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The 3 AM Cult

Photo: Melissa Ong, @chunkysdead/TikTok

TikTok, Apple’s most downloaded app, typically started its humble origins with a group of Chinese techies grabbed from the sides of the road, being lashed night and day all while being tied to a giant electricity-producing wheel to run the AC in the room of 37- year- old Zhang Yiming.

While Zhang Yiming was too afraid of his wife discovering his weakness for watching teens dancing he came up with TikTok and slyly covered it up saying it was all for those teens in limbo, who were burned out after the Dancing with Stars show was discontinued. The app itself grew to be one of its kind, a parallel world with its own Stan culture and biodiversity.

While no one expected TikTok to raise from its image (nore like videos) of twerking and dancing teens. There was a wave of change; the drunk leader of the present Step-Chicken cult started a relatively new kind of influence that seized a time of great pandemic and isolation with desperation soaring temperatures in teens she caught the movement and started a cult.

“I made this video where I was speaking into my phone camera like, ‘Hey guys I think we should start a religion,’” she said in a phone interview on Friday. “Then, I was like, ‘Let’s start a cult.’”

Well, whoever said: Things happen over coffee, should move on and make way for Humans run on alcohol.

TikTok users have been forming cults over personalities, armies, and imaginary fandom characters. These non-violent cults’ aim is not to raid on the four horses through the ominous roads with exaggerating smoke covered roads to bring on apocalypse but just to raid the comment sections of well-known personalities like Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg and make their presence know.

With less sinister motives, the ideology behind them is not any bigger than belonging to a group with no solid ideology other than obeying their leader. While all this crazy frenzy can seem that, these are just the signs of end times. Do not fool yourselves to think otherwise as it would not get any better than this. “Abandon all hope, ye who enters here” With all the anguished screams; the souls of cryptic cult members, unanimously decided to intimidate the world with their threatening delphic blue selfie of their creators and threateningly marching with their power to raid the comment section and show their dominance.

With all this frenzy going on one would want to sit back and wonder. However, you cannot because you working from home and for the fact, you never stopped working. Addressing the issue at the hand what is the pattern behind this madness can cults do survive in this age of connectivity. Times of Jim Jones who started a notorious death cult had to isolate his followers to make them drink a glass of Flavour Aid. So, how these tens of thousands of followers took orders from their virtual leader to change their profile picture and raid the comment section threatening their cult.

Definitely, isolation was not the key; it was all about being in a group. As the basic survival instinct of humans’ safety in numbers. Nevertheless, that was not all. Ong’s mobilization able t control and influence millions is no small feat for someone who began his or her online career just a few months ago.

“Bad content is still content,” she said. “I built a brand around being shitty, and I’m like, ‘You can get famous by having no talent and being shitty like me.’” Very opposite to the “Kardashian Klan”

Therefore, with more than two million followers on the platform, the 27-year-old has since solidified herself as one of TikTok’s rising stars by creating her Step Chickens cult, whose name is a nod to her “Cornhub” videos in which she spoofed porn’s obsession with the step-siblings trope in a chicken costume.

That said, the cult itself was born after she joked about starting a religion in a video made as part of her “TikToks I Film at 3 A.M. When I’m Stoned” series. Probably 3 AM is really the witching hour. This led to her mobilizing “the collective power of my following to go spam someone else’s comments and just be a troll.”

The story did take rather and massively huge turn for a cult that started in the bathroom at 3 AM. So where does the appeal lie; well in the creator's own words, “I think the appeal of the Step Chickens is the same psychology of why you attach yourself to a certain sports team or why people are Xbox versus PS4. There’s this sort of in-group mentality,” she explained. “What I’ve heard from people who follow me is that it’s helped them feel like they’re a part of something and it’s like, ‘Thank you for giving us something to do in quarantine’ or, in a weird way, ‘Thank you for giving us a sense of purpose,’ even though it’s totally meaningless.”

Even better Ong represents that community which, often pushed into the background. As most of her followers are women, people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, or an intersection of these identities, which she said could be attributed to the fact that her brand of dark humor “resonates” with minorities who “experience so much shitty stuff if you grow up in America.”

Many fans opinionated that step chickens helped them feel less isolated during lockdown — overseeing the fact that they were isolated even pre-pandemic era but now their vent is heard. It’s likely that probably a lot of teenagers are bored at home right now, and it’s exciting to be part of a trolling group without any guilt.

While many of its members may move on or grow, out of this to remember only as a time of madness or crazy coping mechanism of survival; it just amuses as how being a human is not enough to learn about humans. As every small change threatens its existence, we still survive with an even higher level of adaptability.

Her ultimate goal is to have her own comedy show on HBO or Netflix, similar to Nathan Fielder’s “Nathan for You,” where she can build out the persona she has spent a decade cultivating.

“Before TikTok, I would spend all my free time looking at memes on Reddit or Instagram,” Ms. Ong said. “It wasn’t like this came from nothing. It came from spending 10 years of my life in the deepest corners of Reddit, cultivating this personality.”

For now, it does not seem like TikTok cults are much cause for concern. Probably as we speak, somewhere before their blue light-emitting screens there is such a leader being groomed from depths of the world wide web the internet is grooming another leader to rise.

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