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The Terrifying Gender Politics of ‘The Milk Is the Dad’

I can’t stop thinking about the cursed ‘Milk Before Cereal Rap’ TikTok

Twitter and TikTok have an interesting relationship among social media platforms, in that the former acts as a filter for the latter. Lots of people on Twitter have seen many TikToks without downloading or using the app, and the content that migrates over — after going natively viral — tends to elicit extreme reactions. For every chill dude who becomes a beloved web celebrity overnight by skateboarding and sipping cranberry juice to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” there must be a video like Sarah Maddack’s “MILK BEFORE CEREAL RAP,” which has been viewed 2.3 million times and widely, viciously panned by critics on Twitter. “Are the straights okay?” asked one. “I think it would have been cool if they made tik tok illegal,” wrote another.

@sarah_maddack

MILK BEFORE CEREAL. FIGHT ME IN THE COMMENTS I DAIRY YOU 🥛#milkbeforecereal #milk #femalerapper #cereal @reesespuffs

♬ Milk before cereal – SarahMaddack

In contrast to Nathan Apodaca, the aforementioned skateboarder, Maddack’s output is visibly effortful, right in the sweet spot where “tryhard” meets “cringe.” Those who venture down the rabbit hole will learn that she’s a “big fan of Jesus” with the stated mission of “making rap wholesome,” and are bound to mock her for these identity markers as well. But while the blowback may seem like haters shitting on an innocent, goofy video made by a young Christian influencer with a ring light — whose rapping cadence probably owes something to Hamilton — I believe the negative response is partially owed to the stealthy cynicism of the video itself.

There’s nothing accidental, that is, in featuring (and tagging) Reese’s Puffs cereal, or citing YouTube star Logan Paul, or presenting the milk-first technique as an “unpopular opinion” to drive engagement (“FIGHT ME IN THE COMMENTS I DAIRY YOU,” Maddack writes). These are all moves calculated for maximum spread. The biggest tell, however, that you’re watching something cooked up to ride the algorithm is the nonsense verbal hook of the song: “the milk is the dad.”

If this were a different creator, a joke like “the milk is the dad (and the box is the mom)” could be attributed to some kind of stoner logic — funny because it’s so stupid, like the endless argument over a hot dog qualifying as a “sandwich” or not. Here, it feels like a simulation of that good-natured, organic absurdism, a see-how-quirky-we-are catchphrase that is, I’m sad to say, hard to get out of your head. Thanks to a digression on divorce, it also darkly hints at past trauma being processed. Yet, as a philosophical claim, it is far more intriguing than the dispute around the order of breakfast operations, given that obviously the cereal goes in first, come on.

Many were confused by the dad-milk/mom-box theory, since they experience those parental roles in a biological way: If the cereal is the child, this implies that the milk and the box have somehow generated the cereal. Nothing of the kind has ever happened, and certainly not in the footage provided. The milk does not inseminate the box. Rather insidiously, though, Maddack is advancing a non-reproductive and nonetheless heteronormative definition of family: The cereal is a baby held either in the embrace of the box-mother or the milk-father, and how it actually got here is irrelevant, much as the fact that milk is produced by females of a species, not the male.

In the end, what have we witnessed? The result of a performer wrangling friends into an all-day, likely COVID-unsafe shoot for TikTok clout, yes, but also an exercise in mind hacking via annoyance. You grow so immersed in playing out the consequences or contradictions of “the milk is the dad” that you forget it’s not even clever — that this is a team of white people trying to colonize hip-hop by rendering it “wholesome” with offbeat sketch comedy premises. That sucks!

Too bad, you can’t unhear it now. This is the real culture war, and I’m losing it every damn day.