The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday August 12th

Students reflect on defining pop culture, social moments of the pandemic

Ben Boatwright, second year at the UNC School of Law, reads a book at McCorkle Place in Chapel Hill on March 7, 2021.
Buy Photos Ben Boatwright, second year at the UNC School of Law, reads a book at McCorkle Place in Chapel Hill on March 7, 2021.

What associations arise when you hear the phrase “Tiger King?” What about when you see a picture of whipped coffee in a mason jar, or hear the first few bars of “Supalonely” by BENEE?

You might have flashbacks to March 2020 and the summer that followed. It’s been almost a year since UNC moved online and since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in the United States. In that time, media consumption surged, with certain TV shows, trends and music becoming seemingly inescapable
— especially during the first few months of quarantine. 

According to a report released by The Nielsen Company, the time spent online accessing current events and global news was 215 percent higher in March 2020 than a year earlier. The company said in March of last year that staying at home can lead to a nearly 60 percent increase in content consumption — this already up from historic highs. 

“Everyone was watching, everyone was on their phones. It was the most amount of people connected at that one point,” UNC junior Lailah Ligons said.

Social media, for example, provided a forum for students to interact and find shared experiences despite their physical isolation. 

Like many others, junior Jacob Key hopped onto the TikTok train at the beginning of quarantine to stay in the loop and take advantage of his newfound time. A series of trends you could do at home kept students like Ligons and Key occupied and engaged: they learned the moves to the Supalonely dance, made and memorialized their photogenic Dalgona coffee and were briefly inspired to get into DIY projects like embroidery and woodworking. 

“It was springtime and summertime so there were a lot of positive videos and bright colors and outside kind of stuff. And people being happy and dancing in the earlier days of quarantine,” Ligons said. 

For some, there’s a disconnect between the optimistic lean of these trends and the reality they were dealing with. 

“It was kind of like a false sense of happiness, no offense," Maansi Patel, a junior studying studio art, said. "Everyone was doing workouts, like Chloe Ting, buying stuff on Amazon, going into new hobbies, things like that. It was comforting in a way. You could gain a sense of clanship.” 

Especially toward the summertime, when Black Lives Matter protests were the subject of national conversation, Ligons remembers looking to social media in the absence of physical connection and finding a community online. 

“It’s funny, you’d see a tweet, and think, ‘I didn’t know anyone else was thinking like that!’” Ligons said. “It’s such a specific thought but it’s going viral … It was cool to see how unified we were in our thoughts and our feelings getting through the pandemic.”

Over the course of the pandemic, Ligons became more inclined to comment and participate in discussions online. 

Film professor Martin Johnson said there was a similar impact on discussion around film and TV. 

When Key thinks back on the TV shows that defined quarantine for him, the first thing that comes up is Love is Blind, the dating show and self-described “social experiment”, a reality show where contestants couple up based on virtual interactions, only meeting face-to-face after they get engaged. 

“Because people had to date without seeing each other, it reminded everyone of quarantine so I think that’s why it got so big,” Key said. 

Johnson said that while most of the TV shows and movies that were popular over the past year were made prior to the pandemic, some, such as “Love is Blind,” take on new meaning due to experiences its creators couldn’t have predicted. 

He said “Parasite” and “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” are examples of films with themes that particularly resonated with 2020 audiences including being trapped at home and unable to escape. 

“Particularly last spring, it was such a beautiful spring, and yet you couldn’t really go anywhere… It made you kind of wary of but attentive to nature and of the environment,” Johnson said. 

For some students, these newfound associations provoke reflection about what they have taken away from last year.

“It’s that one-year mark, and I’m feeling the weather now and it’s different. I know this weather is so beautiful and sunny, but it’s like the calm before the storm. I’ve been in this place before,” said Patel, “How we perceive things, how we perceive stability has changed.” 


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