Drama, backlash and Tik Tok: Ellen Duggan speaks to Thomas Arnold of the Go House
I have a theory that anything that is renamed within a week of its existence, normally projects itself as dedicated to some idea of self-improvement. This change in epithet lends itself to all of the best newborns I know, like Charlie Sheen, formerly known as Carlos Irwin Estevez. The Go House was formerly known as the GOAT House, and changed its name possibly due to an NFL podcast sharing the home’s previous moniker, or a restaurant in Goatstown. In Iceland, all baby names are subjected to a ‘naming committee’ before their ultimate release to friends and family. This is seen as a necessary step in order to keep traditional names alive. As a result, both Harriet and Lucifer are illegal. Perhaps this procedure could have been adopted by the Tik Tok mansion, as ‘Go House’ sounds like a stage on a Monopoly Board.
The Go House is the name of a South Dublin mansion that is home to nine of Ireland’s most followed Tik Tok personalities. Within it they produce ‘Tik Tok content’ in an environment (not unfamiliar to our working world) where constant productivity is encouraged - and perhaps inescapable by physical location. This concentrated, productive habitat is a business model we have seen before, but its intrusion into the domestic sphere is not. Video editors and photographers are on site 24/7 in an open collaboration with the house members, which serves the function of taking the more boring aspects of fine-tuning their content off their hands.
The ‘Go House’ takes its concept from ‘The Hype House’, which was created in 2019. It involves Tik Tok stars sharing an L.A. Mansion in which they follow strict military style guidelines. If you are sensing a theme in terms of housing aesthetics, you are correct - the houses in both Tik Tok domains serve the function of presenting splendor, near perfect lighting and idealism that serve as their own man made filter. When it comes to household items within ‘the Hype House’, a ‘break-it-you-buy-it’ policy stands strong. There is strictly no partying, and if you do not meet a quota of content creation you are expelled from the house - deemed the weakest link and doomed to a solitary future, living in a condo in The Valley.
Another unspoken rule of the ‘Hype House’ is being hot. One of the founding members, Chase Hudson, comments on their recruitment process, including compassionate lines such as: “You either have to be talented at something, a weird-funny mix, or extremely good looking. If you have all three, you are a Tik Tok God”.
Two UCD graduates fathered ‘The Go House’; Thomas Arnold, a recent UCD Commerce graduate, and Jake Browne, who graduated from UCD with a Master of Engineering. When I asked about their recruitment process, Arnold states that himself and Browne held “two main criteria” above all else. The first factor was “work ethic”, judged based on how frequently potential house members posted online, and the second being “a good culture fit” - which he elaborates by stating that he wanted the individuals to have a “general vibe” and an “enthusiasm” about the project. Any individuals who were thought to be “humming and hawing” over the concept were not going to make the cut. In an online world, where enthusiasm and “general vibe” are a currency, procrastination does not fit the ‘Tik Tok God’ mould. The ironic abstraction of both of these criteria is exacerbated by the fact that Arnold and Browne were perceiving these standards upon a purely online format, such as Tik Tok, in which any sweat associated with a hard day's work is usually photoshopped upon detection.
The houses nine members, spanning in age from 18-29, are comprised of the couple Andrea and Lewis, who reign triumphant over their housemates with 5.3 million Tik Tok followers, Lauren Whelan, Nia Gall, Thomas Arnold, Jake Browne, Shauna Whelan and Leila Eckhart, who trail behind with a mere few hundred thousand each. My favourite video of all of the members is one by Andrea and Lewis, who post what I have been told is ‘cute couple content’ such as watching anime and dancing to WAP. The video in question is titled: “POV: My heartbreak!” in which Lewis boards a plane, whilst Andrea FaceTimes him from her bed, waving goodbye as they both wipe away a tear. Moments later, she turns on her bedroom plasma-screen only to see a news update that there has been a plane crash with no remaining survivors. She rolls around on her bed, screaming Lewis’s name. It has over 700k likes but deserves oh-so many more.
