Is there anything more terrifying than being teased by teenagers? It’s bad enough IRL, but it reaches a whole other level when it’s taken to the internet, where your humiliation can mushroom into a million short-form videos until you are no longer a person, but a meme.
This is currently what’s happening to Lin-Manuel Miranda on TikTok. The cultural factors at play in this devastating cyber-roast were thoroughly chronicled by Rolling Stone’s E.J. Dickson earlier this week, but the bottom line is that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hamilton playwright is being eviscerated by teenagers on the video-sharing app.
And it’s not just one meme but a variety of them: The most prevalent is the lip-biting meme, which involves mocking the endless stream of selfies Miranda has taken wherein he gazes foppishly at the camera while chewing his lip. There’s also a bit of audio floating around of Miranda reading an erotic excerpt from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao which has become fodder for endless derision — one teen superimposed themself cringing over a series of lip-biting selfies, nearly vomiting when Miranda accentuates the word “clit.” Another popular video is just a clip of Miranda, tousle-haired and lying in bed, telling the viewer “I’m clutching my balls because they’re warm” — no commentary needed. And, of course, there are the endless parodies of him rapping.
But why this? And why now? Hamilton originally premiered on Broadway in 2015 and recently came to Disney+. The musical tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and other white founding fathers, and on its release was described as transgressive, revolutionary, and “happening,” mostly thanks to its largely BIPOC cast, and rap and hip-hop influences. Since its premiere it has enjoyed effusive, ubiquitous acclaim, and it was hard to imagine that the play and its creator, Miranda, could face any sort of mainstream critical reevaluation.
But backlash to Hamilton exists, and it has been growing. To summarize some of it: The play fails to acknowledge that most of our beloved founding fathers were slave owners, it erases Black historical figures, and ignores the plight of Native Americans as well as Hamilton’s own entanglements in the slavery system. And, as Dickson points out, “The fact that every female character, almost without exception, is defined solely by their desire to bang Hamilton, as played by Miranda, does not help matters.”
Dickson writes that some of the TikTokers seem to be aware of Hamilton’s problems and are mocking Miranda because of that, while others are just in on the joke for fun. “A lot of people think I hate him or have something against him, but I really just think it’s a silly picture. it’s no different than any other meme,” Nicholas, 19, told Insider of the lip-biting meme.
Miranda does tend to acknowledge Hamilton’s criticisms as fair and valid, even as they come five years after its initial release. As for the TikTok reckoning, he recently responded with a freestyle rap on Twitter, which was, of course, immediately meme’d.