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The Atlantic
The Atlantic
America’s Hands Are Full of Blood
Thoughts and prayers. It began as a cliché. It became a joke. It has putrefied into a national shame.If tonight, Americans do turn heavenward in pain and grief for the lost children of Uvalde, Texas, they may hear the answer delivered in the Bible through the words of Isaiah:“And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.”We will learn more about the 18-year-old killer of elementary-school children: his personality, his ideology, whatever confection of hate and cruelty drove him to his horrible crime. But we already know the answer to one question: Who put the weapon of mass murder into his hand? The answer to that question is that the public policy of this country armed him.Every other democracy makes some considerable effort to keep guns away from dangerous people, and dangerous people away from guns. For many years—and especially since the massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook elementary school almost exactly a decade ago—the United States has put more and more guns into more and more hands: 120 guns per 100 people in this country. The years of the pandemic were the years of the greatest gun sales in U.S. history: almost 20 million guns sold in 2020; another 18.5 million sold in 2021. No surprise, those two years also witnessed a surge in gun violence: the spectacular human butchery of our recurring mass slaughters; the surge of one-on-one lethal criminality; the unceasing tragic toll of carelessness as American gun owners hurt and kill their loved ones and themselves.Most of us are appalled. But not enough of us are sufficiently appalled enough to cast our votes to halt it. to it. And those to whom Americans entrust political power, at the state and federal level, seem determined to make things worse and bloodier. In the next few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will deliver its opinion in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, a decision that could strike down concealed-carry bans even in the few states that still have them. s. More guns, more places, fewer checks, fewer protections: Since Sandy Hook, this country has plunged backward and downward toward barbarism.In his memoir of his career in the gun trade, the former gun executive Ryan Brusse writes of the effect of mass shootings on gun sales. They are, to put it bluntly, good for business. People think that perhaps the authorities might do something, and race to the gun stores to buy weapons before the “something” happens. The gun in the gunman’s hand multiplies to more guns in more hands. Most of those hands do not mean to inflict harm. But the harm follows, even so.In this magazine five years ago, I wrote a parable: A village has been built in the deepest gully of a floodplain. At regular intervals, flash floods wipe away houses, killing all inside. Less dramatic—but more lethal—is the steady toll as individual villagers slip and drown in the marshes around them. After especially deadly events, the villagers solemnly discuss what they might do to protect themselves. Perhaps they might raise their homes on stilts? But a powerful faction among the villagers is always at hand to explain why these ideas won’t work. “No law can keep our village safe! The answer is that our people must learn to be better swimmers—and oh by the way, you said ‘stilts’ when the proper term is ‘piles,’ so why should anybody listen to you?” So the argument rages, without result, year after year, decade after decade, fatalities mounting all the while. Nearby villages, built in the hills, marvel that the gully-dwellers persist in their seemingly reckless way of life. But the gully-dwellers counter that they are following the wishes of their Founders, whose decisions two centuries ago must always be upheld by their descendants. Since then, of course, things have only gotten worse. Can it be different this time? Whether any particular killer proves to be a racist, a jihadist, a sexually frustrated incel, or a randomly malignant carrier of sorrow and grief, can Americans ever break the pattern of empty thoughts, meaningless prayers, and more and worse bloodshed to follow?The lobby groups and politicians who enable these killers will dominate the federal courts and state governments, as they do today, until the mighty forces of decency and kindness in American life say to the enablers:“That’s enough! This must stop—and we will stop you.”
