Why does TikTok come from China?

The opening ceremony for the 1980 Moscow Olympics featured a message from space and almost two hours of dances from the manifold peoples of the Soviet world, from Cossack to Khirghiz. The closing ceremony featured a bear-shaped balloon who flew high and then higher than high. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics opened with kids singing a Diana Ross song and closed with Lionel Ritchie.

YouTube recordings of the 1980s are also notable for going silent during the minutes allotted for commercials in the rest of the world.

The term “the long tail” was coined to designate something about internet culture that was different from commercial celebrity culture. Cultural power was still a power law, but lower cost of production and access to distribution meant we could see more of the power law. The unspoken implication is that every tail of a power law is also a local power law with less amplitude. The point was to discover and make money out of local celebrity cultures; intensify power law dynamics across the niches.

Of course everything here — Misha the bear versus Billboard #1 hits, peasant dances versus ephebophilic “cheerleading” — has to do with axiologies.

This blogger makes (somewhat muddedly; but it’s in the title too) the point that TikTok eschews the “social” (really, influencer) graph omnipresent (even if sometimes subdued by user interfaces) in the latest technology offerings. Everyone else seems to emphasize that content is “easy to make and share” in TikTok, but how good can its camera handling and funny hats be?

What is (apparently) the case, instead, is that in TikTok it’s easy to share and be seen. It appears to employ some magical ML tech, but that would be a marginal improvement over simple randomizing mechanics that prevent celebrity culture from emerging (or at least from being capitalized).


There’s a legitimate case against communism: implementing it requires gross power, and gross power is grossly corrupting. Almost everything practical about communism has been either tragedy or comedy of errors. It’s even possible that Russians stumbled upon (with L. Kantorovich, Nobel prize winner) the possibility of practical and efficient central planning and deliberately ignored it. Effectively, communism is poverty — in the empty fridges of homemakers and in the spirit of its people.

Everything in communism that has to do with chrematistics is broken (in the past), bogus (in the present — cf China) or vague to the point of not being anything at all (in possible futures freely advocated by Twitter bluechecks).

How does it remain so attractive? There is, of course, the mass effect of an entire cultural apparatus — the same that gives you cheerleader porn, R. Kelly and Wonder Woman. But if the right axiology operated by communism is bogus, some (not all) of its left axiology rings true. As a piece of axiological machinery, the market is supposed to operate a chrematistics but also to produce hierarchies of values. And it does; but the flow of prosperity (chrematistics) is not enough to legitimate the value system (left axiology). Legitimacy has to flow from elsewhere.

In celebrity culture, legitimacy flows through a self-reinforcing influencer graph. Bruce Springsteen is all the more powerful because Eric Clapton worships him (or is it the other way around?). But the utility of celebrity culture was strongly linked to its facticity — to the fact that it is something rather than nothing, entertainment TV rather than silence. The challenge of the “long tail” is, in actuality, that technology has turned the tables, and celebrity cultures must (it seems; maybe this is hardcoded in human nature) be actively cultivated through “social graphs”.

But none of this exists in communism. This produces alternate concept-spaces whence Misha and TikTok arises.