The Real Problem With The Viral “Mugshot Challenge”

Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images.
For those with the privilege of being bored during quarantine, many are turning to TikTok for a 24-hour stream of mindless entertainment. As more and more users flood the app, it's given rise to movements like the #SavageChallenge and the #FliptheSwitchChallenge. But the latest TikTok prompt has quickly become the source of immense controversy and backlash: the #MugshotChallenge.
The viral makeup "trend" is as wildly offensive as it sounds: TikTok users create iterations of real mugshot-inspired looks — including bruises, smeared mascara, bandages, messy hair, and bloody noses — before snapping a photo that's meant to mimic a police lineup. The idea originated after users started posting compilations of actual mugshots and calling out the ones they deemed attractive. Eventually, it led people to stage their own, like the one below, which features bloodshot eyes and a bruised nose. Soon, influencers like Corinna Kopf jumped in, and James Charles reposted his final look to Twitter with no caption or context.
It didn't take long for people to point out the inherent problem with the videos and images being circulated as part of this challenge — starting with what many perceived to be the glamorization of domestic violence, which is especially triggering now as cases soar amid coronavirus lockdowns. The National Domestic Violence Hotline recently reported a rise in callers in the U.S., who report that their abusers are using COVID-19 stay-at-home measures to further isolate them.
One user replied to James Charles' tweet saying it wasn't just his image but rather "the trend itself that’s triggering for many." To which Charles replied, "This dumb trend has nothing to do with domestic abuse. what about action movies? Halloween? special effects? simple bloody noses? this is nothing new."
Following the backlash, Charles and Kopf both deleted their TikTok videos and Twitter posts. Following the takedown, Charles addressed his decision with a non-apology. "Despite the fact that hundreds of other influencers and artists have done something similar, I deleted the mugshot trend because it was never my intention to trigger anyone," he wrote. "It's a waste of time trying to have an open discussion with people who hate me regardless." Other influencers like Kopf followed suit and also deleted their posts.
But Charles' response doesn't scrape the surface of the other major underlying issue with this challenge: the glamorization of incarceration and police brutality, which disproportionally affects Black and brown communities. Studies show that police force is among the leading causes of death for young men of color — and about 1 in 1000 Black men and boys in the U.S. can expect to die at the hands of police a risk that's 2.5 times higher than what their white peers experience.
While some app users might write this off as a "fun challenge," bruises and blood from violence or police force aren't a cute thing to post for likes and shares — they're a reality for disenfranchised and disempowered communities.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotlineat 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support. 

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