The Out-of-Touch Adults’ Guide to Kid Culture: Who Is Lil Tay?Reading Time: 4 minutes
Lil Tay is alive. Kai Cenat is sorry. White people in Alabama are humbled.
We’re into the dog days of summer, and things are going off the rails, whether it’s the hoax announcement of an influencer’s death, a New York City riot caused by a Twitch streamer, or the greatest fight video that has ever gone viral on the internet.
This week, teenage rapper and online commotion-engine Lil Tay and her brother were dead for a day, but then they were alive again. The announcement of Lil Tay’s untimely passing came via her long-dormant Instagram, where a message was posted on Wednesday reading, ‘It is with a heavy heart that we share the devastating news of our beloved Claire’s sudden and tragic passing’ and noted that the deaths were being investigated.
The news was all over the internet in moments, but the story unraveled quickly—Tay didn’t even stay dead for 24 hours. Media sources contacted her father and former manager, both of whom refused to either confirm or deny her death at first. (Later her management did confirm her death to Variety.) Authorities in Los Angeles and Vancouver, two places Tay was known to have lived, said there was no investigation. The suspicion of shenanigans were confirmed on Thursday morning when TMZ revealed that Lil Tay is very much alive. She sent them an email reading, ‘My Instagram account was compromised by a 3rd party and used to spread jarring misinformation and rumors regarding me.’
Whether her account was actually hacked is an open question. It took 24 hours for Tay to publicly say, ‘I’m actually alive,’ which seems suspicious, and the young online star’s life has been tumultuous and confusing since she first started flexing in 2018 when she was nine years old. Her braggadocios raps about her blinged-up lifestyle and her ‘I’m so rich’ videos gained her millions of followers who either enjoy this kind of thing or are appalled by it. Then her parents got divorced and there was a bitter custody battle. Her Instagram was wiped, and replaced with a message reading ‘help me’ in 2018. Messages were posted accusing her father of abuse, charges the father denied. It’s all messy. Her death announcement could have been a publicity stunt, or it could have something to do with the custody battle, or it could have been a hacker. I have a feeling we’ll find out soon.
Speaking of internet famous young people you’d probably have never heard of if something didn’t go horrible wrong, 21-year-old Kai Cenat, the most subscribed streamer on Twitch, caused a riot in NYC this week. Thousands of his fans gathered in Union Square after Cenat announced that he would be giving fans PlayStation 5 consoles and other gifts. The turnout, it seems, was far larger than expected. The crowd quickly became uncontrollable. Fans threw rocks and bottles, vandalized cars, and otherwise acted up, leading to NYC police arresting 65 people, 30 of whom were juveniles. Cenat was among those arrested. He was charged with a felony—first-degree riot, causing public injury and damage—and two misdemeanors—inciting a riot and unlawful assembly. Since the incident, Cenat has said he’s taking a break from streaming for a bit to prepare for his court cases, and said he was ‘beyond disappointed in anybody who became destructive that day,’ while reiterating that his intentions were good, but he underestimated the influence he had over his fans. Cenat has amassed over 6.5 million followers on Twitch, 6 million on Instagram, and 4 million on YouTube for his benign comedy, prank, and gaming videos.
After years of confinement in the most depressing corners of the internet, the concept of ‘looksmaxxxing’ has been breaking into the mainstream lately. A term invented by incels, looksmaxxing means something like ‘maximizing one’s physical appearance,’ usually with the goal of improving status and/or attracting women. At its most benign level, looksmaxxing boils down to ‘comb your hair and go to the gym,’ but these are incels we’re talking about, so it gets much darker. Some looksmaxxers take steroids, get botox, or bleach their skin. Some have expensive plastic surgery done. Then there’s the practice of ‘mewing,’ pushing your tongue agains the roof of your mouth to improve your jawline, and the far more extreme ‘bone smashing‘—literally smashing your cheekbones or jaw with a hammer in order to promote bone growth. It’s all depressing and horrific, like everything about incel culture. I think ‘being-a-semi-worthwhile-person-who-is-fun-to-hang-out-with-maxxing’ would work much better for attracting women, but I haven’t tried hitting myself in the face with a hammer, so I can’t say for sure.
This week, a bunch of white people started a fight with a Black ship captain at a Montgomery, Alabama pier when he asked them to move their boat. Footage of the resulting brawl, in which the aggressors are handed their collective asses, resulted in the viral video of the week, the year, and probably the decade.
It’s not just the wealth of detail and drama, the way each subsequent viewing reveals some amazing new thing you’d failed to notice—the hat throw! The swimmer! The gleeful, ‘oh, it’s on now’ skipping of the captain’s defenders! The folding chair! It’s not just that two minutes of shaky-cam footage eclipsed any action scene Hollywood has ever filmed in terms of pacing and excitement either. It’s really the justice of it—the ‘these people definitely had it coming’ vibe. I don’t usually delight in violence, but like most people, I’m making an exception.
I’m sure you’ve seen it already—if you’re like me, you’ve pored over it like the Zapruder film—but in case you missed it, check out the Montgomery Brawl. There are a ton of other angles and edits, but this is a good one.
A video as powerful as this was bound to ripple out into the culture in the form of responses and memes. Tribute songs were written. Commentary videos were posted. Someone pointed out that the folding chair was invented by a Black man. The chair itself became a celebrity and a future museum piece. Of all the reactions I’ve seen, I like this re-enactment best, maybe because in order to make it, everyone had to have been friends.
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