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theatlantic.com
The Unique Challenge of Raising Teenagers Right Now
Sign up for Molly’s newsletter, Wait, What?, here.The teenagers are not alright, but then again, neither are the adults. Pandemic life has been profoundly jarring, and every generation has felt it. I hear about people fighting on airplanes and an increase in violent crimes, then I attend my Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on Zoom and try to figure out why going back to “normal” is so hard. My 80-year-old mother never got COVID-19, but more than two years of sitting at home seems to have hastened her descent into dementia. Meanwhile, many young children are struggling to keep up with their education or even learn how to socialize.Now imagine what this moment must be like for teenagers. In December, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a warning: Pandemic-related death, fear, loneliness, and economic uncertainty have worsened “the unprecedented stresses young people already faced.” It makes sense. Between unfamiliar hormones and trying to figure out who you are in the world, being a teen has always been incredibly hard. Pandemic teenagehood is even worse. Recently, I was reading a story in The New Yorker about child suicide when I learned that a friend of a friend’s teenager had died by suicide. I felt sick.[Derek Thompson: Why American teens are so sad]Living through a pandemic that has claimed more than a million American lives is not the only thing that’s making young people miserable. They’re also very much not in denial about the likely coming climate disaster. In a survey of 10,000 people ages 16 to 25, more than 45 percent said that their feelings about climate change had “negatively affected their daily life and functioning.” Caroline Hickman, a lecturer at the University of Bath, in the United Kingdom, and the lead author of the study, told the BBC that “the young feel abandoned and betrayed by governments” for their inaction on climate change. It must be hard for young adults to feel that grown-ups care about them when their lawmakers refuse to meaningfully address arguably the largest challenge facing the next generation.How are you supposed to guide, to reassure, to parent teenagers in this situation? I have three children ranging in age from 14 to 18. Soon after coming home from covering the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February 2020, I got an email from the organizers saying that I had been exposed to a new coronavirus. I wrote an email to the nurse at my older son’s school. Almost immediately, the phone rang; it was her. “We obviously can’t tell you what to do, but it would be a huge help if you’d keep your son home for a few days just until …”It quickly became clear that neither of us had any idea how that sentence should end. I went into my eldest son’s bedroom soon after to explain to him why he had to stay home from school. Then I said what I always say when telling my kids something kind of scary: “I’m sure this is not a big deal. I’m sure everything is going to be fine.” I suspected that I was lying but I thought I was practicing a sort of normal parenting deception—the kind you do when you just need a kid to go to sleep or do their homework. Sure, you’ll use algebra in real life. Yes, skipping gym class is bad.Then the unimaginable happened. Today, I can’t tell my teenagers that everything will be all right with a straight face. I don’t have answers for my kids, or for yours. As parents, we are tempted to pretend—to be brave for our kids—but I’m not sure that serves anyone anymore. I’m just trying to parent harder right now, whatever that means. Mostly, I’m attempting to be the annoying parent who’s always around. I come home from dinner early. I try not to take long trips. In lieu of actually knowing what the future holds, I just aim to be ready to react when my kids decide they need me.[Read: We’re all second-guessing ourselves now]My grandfather, the vaudeville drummer turned importer Seymour Mann, never got over surviving the 1918 flu pandemic. He couldn’t figure out why so many of his peers had died and he hadn’t. Seymour walked to work every single day of his life until he was in his 90s. He thought that not taking public transportation had saved his life. It probably hadn’t. Yet, barring a better answer, that was the conclusion he could live with, and it protected him from the truth he couldn’t face—that perhaps he survived out of sheer dumb luck. I don’t want to lie to myself or to my family ​about the messiness of our current reality. But part of me wishes that I had just a fraction of Seymour’s certainty so that I could give it to my children.
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theatlantic.com
How Joe Biden’s Asia Trip Shows Chinese Failure
If President Joe Biden’s trip to Asia—marked as it was by his comments on the defense of Taiwan, announcements on a proposed new regional trade pact, and meetings with leaders who exhibit similar levels of concern about a rising China—has shown the persistence of American global power, it has also revealed something of equal importance: Beijing’s failure to translate economic might into political dominance, even in its own backyard.Biden today concluded a summit of the leaders of the Quad—a security partnership including Australia, India, Japan, and the United States—who issued a joint statement chock-a-block with references to promoting democracy, a rules-based global order, and peaceful resolution of disputes. That came a day after Biden announced the formation of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a partnership with 13 countries as diverse as South Korea, Vietnam, and New Zealand. Notably absent from all this was China. Biden’s trip exhibited Washington’s continued ability to rally other nations behind its standard, and in initiatives overtly targeted against the region’s supposedly rising superpower.The script wasn’t meant to read this way. As China grew in economic importance, its smaller neighbors would, the thinking went, inevitably and inexorably be drawn into its orbit, while U.S. power would correspondingly fade, ushered along by its own political divisions and percolating isolationism. Events of the past decade seemed to prove the assumption: As China acted more assertively in the region, Washington’s efforts to cling to primacy appeared to