On June 21, 2023, the TikTok account @LaughterinLight posted a video in relation to the billionaires who recently died aboard the Titan submersible as they hoped to explore the wreckage of the Titanic. The incident had resulted in a lot of dark comedy and edgy memes on TikTok. @LaughterinLight, who is a white, wealthy. and privileged immunologist who regularly cozies up to billionaires to fund her research, rightly gained traction on TikTok during the early days of the pandemic for her fiercely pro-science stance and her incredibly useful breakdown of emerging variants. It was believed by many progressive-minded people, myself included, that @LaughterinLight was a force for good. But in this video, @LaughterinLight sided with the affluent without a shred of nuance and without a kernel of comprehending catharsis. She said, “If you can find joy and Schaudenfreude and excitement from the death of people, no matter what their label or their group is, that makes you no better.”
Never mind that those who mocked these privileged Titan passengers, who paid a reported $250,000 a pop for the dubious honor of seeing the remains of poor people from more than a century ago, were simply reacting against income inequality and the ridiculous obscenity of such a narcissistic exercise that is beyond the price tag of most Americans. No, @LaughterinLight considered any joke against these billionaires to be inappropriate. (Has she even read Jonathan Swift, Helen DeWitt, Evelyn Waugh, Nathanael West, Jane Austen, Paul Beatty, Ishmael Reed, Percival Everett or George Schuyler? I have meticulously read and studied them all. Satirists have been ridiculing the follies of the rich for decades. And if @LaughterinLight is this fragile and hypersensitive, then it’s clear that she wouldn’t last a minute during any set at an East Village comedy club.) Never mind that billionaires had profited handsomely during the pandemic. According to Oxfam, billionaires added $5 trillion to their vast fortunes during the pandemic. Essential workers had no choice but to risk and lose their lives during the pandemic. According to one California study, essential workers accounted for 87% of additional COVID deaths between March 2020 and December 2020. According to WHO, it is estimated that anywhere between 80,000 and 180,000 healthcare workers lost their lives between January 2020 and May 2021. Line cooks, who undoubtedly cooked many meals for privileged people such as @LaughterinLight, had the highest risk of mortality. None of these people received the kind of spectacle-driven coverage that the Titan passengers did. Unless you count the numerous pots and pans that were banged outside windows during the early part of the pandemic from the lucky bastards who didn’t have to toil in hospitals, restaurants, and grocery stores.
On June 22, 2023, the TikTok user @crutches_and_spice — who is Black and disabled and not living in affluence — posted a critical reply to @LaughterinLight. @crutches_and_spice was calm, cited numerous facts of billionaires profiting from the pandemic, and was in no way hostile. She said, “You’re an immunologist. So you know what happens next. They then turn around and use that wealth to undermine public health efforts. The air we breathe is toxic. People are becoming disabled every single day to COVID. It has not ended. Because they want their little worker bees back in the office.”
A perfectly reasonable response, right?
But, in a comment left on @crutches_and_spice’s video, @LaughterinLight doubled down on her privilege by suggesting that @crutches_and_spice had somehow missed the point (when she had, in fact, not):
This difference in opinion likely would have dissipated over the weekend. But that’s when @mdg650hawk7thaccount — or Hawk, as this affluent San Francisco lawyer is known as on TikTok — falsely accused @crutches_and_spice — without a shred of evidence — of doxxing @LaughterinLight. Hawk is one of the more popular “liberal” accounts, but his completely unfounded attack on a marginalized creator was a classic example of a big TikTok creator using his vast influence to shut down a perfectly reasonable critic. I understand the need to stick up for a friend. But as a lawyer, Hawk should know better than this. As a putative liberal, he should understand that racism and white privilege are alive and well in 2023. What he did was pernicious to critical thinking, harmful to democratic discourse, and utterly disruptive to vital and necessary dialogue. (Indeed, Hawk is so influential that, when I criticized him for his vulgar tone policing and his false and completely unpredicated attack on a Black creator, I lost dozens of followers — mostly white neoliberals and centrists — on my backup account.)
(Conflict of interest disclaimer: Hawk and I were mutuals before my main TikTok account was falsely banned (I had not earned any additional strikes) by corrupt moderators in Tennessee, but we were never friends. We were acquaintances at best. He once asked me to email him some of my research notes. I did so and I never received a thank you or an acknowledgment from him.)
It is abundantly clear that Hawk and @LaughterinLight are not friends of the Left. They have used their sizable TikTok influence to punch down at a Black and disabled creator. They do not care about their followers. They only care about their clout. And this is a case of bigger accounts using everything in their larder to punch down at their critics. This is a case of two white, affluent, and influential TikTok creators being completely incognizant of their own privilege. And, with their completely needless bullying and persecution of @crutches_and_spice, I would also argue that this is a clear act of racism — the social media equivalent to Emmett Till being falsely accused and lynched for a perceived slight against a white woman.
Nobody who purports to stand for progressive values should follow either Hawk or @LaughterinLight. It is clear that these two accounts are acting in bad faith and that they both know who butters their bread. And it sure as hell ain’t working stiffs like you and me. Indeed, only a day before her pro-billionaire TikTok, @LaughterinLight had no problem ridiculing an overweight 52-year-old smoker who had died:
The message from Hawk and @LaughterinLight couldn’t be clearer: rules for thee and not for me. These two creators are no different from any privileged scumbag within the Republican and Democratic Parties. They have both refused to apologize in any way for their tone policing and their false accusations and have thus revealed their cruel and opportunistic colors, which is far worse than any joke directed at a billionaire.