I’m not a frequent Tik-Tok user and, after stumbling upon the trend “#privateschool”, I can’t say this is going to change. Since the start of the year, videos of Britain’s most wealthy teens have started to rack up millions of views online and I was curious to see what the hype was about. To summarise, and to save you from watching them yourselves, these Tik-Toks essentially encourage students to brag about their educational privileges. In terms of the aesthetic, think signet rings, RP accents, and range rovers. Oh, and I may have spotted Hogwarts more than a few times.
Although I dislike this craze, I am privately educated myself. I know that I was lucky to have such a positive experience of education and, before I go any further, I feel it is important to acknowledge how fortunate I was. However, I also think that my memories of an independent school explain my reaction to these videos. Growing up with privilege in the North East of England, one of the poorest regions in the UK, can be complicated as a large amount of the community is extremely anti-private education. Because of this, I always felt a pressure to be discreet about my opportunities and I sought to separate myself from more affluent fee-paying students, as hypocritical as this may be. I remember bringing spare clothes to school so I didn’t have to go into town in my uniform, and at parties I would never give the full name of my school in the hope that others wouldn’t recognise it. My condemning of this Tik-Tok trend is just another way for me to distance myself from a system that I am not entirely comfortable with.
That being said, I understand why people watch these videos. A fascination with “how the other half lives” is an age-old cultural phenomenon and can be seen through the success of TV shows like Dynasty, or even Downton Abbey. Privately educated students typically become high-flyers, and in 2019 they occupied 39% of Britain’s “top positions”, despite making up 7% of the total population. For the international audience, private schools have also, problematically, become a symbol of “Britishness” due to Blyton’s Malory Towers, the cult teen film Wild Child, and the royal family, adding to the attraction of these Tik-Toks. Due to the lasting legacy of the empire and ethnocentrism, the British education system is still seen as one of the most prestigious in the world.
So, whilst many of these videos are made in gest, I am still extremely uncomfortable with the values of superiority and exclusivity that they promote if taken literally. Internet culture is often aggressively liberal, so it is curious to see how this subculture of elitism has somehow earned viral success, whether this be down to viewers’ disgust or fascination.
Call me a killjoy, but I struggle to see the humour in these “I’m rich, you’re poor” jokes, especially when these inequalities have a real impact on many students.
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