Skip to main content

Old ‘Strokes’ Documentary Provides a Fascinating Parallel to Self-Examination in the Age of TikTok

"I wanna be forgotten, and I don't wanna be reminded ..."

The Strokes grab some ass and try to haul ass to make their van work.

When I was in high school, I’d take art classes just to have fun and kill time, and often I’d spend my hours painting while watching various interviews and documentaries. One of my absolute favorite docs to put on was a camcorder doc by The Strokes, called In Transit:

This doc is made up entirely of footage they took themselves during their first tour in Europe, and if I had to describe the quality, it’d be like this: the most charitable, charming interpretation of “boys will be boys.” Taken in 2001, the boys were all in their early twenties, and they had all the chaotic zeal of early-twenty-something boys mixed with the awkwardness of being so lackadaisical while suddenly grappling with international success.

What really grabbed my attention upon rewatching, though, was how different the culture of self-examination used to be, specifically in regards to taking personal videos. I hadn’t realized how much had really changed since my high school days. It feels so common now to see people filming themselves and being so self-aware, all the time (to an almost incapacitating extent), yet back in the day, it was still kind of a new, uncomfortable thing. It’s why Vines feel so different from TikToks: a lot of popular Vines got popular because they were just people being themselves doing silly, human bullshit. Many TikToks feel overly produced, even in the most casual contexts.

This entire documentary, therefore, feels like—and forgive me for framing it this way—one big Vine. It’s just a bunch of dudes doing dude things, from pretending to stab each other at the airport, to playing dress-up in hotel rooms. The video is full of play, and while there are moments that feel pointedly self-referential (“Really getting artistic, Albert.”), they’re still pretty organic and sweet.

And especially considering the sort of career that The Strokes were beginning to foster, it only makes a video like this feel more like a relic of the times (myself along with it). I think of Billie Eilish, who’s tried to pursue a similarly alternative trajectory, yet whose emergent documentary, The World’s a Little Blurry, was released by Apple TV+ with the highest quality. As a result, it inherently loses an ostensible degree of authenticity. Is this a fault of Billie’s? No, she can’t help but be a player in the modern stage, and the modern stage demands a certain degree of hyper-surveillance towards the self that just didn’t exist in the early aughts.

My stance on that is … it’s a crying shame. When the only camera pointed towards you is your own, you feel freer. You don’t feel the need to play up to any arbitrary expectations. Back then, sales were enough to prove that you didn’t have to do that much else to eke out your own space as an artist. The Strokes already had their tour booked. They were going to Europe, baby. They played with The Moldy Peaches and screwed around and had a great time. It was simple, it was fun, and it only served to make us like them more.

Now, look, it’s not like you can’t replicate this kind of authentic engagement with your audience these days, and it’s not like the music industry, heinous as it is, is some unconquerable beast. I often reference the band Vundabar as inspirational figures in the overall scheme of things, because they did blow up (largely thanks to TikTok’s weird fixation with bridges), but they still continued to do their own thing, under their own label, on their terms. The same could be said of punk band The Garden (about whom I’ve also written), who even had a similar style of documentary made for them years ago:

But then, this just raises bigger questions: Are conventionally attractive tall guys the only ones with enough cred to be themselves? Does social media, and the pretensions and delusions that come with it, actually provide a reasonable platform for other demographics of musicians to get an equal leg up? And is that platform even good enough, in the sense that it doesn’t crush genuine creativity as soon as it’s conceived? Or is the whole system just shit all the way down and we’re doomed, I tell you, doomed?

Aggh, my head. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I miss the old days. As the Strokes themselves said, what ever happened?

(featured image: screengrab, via Rough Trade)

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue:

Madeline (she/her) is a writer, dog mom, and casual insomniac. Her prior experiences with media have taken her down many different roads, from local history podcasts to music coverage & production. Niche interests include folk music, elves/wizards, and why horses are cool actually.