The Hype House further exposes TikTok’s toxicities

Fast rises to fame start at high prices for the teen TikTokers of the “Hype House.”

Netflixs new reality show, Hype House, depicts the unexpectedly sad reality of teenage TikTokers and the chase to their 15 minute claim to fame.

photoillustration by Sarah Yee

Netflix’s new reality show, “Hype House,” depicts the unexpectedly sad reality of teenage TikTokers and the chase to their 15 minute claim to fame.

Tik, tok. 

Imagine you are a teen with millions of dollars and followers at your disposal. 

The clock is ticking, your fifteen minutes of fame waning. 

What do you do?

Netflix’s new flop “Hype House,” released Jan. 7, attempts to immerse viewers in TikTok’s most infamous content house and answer that question. All of course in the heart of a five million dollar mansion in LA that boasts the starting place of burgeoning TikTok stars.

Cut to the swimming pools, lavish cars, parties and petty drama. 

Yet even as the camera eagerly wanders, the show’s message meanders. 

At first glance, it’s hard to sympathize with the Hype House. They’re rich and famous for less than a minute videos— heck, their entire mansion is paid for by the eight Bang energy videos they make a month. The statement co-founder Thomas Petrou makes in the trailer about the casts’  “uniqueness” stemming from their “different backgrounds” feels like cheap justification. 

Yet while the premise the Hype House presents is unity, the show is rooted in division. From the first episode, a “rivalry” is established between Hype House co-founders Petrou and Chase Hudson (LilHuddy). And as the show trudges on,  this initial superficiality segues to a shockingly substantial divide.

The line between on screen and off screen. What’s “good enough,” for success? 

At what cost will these Gen Z “celebrity” creators go to stop the clock? 

At what cost will these Gen Z “celebrity” creators go to stop the clock? 

— Sarah Yee

It seems these TikTokers are always fighting an uphill battle with their identities,  treading the fine line between celebration and cancellation, influence and irrelevancy.

“My biggest fear is being canceled for something I didn’t do,” says Larri (Larray) Merritt in episode one. 

For these TikTokers, online over-analysis of every minuscule interaction puts the “brand” they are creating of and for themselves at risk. But so thoroughly encapsulating an entire identity into a “brand”—beyond separation of the person behind it, is toxic. 

“I don’t want to get backlash. I don’t want to be offensive,” says Vinnie Hacker. Hacker, one of the most popular members of the house, breaks down after a content prank culminates in death threats.

Make your day.

TikTok’s unofficial slogan perfectly captures the platform’s goal and pitfall.

As death threats and controversies pile upon already falling approvals, these TikTokers, living dreams manifested from nothing,  are miserable. 

Absolutely miserable.

”I’m bored, I want a Tesla,” Youtuber Alex Warren tells his girlfriend Kouvr Annon in episode five. 

Only seconds later, still in the same breath, he quips “imagine a vlog of me going to…jail for tax evasion.” 

It’s almost comical that I can’t tell anymore if he’s joking. 

Warren represents the extremes of TikTok’s toxicities— so fixed on his follower count he even admits it’s crippled his mental health. Yet he says as he wipes a tear from his eye, “what do I have to be depressed about?”

These TikTokers who seemingly have everything feel nothing.

As long as the stakes remain steep and the profits reaped large, they’ll stop short of nothing, much less their mental health, to appease the clock as long as they can. It’s these valiant attempts that cultivate such thrilling, click-baity content in the first place—short enough for a quick laugh, too short to respect a real connection. There’s something intrinsically satisfying about following the journey of a teenage TikTok sensation not much different than yourself. As a follower, you are at the forefront as they push their limits beyond breaking.

But blurring the battle between on and off screen is extremely problematic.

Behind the screens, TikTok “tea” is boiling, embroiled in the nearly year long controversy of  sexual assault allegations  between Hype House cast members, Sienna Mae Gomez and Jack Wright. 

Before Oct. 2020, Gomez and Wright frequently collaborated on the platform, posting videos of them hugging, kissing and dancing with each other —never explicitly confirming their relationship as budding speculation of an off screen relationship built. So when the collaborations abruptly ceased, questions over their “break-up” climbed. Millions online and even real life associates wondered if their relationship was ever real or just “real.”

On Jan. 20, tensions climaxed when Wright alleged in a YouTube video that Gomez sexually assaulted him multiple times. 

“Uncovering the “truth” behind our relationship — which we agreed not to put a label on — was (originally) a major story line on the show,” wrote Gomez in an article responding to the video.

The allegations were never addressed on the show and Gomez and Wright rarely even appeared.

Moreover the blurred boundaries, Gomez defined her relationship with Wright as, are eerily similar to divisive identity crises shared in the rest of the Hype House cast. The divide between on and off screen has become too real, too raw for some but undoubtedly,  too deep to be categorized as “drama.” It is this alluring vagueness, constant chase between what’s real and what “real,” popularized the Hype House’s awkward online personalities and Gomez and Wright’s relationship. 

The chase and the clock need to stop.

Being granted fifteen minutes of fame at fifteen shouldn’t compel TikTokers  to share every moment of their lives and still question constantly if even that is enough to satiate viewers. Entertainment at the hands of these TikTokers certainly shouldn’t transcend towards serious allegations of sexual assault or death threats cast aside as “tea.”

No longer is their “brand” based off a genuine human being, now only a calculating, clamoring business on the verge of collapse. No longer are the fans following a permanent personality but a fleeting one that changes with the tide of the “tea.”

Regardless of how these TikTokers achieved their fame and all cringy content aside, there is a very real person deserving of respect behind each overzealous, cringy “brand” presented.

Because following these TikTokers behind all the scenes and screens have shown that living their indefinite “dream” life is more of a nightmare. 

When the clock strikes twelve and the seconds and followers slip away, who do they become? 

It’s clear that the “Hype House” is no longer and maybe never has been about content and camaraderie. 

It is only another marker of brutal competition against a ceaseless clock.

Tik, tok.