“My new obsession,” my friend, Kelly, texted on a random Tuesday earlier this month. “North Sea ship videos.” My friends introduce new “obsessions” into the group chat at a near-constant rate. For the sake of self preservation, I’ve grown increasingly selective about which I indulge, but the mention of North Sea ship videos piqued my interest. As it turns out, the obsession with the North Sea runs far beyond our group chat and as deep as the sea itself.
North SeaTok, as it’s colloquially known, involves videos of the perilous North Sea — the “shallow, northeastern arm of the Atlantic Ocean, located between the British Isles and the mainland of northwestern Europe,” oft described as the most treacherous in the world — and the oil rigs that routinely traverse it. The overwhelming majority set to the tune of “Hoist The Colours” from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the videos depict the hulls of ships crashing into impossibly big waves, while the deck takes on what always appears to be a fatal amount of water and workers dangle off the sides. For the entire duration of each clip, you’re wondering if you’re about to watch a giant rig capsize some thousands of miles from shore. They induce an incredible amount of anxiety. They also garner hundreds of millions of views.
So what, you might ask, is the fascination? According to The Verge, it may have started with a TikTok posted by @ukdestinations, an account known for posting “cool things” around the UK, back in November. The caption was, “The last clip will truly shock you.” It was a compilation of North Sea clips, exactly as I’ve described, and it was, in fact, shocking.
The video got upwards of 118 million views. James Cullen, the creator of the TikTok, told The New York Times at the time that he was “quite blown back by how popular the videos became.” Perhaps it was because it was such a departure from the accounts normal subject matter. But whether or not this is actually where the infatuation with the North Sea was born, a surge in #northseatok content soon followed.
The reason for its popularity is, undoubtedly, the thrill. Humans are to drama like moths are to a flame. It almost feels like it’s own little sub-genre of (virtual) dark tourism, even. “[It’s] a testament to the human fascination with extreme environments,” Amanda Kooser wrote for Forbes. “You can safely marvel at waves as tall as a two-story building without fear of drowning. You can watch an oil rig worker get drenched without feeling a drop of water. The videos are tense. They’re captivating. This is the North Sea and it is mighty.”
And reader — it is.
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