I became obsessed with an Italian-American man this year. It escalated quickly, because I came across him while also lusting over every character in The Sopranos (bar Livia). Although his son had shared his life on TikTok sporadically pre-lockdown, it was in March of 2020 that the account named @njitalianmafia began to fulfil its simple aim: “Make my dad famous.”
“You’re a fucking gossip queen! Leave the phone over here,” this man’s wife proclaims, as she prises the device from his hands. On another occasion, he’s cancelled by his wife because this acquaintance told that acquaintance that he was seen in public without his mask on. The son hashtags the video #liar #coronavirus. When the man has to perform a single act of cleaning up, he calls himself the “HB” (“House Bitch”). When his local pizza place forgets to deliver his garlic knots, he loses his mind.
This Italian-American man is extremely stressed as a result of his life, which seems to consist of shouting, eating simple carbohydrates and listening to Foo Fighters on his AirPods. In fact, all he or his son – who films these videos – seem to do is eat, drink, play board games and verbally dig each other out in their gorgeous New Jersey mansion, a house so big that even after watching every video multiple times, I still don’t have a handle on which room is which.
Many TikTok users will have fostered a similar relationship with a parent during this pandemic. Maybe you too fell in love with a “wine mom” (a hashtag with 32.9 million views) or a MILF (33 million views), or the Italian-American dad who repeatedly accuses his long-suffering wife and son of “breakin’ my balls” (a humble 110,200 followers).
Parents have been part of TikTok since its conception. In 2019, Gen Z were already recruiting their mums and dads to co-create content with them. As many moved home in early 2020 to see out the pandemic, this only increased – the gag usually being that the parents aren’t in on a joke made at their expense.
Academics will one day write about the uncanny performance of parents on TikTok. You can already watch whole compilations on YouTube, which mainly consist of: a) bratty American children being disrespectful to their mothers in houses thrice the size of British ones, b) dads dressed up like VSCO girls, and c) parents or grandparents told to dance to a well-known classic song that turns into a dirty remix.
Children of celebrities were and are still big on this trend, understanding that the audience will find extra delight in recognising their parents’ famous faces from TV shows or music videos.
But Gen Z’s mass use of parents as awkward, unpaid workers in the creative content economy sort of lost its shine around August, with the trend of filming parents react to “WAP” (FYI: all of them were shocked by the lyrical content!). Then parents and the middle-aged found the app “organically” (read: out of boredom) and realised they could do it better alone. And when parents get together, you get a masterclass in content. The most potent example of this is what is known as “the beveragino” video:
In the UK, as people began to escape the boredom and isolation of the first lockdown, a group of women – each of whom I can safely identify as a “cracking laugh” – met in a garden. “Did someone say beveragino?” one asks. And then woman after woman emerges from her hiding place to pop the question, all with a wine or some other bev in hand. The world loved it, the word “beveragino” made it to Urban Dictionary, and people of all ages across the globe made their own versions. None, though, captured the simple, goodhearted banter of the first.
Parents even realised they could make hilarious content for other parents, with videos like “WHEN MY KIDS SAY ‘YOU NEVER BUY ME ANYTHING’”, in which a fuming, dishevelled mother starts plonking bows on kitchen appliances and loaves of bread, until, finally, she gift wraps the house.
There are also glimpses of the cold future in the latest trend of parents creating videos trash-talking their own children. Soon, parents will be so hungry for attention – for that sweet dopamine released via audience engagement with your relatable short-form content – that they’ll step over the line (they already drop their children on the floor for laughs).
The parents might have won our hearts, but at some point they’ll fly too close to the sun and attract the attention of child services, or inevitably get cancelled for using a slur.
Although we’ve all worshipped at the altar of content this year, and never been more grateful to Netflix for allowing us to strap in and zone out, we’ve realised how much shit content is out there; that there is no end to the number of thoughtless and disposable TV shows and movies streaming services will churn out. TikTok has shown where real comedy and escapism can be found. These are normal people, working parents, making the funniest free content you’ve ever seen from their own homes (and gardens).
Sit down right now with a beveragino or a pile of garlic knots and get obsessed.