too different from the approaches toward China taken by either Hollywood or the NBA. 

There’s also a play-by-play of the episode in 2020 when then-President Trump tried to ban TikTok, possibly as retaliation for a group of TikTokers who conspired to sabotage his rally in Tulsa that summer, although I always thought the attempted ban had a lot more to do with anti-China scapegoating than the rally part. That effort to ban the app, like a lot of Trump larks, just sort of petered out without a resolution once the then-president lost interest. 

The documentary’s other part, and by far its worst, is a rehash of The Social Dilemma, in which talking heads hector the viewer about how terrible social media is about how ashamed we should be of ourselves that we still use social media. This includes the use of a wildly overzealous lawyer who accuses TikTok of “preying on children,” although he of course can’t keep his own kid off the app. 

I admit that I’m a bit too old to be in TikTok’s demographic, although my preteen kids swear by it, and when looking at it myself I can see what the appeal is: The app, especially on the ForYou page, uses an algorithm that tailors content directly to the user, and appears to do a much better job of it than most of its competitors. 

I tend to come down on the side of TikTok doing more good than bad. There are quite a few people on it who are very talented, some of whom are getting career opportunities out of it. TikTok has also taught a generation of kids how to edit video, which is an in-demand skill.

Sure, the company’s Chinese owners likely do unsavory things with the data, although nothing that every other social network doesn’t do.  Also, spending five minutes on TikTok doesn’t make you hate yourself or despair for the world, which is certainly more than I can say for most visits to Facebook. 

The documentary about it, on the other hand, is ultimately just too scattered to work. 

The 2022 Sundance Film Festival will be held January 20-30 online and on Satellite Screens across the United States. For more info, please visit the official website.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Facebook

Trending

Beyond The Black Rainbow – Austere, Cerebral, and Sometimes Maddening

Film

Oz Pilot The Routine review Oz Pilot The Routine review

Oz: Revisiting the Pilot Episode of HBO’s Darkest Show

TV

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time 50 Best HBO Shows of All Time

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time (Part 2)

Culture

The Shield TV Pilot Marked the Start of the Golden Age for television The Shield TV Pilot Marked the Start of the Golden Age for television

The Shield TV Pilot Marked the Start of the Golden Age of Television

TV

Star Wars Lightsaber Duels Ranked Star Wars Lightsaber Duels Ranked

15 Best Star Wars Lightsaber Duels Ranked

Film

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time 50 Best HBO Shows of All Time

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time (Part 1)

TV

The Wire Season 1 and 2 The Wire Season 1 and 2

20 Years Later, The Wire’s Genre Filmmaking is Still Unmatched (Part 1)

TV

Best of the Wire Best of the Wire

The Best of The Wire: A Superlative List

TV

Apple TV+’s The Big Conn is a Compelling but Overlong True Crime Series  

TV

We Own This City: Why You Should Be Watching the Anticipated Spiritual Sequel to The Wire

Culture

Jerry West and Mob Hits: HBO’s Winning Time and What Really Happened

TV

The Wire Season 3 The Wire Season 3

20 Years Later, The Wire’s Genre Filmmaking is Still Unmatched (Part 2)

TV

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a Multiverse Muddle 

Film

The Fifth Element retrospective The Fifth Element retrospective

The Fifth Element 25 Years Later: Still One of the Greatest Space Operas Ever

Film

best and worst of Star Trek best and worst of Star Trek

The Best and Worst of Star Trek

TV

The Wire Season 4 review The Wire Season 4 review

20 Years Later, The Wire’s Genre Filmmaking is Still Unmatched (Part 3)

TV

Connect