It makes perfect sense that, at the height of quarantine, teenagers began inserting themselves into other, more compelling narratives. For the past year and more, as coronavirus cases waxed and waned around us, everyone has been talking about time—how it moves and how we move inside of it. Quarantine time was, somehow, both abundant and in short supply. For those of us privileged enough to stay home, days passed slowly, full of desolate hours, while months slipped by.
What was missing from many of our quarantined existences was not the experience of time passing, but rather the presence of plot, of one event leading to another. This absence was at stark odds with the causality of the world beyond our quarantine bubbles. Out there, decisions, actions, fleeting moments of contact and exposure, all had serious, even deadly consequences. If we were lucky, we could afford to live in a room, in an apartment, where nothing much happened. Time moved forward, but didn’t yield the gifts or the consequences that we’ve grown accustomed to. Without narrative movement, and so little to do or decide, it became harder to see ourselves as the architects of our own lives.
Stuck in a plotless existence, with no action rising or climax in sight, TikTok users transformed themselves into characters compelling enough to carry such a story. On TikTok, reimagining your life as a work of art, and casting yourself in the starring role, is called romanticization—or delusion. In the literary world, we call it autofiction.