falter. President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia concluded with a thud when Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership economic pact. (The other 11 members inked the deal anyway.) And Trump, beyond his bellicose and inchoate trade war against China, largely ignored the region, save for a couple fancy dinners with Kim Jong Un.Meanwhile, Beijing appeared to fill the void. China is at the center of another Asia-wide trade pact, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which came into effect in January, while its infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative has funded railways, ports, and power plants from Pakistan to Laos. Beijing has also muscled aside its rivals in the South China Sea, steadily turning its contested claim to nearly the entire waterway into a fait accompli, and consolidated its hold over disputed territory also claimed by India. As the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan last year, Beijing, having fostered sound relations with the Taliban, seemed poised to become the country’s new patron. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, China also tried to win early plaudits through “vaccine diplomacy,” eagerly shipping its homemade jobs to neighbors. China was winning.But, as China seeks to expand its power, it seems to become more isolated. Biden’s new economic framework has attracted countries across ideological lines (from Communist Vietnam to democratic Australia) and some nations that try to carefully balance the two powers, such as Singapore. Beijing hasn’t weakened American bonds to its chief allies in the region—Japan, South Korea, and Australia. If anything, Washington appears to be drawing more countries to its side of the table, such as India.All of this exposes the abject failure of Chinese foreign policy. Despite their constant pledges of “peaceful development,” China’s leaders have scared many of its neighbors. New Delhi, historically no fan of Washington, has felt threatened by Chinese hostility over disputed borders. Beijing’s intensifying intimidation of Taiwan—with Chinese jets buzzing dangerously close to the island—has alarmed the region. Politicians in Canberra and Seoul have certainly not forgotten the economic coercion Beijing employed against them to compel changes in their policy. China’s bullying in the South China Sea has irked those with competing maritime claims. The Philippines, a long-time U.S. friend, has been trying in recent years to strengthen ties to China but, frustrated by Chinese shipping crowding into waters claimed by Manila as an exclusive economic zone, a Philippines foreign minister last year tweeted a very undiplomatic “GET THE FUCK OUT!”Of course, to maintain its influence, Washington will have to follow through on its new initiatives. In that, Biden is already constrained by politics back home. The new economic framework is not a trade pact aimed at reducing tariffs, a sop to grumbling in the U.S. that trade with Asia costs American jobs. The deal’s focus on environmental and labor standards alone, critics contend, will water down its value and appeal. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce found it “disappointing.”But that misses the geopolitical point. The goal of the framework is to ensure Washington is “writing the rules” on crucial economic issues such as digital business and climate change, a way to solidify American influence against Beijing’s efforts to refashion the norms of the global system in its own favor. The agreement will also focus on securing supply chains—bad news for China, which has been alienating foreign business with erratic “zero-COVID” shutdowns, support for Moscow in its invasion of Ukraine, and human-rights abuses. The framework just so happens to bring together most of China’s chief Asian competitors when it comes to being a base for production(India, Indonesia, and Vietnam) with the countries that invest in and operate those bases (Japan, South Korea, and the U.S.). That can potentially further incentivize international companies to relocate their supply chains out of China. And then there is the sheer symbolic value of Biden rocking into town and attracting leaders from across what is supposed to be China’s home turf into a new economic initiative.For China, the message is clear: Get a new foreign policy. Beijing seems to believe that its economic weight will eventually compel the rest of the region to flock to its flag. But there is little sign of that happening. South Korea exports TK more to China than the U.S., but that didn’t stop its new President Yoon Suk Yeol, from hosting Biden on his Asia tour, before any summit with Xi Jinping. Nor is China even offering all that much on the economic front these days. Beijing’s long-time policy direction, “reform and opening up,” offered the hope of greater cooperation, and thus profits for foreign investors and other countries. Xi has replaced that with the more insular and nationalistic “self-sufficiency,” a campaign to replace imports with Chinese alternatives.Beijing will have to woo the world with more than money. Chinese leaders are attempting to promote their own values and norms—of the authoritarian persuasion—on the global stage. That’s won China some support in forums such as the United Nations. But its immediate neighbors seem far more concerned about the threat created by Beijing’s expanding power and aggressive use of it than they are about American finickiness over human rights.There is little indication, however, that Xi and his foreign-policy team have any intention of softening their stance on key regional issues. Biden’s success may, if anything, prod them to lash out further. A commentary in Xinhua, the official news agency, was quick to deride Biden’s economic framework as a “big scam” based on “sinister intentions” meant to “undermine regional stability,” before complaining about China being left out.This shift—of China’s neighbors opting for tighter ties with America—may progress more and more if Beijing doesn’t change course. Its neighbors would much rather be on good terms with Beijing than bad, and most governments in the region will attempt to balance their relations with both great powers. At the same time, the message to Xi should be loud and clear: As in Europe, where Vladimir Putin’s aggression is uniting the rest of the region against him, so too in Asia is an aggressive China entrenching, not weakening American power.
