Among the top-viewed TikToks under the hashtags #election2020 and #electionday is an ominous but familiar sound: the droning screech of the siren marking the beginning of the Purge event in the titular horror series.
Many of the videos using this sound (or trap remixes incorporating it) feature footage of empty streets in major cities sandwiched between boringly dystopian boarded-up sweetgreens and luxury condos. Others are bit more straightforward, stating directly that the young people making these videos feel as though tonight is going to be reminiscent of the nights of unbridled chaos in the Purge movies wherein all crime, even murder, is legal.
With TikTok comprised of 60 percent Gen Z users, according to an October report from Wallaroo Media, it’s likely that this is the first election for many on the platform, and it’s alarming, yet depressingly unsurprising, that this is the sound they feel most fitting for the occasion — a sound that heralds 12 hours of violent, terrifying uncertainty. “So we’re basically gonna die,” @kadijah3527 says in a TikTok featuring the siren, which has nearly 750,000 likes. “I’ve watched enough Purge movies to prepare,” she captions the video, adding a smiling purple devil emoji at the end.
The Purge movies are, of course, intended to be on-the-nose. The premise of the series is that civil unrest and violent protests over the economy and other issues are part of the inspiration for the creation of a night in which citizens have an “outlet” for their rage, via legalized crime.
In 2016, there was even an election-themed sequel centered upon a female candidate, and in a 2018 prequel, it’s explained that the night of the Purge is largely a means of reducing low-income minority populations.
“Though the images were real, the chosen sound was an extreme dramatization,” says Alex Schroeder, a TikToker who shared images of boards being installed over business storefronts, the fence-protected White House and protests in Washington D.C., using the Purge siren. “I imagine some Americans are feeling a mix of excitement, suspense and anxiety.”
Despite the exaggerated nature of the sound, the repeated use of the siren is indicative of the level of abject anxiety many are feeling surrounding the election. “L.A. is readying up for the civil war,” @baeceo writes over footage of Bvlgari and Cartier stores in Beverly Hills being covered in plywood. “City expecting riots and looting, please go out and vote tomorrow and of course stay safe,” the video continues.
“I just saw another viral post using that sound, so I used it for my video,” he tells me, when I ask what inspired the post. “It does have the same theme as the movie Purge, though, so it all worked out.”
In many ways, then, the use of the sound is simply practical — if a snippet of a song or sound are popular, a TikTok might be more likely to go viral if it uses it. Still, it’s no coincidence that the primary audio of this election is a pop-culture marker of impending doom. Perhaps, though, it also reflects the idea that during this election, there are no social rules left to adhere to.
“With everything that’s been going on this year, it’s made this election more sensitive for people,” explains @baeceo, whose real name is Armin Nejad. “I also believe that either way, no matter who wins there will be chaos. Since we experienced BLM protests and riots earlier this year, people are more open to the idea of getting out in the streets and wilding out. Hopefully, it all works out though. We shall pass this as well.”