54 year-old Nathan Klebanov seems an unlikely TikTok star, yet his esoteric video lectures on Western Civilization have vaulted him to the apex of TikTok stardom in a few dizzying months. Last week he captured his 100 millionth follower to the astonishment of the winsome, bouncy teens and pre-teens who have dominated the platform up until now. So how has an overweight, balding history professor conquered a medium designed for short videos of dancing, singing, lip syncing, pranking your siblings and mocking your parents?
Klebanov became aware of TikTok through his eleven year-old nephew Kyle. As he watched an assortment of snappy, upbeat videos, he began to suspect that an intellectual hunger lurked beneath the cheesy dance moves, gestures, facial expressions and wild exuberance of the TikTokers. He thought that if he could tap into that hunger, he could share his knowledge of Western Civilization with a far larger group of people than he can with his courses at the university.
“But I knew I couldn’t just jump right into the development of cuneiform in Mesopotamia or the centuries long intermingling of Romans and Germanic peoples in the ancient world,” Professor Klebanov told reporters Monday night. “So I would lip sync a little song at first, you know, and I’d do silly things…like draw a heart in the air when I said ‘love’…and when I had their attention, I would subtly shift to my mini-lecture. They were spellbound.”
Klebanov’s videos have spurred a massive sudden interest in Western Civilization. Other TikTok stars known for their dance moves and pranks are now hosting brief book talks on issues related to Klebanov’s lectures. Amazon reported that sales of history books to adolescents are skyrocketing. Clothing lines featuring Egyptian hieroglyphics and Hammurabi’s code of laws are blowing up.
Klebanov is hoping TikTok will allow longer videos in the future. “It’s difficult to cover five-thousand years of history a minute at a time. And I think the attention span of TikTok viewers is growing rapidly.”