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theatlantic.com
Requiem for the Viral Internet Challenge
Ten years ago this month, the Harvard men’s baseball team put a video on YouTube in which they danced and lip-synched to Carly Rae Jepsen’s No. 1 hit, “Call Me Maybe.” It was funny because, well, you know: They were muscle-y boys with serious jawlines, and they were doing choreography that involved punching the ceiling of a van; this was back when a lot of people thought that pop songs were really stupid and for girls. So the video got really popular. Then other groups of people started to film themselves doing their own versions of the song: college students in Idaho; the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders; the U.S. Olympic swim team. Maybe you, too, were inclined to dance and lip-synch to Carly Rae Jepsen’s No. 1 hit, “Call Me Maybe,” with your friends and post it to the internet. This is how one of the first super-viral “challenges” on social media was born.Planking, where people filmed or photographed themselves lying flat—like a plank—in unexpected places, had already peaked, as a challenge, in the previous year. But the “Call Me Maybe” challenge turned out to be a lot less dangerous, and—as a group activity—a lot more fun. The Pittsburgh Steelers made a “Call Me Maybe” video in 2012. A class of kindergartners made one. Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber made one—this is when they were in love. And I’m sure you already know who else made one … I did, at the end of a closing shift at a coffee shop in the mall food court. (This was an amazing, boring, mostly unsupervised job. We also did the eat-a-spoonful-of-ground-cinnamon challenge, which was popular at about the same time.) I recently dug up our “Call Me Maybe” video from the depths of Facebook and watched it and was shocked.Although it is always uncomfortable to see a video of yourself from your teen-goth era, what really set me back on my heels was how alien the clip seemed. I texted the link to my former coffee-serving colleagues and co-stars in the video. “Was there choreography involved or is this freestyle?” I asked them. “I couldn’t even watch it, I need to be in the safety of my own home first,” one of them replied. This video from 10 summers ago was not just embarrassing—it was from another world. Viral challenges like this one used to have the power to unite the internet, bringing together mall-food-court kids and professional athletes and politicians and 4-year-olds. Then suddenly, they disappeared.The challenge once embodied all that social media was meant to be: a forum for exchange; a source of fellowship; a way “to make the world more open and connected.” Our favorite truism about the internet today—that it divides us into warring tribes and makes everything terrible—simply wasn’t true back then, or at least it didn’t seem to be. In the early 2010s—the golden age of challenges—anyone could get involved in an online trend, and that would only make the whole thing better. I can’t even think of a person, circa 2012, whose decision to make a “Call Me Maybe” video would have killed the fun. Phil Spector? Sandra Bullock’s ex-husband who cheated on her? We even loved it when U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan lip-synched next to their mortar shells and machine guns. (“Whatever your position on U.S. foreign policy, these are worth watching—they’re amazing,” The Atlantic argued at the time.) We loved it when Donald Trump made a video too.Today, you can imagine how this would all play out. A right-wing pundit would spin the challenge in some awful way to “own the libs,” and then the libs would do the challenge, too, so as to make it both heavy-handed and smug. Then some dreadful bureaucrat would post a video, setting off a flame war, and someone else with a porch surveillance camera would harass their Amazon delivery person into joining in. If the viral challenge served to bring us all together—if it stood for online comity and fun—then we should acknowledge that it’s never, ever coming back. The past five years have dumped a bucket of ice-cold water on the premise. One needn’t blame politics alone for the death of this cultural phenomenon. The challenge could also be a victim of our new self-consciousness online, and our more developed fears of looking stupid. The male lead in the original “Call Me Maybe” music video was a shirtless hunk with the words The sky is the limit tattooed in script across his entire chest—solid evidence that embarrassment was not a powerful force in 2012, and that “cringe culture” on the internet was still brand-new. But if cringe killed viral challenges, then what went wrong in 2020? During the early months of the pandemic, we were all invited to post whatever we wanted to, cringe or not. Instead of producing a great new challenge, though, this gave us only short-lived TikTok trends (mostly dances that looked cool but were too hard to do yourself) and a bunch of celebrities using hashtags sponsored by the CDC or the National Health Service. During the shutdowns of that spring, The New York Times tried to convince me that “social media challenges” were “helping keep boredom at bay,” yet the examples it provided were the most boring things I’d ever heard of: turning pillowcases into dresses, bouncing Ping-Pong balls off of pots, juggling toilet paper, doing push-ups. (Doing push-ups???)