The arrest of Opu, a TikTok star and influencer by the police on charges of beating up a car driver is very OK. Although many get beaten up, not all are arrested unless they are seen as an "enemy". In this case Opu is seen as an obvious villain, a threat to law and order and social morals going by police and media versions. He is even being seen as a drug dealer. After all, he colours his hair, sings mad rap songs, makes gestures that are rude and so on.
In a rather unethical- good in Bangladesh- report some media accused him of being a social and cultural threat. Drugs were also mentioned though the police has only said that they are investigating that angle.
Who is afraid of TikTok?
It's obvious that the establishment including conventional media is shit scared of Opu and his kind. After all, TikTok belongs to social media and that's truly bashing up the major media houses by taking your audience away. And the police who are used to doing things only their way is also uneasy of people who are not on their side.
Most important the TikTok culture is youth driven and anti-establishment and that is what scares everyone. It's what the future looks like and they don't like it. The arrest was caused by a direct crime but the entire issue is being built around anti-social media, TikTok and even youth culture. For a people who claim to be revolutionary, the unusual reaction against the youth phenomenon and its cultural products is certainly very right wing.
Media attention is so much that Opu has become a star criminal of sorts comparable to a Shahed and others. The objective is obvious: to destroy Opu and in this process re-establish control of the ruling class media over social media. And there is also the question of market control. In a youth dominated demography, its they who are the majority of consumers. And TikTok and other content making platforms have been very successful in winning followers away from the conventional media.
A discredited establishment
The establishment is at bay because their image has received a severe battering in the corona period. Many have fallen and they are all establishment figures. No establishment figure or institution has escaped the wrath of the crisis. Shahed by himself is not a major criminal but the episode has exposed the depth of the complicity of corruption even in times of life and death.
It was not just a fraud and a scamster that was put on public display but the media as well. The pics showed his bonhomie with media leaders. It also showed that he was invited to state gatherings and attended ruling party meetings. Soon the story of how he got contracts to test and dared to fake them became open.
Obviously, he was part of the establishment. He was not a rogue individual but part of the system which included many from the top layer. The health sector mandarins will be in power and making money no doubt but they have no respect left to enjoy.
Politicians make up the establishment but their performance has hardly been noteworthy. In fact, relief theft has become a major media item and crashed their reputation if they had much to start with before corona began. Professionals have been dumped and so have institutions leaving very few intact.
Police of course have taken a battering. They usually do but extra-judicial killings have always haunted them. The recent episode of Maj (retd) Sinha in Cox's Bazar has brought the matter into sharp focus. It will take time before they can return to the pre-killing status. The fact that the most powerful institution in the country has gone after such rogue elements in the police shows how fragile institutional reputation is.
The rise of the counter-culture
So where can the youth look to for some kind of "I want to be like them" feeling? They probably can't look anywhere except in the past but there are so many versions of the past that many prefer to stay away from it And in the absence of the past, the nature of the current, they see no future. Which is why they are inventing it for themselves.
What social media does is give them a space beyond the control of the establishment, one reason the Digital Security Act is so active. The establishment fears social media and that's one way of trying to bring it under control. But as youth have no interest in establishment issues in most cases, the counter-establishment gets into trouble not youngsters who are dropping out from most establishment spaces.
The counter-culture which the youth are producing is their own and TikTok is playing a major part in that. Opu's crime is one thing but a youth coming from outside Dhaka , entering into a digital platform and then making money from its willing consumers without bribes or telbazi is too much for owned media to accept. Which is why Opu is being demonized. And through that the TikTok culture and its upholder, the young people. As psychologist said on TV, youth are being damaged and they should get into more "positive" culture.
It's this positive culture no one buys anymore. That positive culture is produced by privileges and social media has created a platform outside that. The establishment hates all changes and challenges. Like it or not, their cultural era is over and the TikTok revolution is too far ahead now to bring it back.