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The cost of cringe: Are we trading our social currency for internet cool points?


By Sarah Gill
13th Oct 2023

IG: @sabrinabahsoon

The cost of cringe: Are we trading our social currency for internet cool points?

Does the Tube Girl trend represent yet another step towards an imminent digital dystopia, or does online virality yield real world rewards?

“Just don’t care what people think and go for it,” 22-year-old Sabrina Bahsoon—aka Tube Girl—tells British Vogue. “When I started living as my true self, that’s when it all started happening for me.”

If you’ve found the time to scroll through TikTok in recent weeks, it’s highly likely that you’ve seen the #TubeGirl trend play out on your For You Page. At the time of writing, the hashtag has 1.1 billion views and counting, and more and more regional copycat versions are cropping up everyday. There’s been Luas Girls, Irish Rail girls, and I’m sure there’s soon to be a Dart Girl.

If you’re unaware, ‘Tube Girl’ is something that began as an online trend back in August and quickly flourished into more of a mindset or movement. Sabrina Bahsoon posted an 11-second clip lip syncing to a Nicki Minaj song to hype herself up while travelling along the London Underground. Her windswept hair, expert camera work, and infectious confidence left viewers mesmerised, and has amassed 12.4 million views in two short months.

@sabrinabahsoon

Gotta match the vibes when i arrive #londontiktok #nickiminaj

? where dem girls at – fee?

Her captions vary from motivating us to romanticise our journeys to reminding us that no one actually cares, Bahsoon’s online fame quickly materialised in the real world, where she’s now walking on the runway in London, Milan and Paris, rubbing shoulders with Penn Badgley, and working with MAC Cosmetics. She got literal overnight fame for recording herself dancing like no one’s watching, but it’s the frenzied furor surrounding the #TubeGirl trend that’s making me feel a little uneasy.

The impact of the Tube Girl is being elevated to massive heights across social media, with some news outlets applauding her “unapologetic self-expression” while another headline read: “Sabrina Bahsoon does the one thing we’re all too afraid to do in public. It has made her an icon.” Did she really do all of that, though? I, personally, was unaware that the one thing we’re all collectively afraid to do in public is record ourselves doing a little dance.

Apparently, before her initial video was posted, Bahsoon told the BBC it had all started when she asked a fellow passenger to record her and he “just straight up said no.” She continues: “So I was like ‘you know what? I’m gonna do this alone. I want to make this video.” Whether it was intentional or not, there’s no denying that people are treating it as a confidence-boosting, social anxiety-curbing challenge, but let’s break the fourth wall for a second.

I’m cringe, but I am free

Encouraging women to take up space and feel confident, safe, and secure in themselves while simply existing in the world can never be a bad thing, there’s no two ways about it. But what about when it begins to verge on the—dare I say it—borderline obnoxious? Put yourself in the shoes of the fellow commuters, just trying to get to or from work in peace. Think of their point of view, watching someone do a couple of different takes and then sit back down and wait until they reach their stop. It’s cringe, but likely nothing worth writing home about.

Influencers in the wild is not a new concept, and this is far from the first step towards society’s digitally designed demise, but there’s something about performing in public for the people that live in your phone that doesn’t sit right with me. It seems to represent an eerie new idea that validation online is of more worth than what’s happening in the physical space we’re occupying. Our perception of ourselves online is becoming paramount, and it seems like we’re treading dangerously close to happily existing in a virtual reality.

Where we place value has changed over the years, people are making money from recording their day-to-day lives, and getting noticed online can absolutely change the course of a person’s life, but all of these seemingly innocuous trends bring us a little bit closer to a digital dystopian future that makes me feel more than a little queasy.

What say you, is the prospect of online clout worth embracing the cringe?

Featured image via @sabrinabahsoon