[Read: Why the past 10 years of American life have been uniquely stupid]I understand that people still film themselves dancing and put it on the internet. (They even film themselves dancing to “Call Me Maybe,” but in an upsetting way.) I realize that “videos of people lip-synching” continue to be a viable entertainment product. But it’s not the same—it’s a hot or talented or famous person’s game now. New “challenges” do emerge on the internet every week, but they’re not the kind that bring people together. A challenge is not really a challenge, I would say, until aunts and uncles have tried it and babies are aware of it and it is not ridiculous to suggest that your “team” at work give it a go. A real challenge has to be fun, it has to be easy, and it has to become unavoidable … and then people have to get sick of it, because such is life. What happened to that?Those sorts of challenges used to pop up all the time. In early 2013, just a few months after “Call Me Maybe,” we had the Harlem Shake. Each video began with one person dancing somberly, alone, usually wearing a mask. Then the beat dropped and they were joined by a bunch more people who danced sort of frantically and strangely. This wasn’t a TikTok star’s sterile presentation of one viral dance move after another on The Tonight Show; it was odd teenagers thrashing around in the drab-looking spaces that are usually available to odd teenagers. In 2014, you could hardly avoid the Ice Bucket Challenge, which wasn’t interesting in the slightest but went exceedingly viral anyway because the videos raised money for a good cause and each one ended with a shivering person shouting out the names of friends or family members who were therefore “nominated” to take a turn dumping ice on their own head. Refusing to participate would indicate that you were heartless, or—worse—not game. And everyone would know it, because you were tagged on your “Facebook Wall.”All of these fads spread on Facebook, which was more or less the official platform of the viral challenge. (In many instances the videos were posted first on YouTube, but they had to be shared to Facebook or no one would see them.) That made sense: Facebook was, at the time, a cross-generational platform—a place where I could share content with my mother and my grandmother too. “Check out the Harlem Shake video I filmed in A.D. White Library today,” some kid I barely knew from the college paper posted in February 2013. “Kaitlyn Tiffany … you have 24 hours!!!” my cousin wrote above a video of a bucket of ice water being flung at her face in August 2014. I don’t think I ended up doing either one? (I’m heartless and not game.) But my college roommates did, and so did the girls from my high-school soccer team, and so did the One Direction member Niall Horan, as well as everyone in between.The final challenge of this golden age arrived a few years later, and its timing was no accident. In early November 2016, as the presidential campaign moved into its final days, the nation came together for one last run at community rapport. When the Mannequin Challenge spread around the internet, entire high schools, including teachers, froze in place, mid-action, to the background music of the rap duo Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles.” It made no sense, which was perfect. One school in Canada filmed a very long tableau vivant with roughly 1,500 people—the camera panned over teens and staff paused as they pretended to sword fight, to lick a statue’s abs, to prepare the day’s lunch in a surprisingly clean and professional-looking cafeteria kitchen. The women’s gymnastics team at Brigham Young University participated, as did students at West Point, and factory workers, and librarians. People did the Mannequin Challenge on airplanes, and on the International Space Station, and on Sesame Street. I hate to bring this up … Hillary Clinton’s campaign did the Mannequin Challenge. They posted it on Election Day. (“Don’t stand still. Vote today.”) Don't stand still. Vote today: https://t.co/jfd3CXLD1s #ElectionDay #MannequinChallenge pic.twitter.com/4KAv2zu0rd — Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) November 8, 2016“Wack as Hell Mannequin Challenge Could Cost Hillary Clinton the Election,” GQ suggested in a headline, but the rest of the post was sanguine: “It is unquestionably annoying. But you know what? I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. By this time tomorrow, if