When parents bless their children with the gift of life, they’re remunerated with one unyielding honor: to embarrass their kids whenever, wherever and for however long they like. Jerry O’Connell did a good job of this in 2019, when he screeched along to the lyrics of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” while his daughters — trapped in the car with him — cringed and pleaded with him to stop. But in our modern, technological world, the power is no longer in the parents’ hands — in fact, they’ve lost it completely. The kids, would you believe it, are now embarrassing the parents! This appears to be a particularly humiliating plight for celebrity dads, who are losing their street cred with every TikTok video they inadvertently (or, for some, advertently) appear in.
Let’s start with Martin Scorsese, a tough guy who makes tough guy movies about gangs, blood and betrayal. Now, instead of in the director’s chair, you can find him on his daughter Francesca’s TikTok, guessing the names of various “feminine items,” participating in memes or pointing at some buttons in his robe. I’m not saying these videos aren’t nice — it’s lovely to see a father and daughter bonding, and we all got a nice laugh out of an elderly man confusing nipple pasties for earbuds — but none of us think he’s cool now, do we? No longer is he a formidable filmmaker who’s been nominated for nine — nine! — Academy Awards for Best Director (making him the most-nominated living director of all time). No longer is he a man whose films are the epitome of machismo. Now, he’s just an ordinary dad being roped into ordinary dad things.
And he’s not alone. TikTok is littered with unsuspecting, down-a-peg dads. As previously pointed out by The Film Stage, it appears to be an especially common predicament among directors. Alfonso Cuarón, the filmmaker behind Gravity and the Oscar-winning Roma, has been spotted eating cereal and bobbing his head in the foreground of his daughter Tess Bu’s dancing videos (he also sometimes half joins in). Judd Apatow — whose films, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad (the latter of which he produced, rather than directed), introduced teens across the world to sex — made a fleeting appearance in one of his daughter Iris’ clips to angry lip sync to the word “whore.”
Then, there are the celebrity dads who volunteer themselves up for reputational destruction. Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive and Only God Forgives) has his very own TikTok account, on which he posts infrequent videos of himself dancing with his daughters or alone to Blondie in one of those LED suits. To his credit, he seemingly learns the moves ahead of time, but always ends up coming off more Colin Firth meets Piers Morgan than A Guy Who’s Friends With Ryan Gosling. Harmony Korine posted, then deleted loads of videos, some of which live on via Twitter alongside the probably very accurate warning, “Pls delete this sir, men only do this when they’re extremely depressed.” Korine, I’ll have you know, was pretending to skateboard while lying down, as Britney Spears’ “Everytime” played in the background.
Gordon Ramsay — though objectively never cool — is probably the most dad-like celebrity dad on TikTok. As well as having his own account, where he almost exclusively does duet reaction videos while speaking really fast, he’s a series regular on his daughter Tilly Ramsay’s TikTok, avidly joining in with dances, memes or pranks at any opportunity. (To be fair, he’s a much better dancer than Nicolas Winding Refn.) And, last but not least, America’s goofy dad Will Smith is, obviously, on TikTok. The other day he made a joke about “that feeling when the coffee hits.”
It’s unsurprising that it’s come to this. Social media at its core is extremely unchic, particularly for celebrities. Existing in the world without a digital footprint is far sexier and more mysterious than tweeting your inane thoughts or doing a little dance in your robe. But then, what is “cool,” anyway? I’ve always been under the impression that “mean and distant” is cool, hence the reason why intimidating-looking men who make films about murder and mayhem would fall into that category. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the “cool” thing is when these men reveal themselves to be nothing more than irreverent goofballs who love their children. You can’t deny that next time you see a Scorsese film, you’ll have the memory of his face in front of a menstrual cup burned into your brain, and, if that’s not peak cool, I don’t know what is.
In fact, sometimes these TikToks are so consciously uncool that they quickly become epic. Take, for example, Mick Fleetwood, who recently lip synced to “Return of the Mack” while wearing a bowler hat, sang a song about his pig being his best friend while he enjoyed a picnic with the animal and did finger guns while showing off his wardrobe in a fairly deranged OOTD video. In his limited collection of clips, Mick Fleetwood exhibits a certain nonchalance, a je ne sais quoi, a feeling of ease behind the camera, which, in turn, puts me at ease — unlike, say Harmony Korine, who, with his unicorn hat and Nerf gun, is trying too hard to be Alien from Spring Breakers.
As for what constitutes my version of a “cool dad” on TikTok or beyond, I’m gonna refer to David Lynch. Wearing sunglasses inside to post daily weather reports on YouTube? Cool. Teaching me how to cook quinoa in a sultry black and white video? Fuck yeah. Letting go of your big scary man nature to twerk it on TikTok? Yeah, I’ll admit — that’s pretty cool, too.