#GymCreeps TikTok is not here to save us

When there’s nothing left to burn, we eventually set each other on fire.

#GymCreeps TikTok is not here to save us
Art by Casey Johnston

The Question

What do you think of JoeySwoll? Sometimes he seems mean but other times he makes great points, and I’m not sure what to think. —Megan

Can you believe this?? [Instagram reel/TikTok video with a contrived setup where a guy harassing or being rude to a woman receives comeuppance]

Is this even real?? [Instagram reel/TikTok video with a contrived setup where a guy harassing or being rude to a woman receives comeuppance]

The Answer

In the past year or so, posting about the creepy or boorish behavior of other people at gyms has become one of the surest ways to go viral, especially on platforms with algorithms that never let reality get in the way of a good old-fashioned outrage cycle.

It became such a reliable source of traffic that people started orchestrating the videos, with varying degrees of ambiguity as to whether the audience is supposed to believe their events genuinely happened and, if the creator was really willing to ride the line, whether the events of the video were even truly offensive/violating/rude. I critiqued some of these videos back in July of last year and highlighted some of the evidence that they were fake: suspiciously perfect framing, timed choreography, strange setups or outfit choices. One example was “These guys didn’t believe I could lift the same as them,” where the guys in question’s faces cycle through one suspiciously pitch-perfect skeptical expression after another.

@kostikharju WHOS FAULT??😅😳 #fyp #girl #gym #gymtok #gymgirl #gymcreeps #creep #fail #gymfail #awkward #foryou #foryoupage #gym #strech #streching ♬ Oh No - Kreepa

And then those videos began going so viral, people began making parodies of them, with sequences that were so obviously contrived that the point became clear again: to laugh at how far backward everyone is willing to bend reality for the sake of virality.

There is yet another layer to the GymBehaviorTok trifle: "Methinks thou doth protest too much about some guy looking at you in the gym." The self-appointed king of this type of video is JoeySwoll, who has swept to the defense of many a TikTok post subject. In his earlier days, he mostly stuck to deflecting snide attacks on gym misfits who were using equipment wrong, wearing strange attire, or taking up space. Lately, Mr. Swoll has veered into defending the ambiguous behavior of gym creepers, stitching posts to dismiss allegations of lurking, staring, and ogling as plausible coincidences. If a TikToker posts a video interpreting a fellow gym patron’s question of “Do you know how to use this piece of equipment over here?” as an unwelcome come-on, JoeySwoll appears as if by magic, stitching himself into their post, yelling into the camera that it’s not illegal for people to ask each other questions.