we’re lucky, Hillary Clinton will officially be the next President of the United States.” Whoops! When I watch that video today, of Hillary and Bill and Huma Abedin and (for some reason) Jon Bon Jovi pretending to be frozen in an airplane cabin, I feel queasy. First of all, Bill Clinton is too good at freezing; he looks dead. Second, it’s a little too spot-on: On November 8, 2016, it really did feel as though the physical laws of the universe had changed. Time didn’t stop that night, but it did stretch out, and in the morning everything was different; we saw divides we hadn’t seen before, and no obvious way to bridge them. A lot of people didn’t even want to bridge them. Yet, for a little while longer, somehow, the Mannequin Challenge survived.[Read: I made the world’s blandest Facebook profile, just to see what happens]Kathryn Winn, the author of Memeforum on Substack, wrote about the Mannequin Challenge last year: “It required no special equipment, or learning anything, or editing. Tell grandma to stay still and record her. The whole family can enjoy it and it’s more fun than trying to do a family photo.” It was “a Thanksgiving meme,” she said. I agree that seemingly absolutely everyone asked their families to do the Mannequin Challenge that Thanksgiving. Or maybe I feel that way because my family did it. This is confusing, because after Trump was elected, a lot of people seemed afraid of talking with their own families—if your relatives loved Trump, what could you really talk with them about? I had wanted to skip Thanksgiving altogether that year, for just that reason. Yet we all did the Mannequin Challenge?Winn described a “moment of silence” on the internet at the end of 2016, during which nobody was allowed to joke. The Mannequin Challenge was the lone exception: “Everyone was still allowed to post the mannequin challenge. It was a reminder that life goes on.” Those videos would be the last exhalation of challenge culture: From then on, social media would not be understood as a place to come together but as a place to come apart. Also as a place to be serious, even while joking, to the point that everything became a bore. In those same few weeks of November 2016, media outlets covered a no-fun and not-real trend called the Trump’s Coming Challenge, in which someone yelled “Hey, Trump is coming!” and then recorded a bunch of people screaming and running away. (“The Trump’s Coming Challenge Is Why the Future’s Gonna Be Alright,” a writer for GQ … begged?).In the early to mid-2010s, when viral challenges had their run, most people were still using a social-media platform that was explicitly designed to connect them to people they knew in real life—from work, from school, from hanging around town. I’m not trying to express some great nostalgia for the Facebook of this time—there was concern about political rancor on the platform then, too, and it was well on its way to becoming a fundamentally miserable website—but people did use it like a town square or a family-meeting place. In 2017, Facebook started bleeding younger users in a major way to Instagram. The year after: the wrecking ball of TikTok. The site is a wasteland now, known for corrupting the minds of Boomers.Older people are stuck on Facebook, a website with more garbage content than ever, and lacking any grandkids’ prom-photo albums to click through. Meanwhile the Millennials and middle-aged are straddling the line between Instagram and Twitter. Viral challenges used to bubble up from college kids and teenagers before they crossed the generation gap; now the kids are all on TikTok, and the “challenges” they create (whether there or elsewhere) are either too insider-y and confusing to spread more widely, or else they’re kept behind the glass of moral panic. The Tide Pod Challenge of 2018, for which young people were said to be consuming laundry detergent, didn’t turn out to be real; neither was the Momo Challenge from 2019, which allegedly invited self-harm. Parents’ eternal fear of youth culture has been exacerbated in the TikTok age—sometimes intentionally, as when Facebook paid a Republican consulting firm to plant “challenge” panic in local newspapers. Other challenges that make the news today are creepy and not cool, and seem dangerous to grown-ups. Clearly, Grandma is not going to participate in a trend she finds terrifying.Looking back on the era of transcendent challenges, I’m talking about a time when I myself was young, which is what filming yourself dancing in socks in a mall is all about. But those challenges were also about being old, or being interesting, or being regular. They were about being anybody! With the Mannequin Challenge, we all froze, but time didn’t stop. Now we’re on the other side: Anybody can hold a pose, or pour water on their head, or do a silly dance with friends, but everybody will never do those things again.
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theatlantic.com