The number of house members was once 11. Media personality and Radio DJ Martin Guilfoyle initially joined the then ‘GOAT House’, only to leave days later due to online uproar surrounding his age and the age of the females in the house. He was a 28 year old man sharing a home with mainly 18 year old girls. Arnold brings up Guilfoyle unprovoked, using his situation as a contributing factor which may lead to a publicity agency experiencing discomfort with aligning themselves to the house, and in turn why himself and Browne feel it is necessary to keep complete control over the house and it’s media output. When I ask Arnold how Guilfoyle has been coping, he says Guilfoyle has received an “outpouring of positivity” following accusations by “idiots on twitter” that he was some form of “sexual predator”.
Criticism of the house itself, or individual members within it, appears to be fuel for Arnold. He states that he “doesn’t fully know why people are pissed off” but that he “loves it, cause they’re getting us news articles”. What has been interesting in how they react to criticism has been their immediate jump to attitudes of, as Arnold calls it, “Irish begrudgery”. It seems convenient on the conscience to blame public scrutiny on a shared mentality, and speaks volumes to his stance as a tech pioneer - a phoenix rising from the ashes of Celtic druids and bards who can't quite get the hang of their phones facial recognition feature. Commenting on how technologically-behind Ireland is, Arnold states that: “We are probably three years behind the US and even the US is way behind China”. He continues: “They have influencers going into shops, livestreaming on their phone and people are buying items from the shop, straight off of Wiichat, based on the livestream..” - a concept, I have no doubt, will be coming soon to LIDL in Stillorgan. Arnold’s confusion with criticism seems to stem from his interpretation of Ireland as being a technologically non-curious entity. Almost as though Ireland itself lacks a “work ethic” and a “general vibe”.
Arnold sees the house as consisting of “ten young people, living together and following government guidelines” who “just happen to make content online”. He continues by saying that the house has been “accused of many things: privilege, accusations that we don’t work, or that it’s being funded by our Dads”. On criticism of this sort, he says that he, ultimately, “encourages it”.
Pissing people off is probably the best metric of success
“I want more people to criticize us, it’s fuel for the fire, isn’t it?” he continues: “pissing people off is probably the best metric of success in a way, because if people didn’t care, they wouldn’t say anything”.In a few months’ time he hopes “myself and Jake have a vision, that people will look at us as the stock-standard place to get media”.
At 29 and 23 respectively, both Browne and Arnold met whilst running media production businesses in the City Centre. These businesses ultimately contributed towards the financing of the Go House. Arnold said they came to the concept of the Go House during the early days of quarantine, excited by the idea that it would “grow their Youtube channels”. Arnold explains that Browne rang him, on the exact date of July 7th, whilst on a “staycation” and said that he: “actually thinks he has the idea…like…the idea!…we should basically copy the Hype House, but do it in Ireland”. Browne emphasized that this would need to hit the social media shelves by September 1st, or else they would “miss the boat”.
He elaborates that he remembers thinking “what the fuck is he on about. How the fuck would you get the finances, get the house, and get the influencers in forty five days?” He stresses the public assumption that this was funded by their dads as “ridiculous”. Although, he told The College Tribune that the project was in part “funded by family”, it has been projected as an entrepreneurial gamble made by both Arnold and Browne, one that they hope will lead to a “break-even point” due to possible sponsorship deals in the works, manifesting in revenue being distributed evenly amongst the houses members. The Go House initially appeared with such a pervasive online presence, that attaching names and faces to its creation seemed difficult. It was understood as a single entity rather than a collection of individual creators. However, they have recently changed their approach, releasing that humanizing images of the two of them, with captions elaborating on the house's humble journey as a start-up, was a good idea.
The concept of ‘copying’, visible in Browne’s concept for the Go House, is something that is inherently imbued within the foundations of Tik Tok. Videos are bounded by the strict borders of voice overs, or dance trends that are mimicked in the hope of a perfect sync. Every five minutes on this app a 12-year-old from Nebraska can be found reciting the speech from Braveheart, the moments in which they master a two second pause in the audio giving you a hypnotic pleasure. It is a platform, much like carpool karaoke or lip sync challenges have become for talk shows, that allows for connection to words, but not the danger of an intimate relationship with them. To watch a live performance now seems mundane, but to watch someone make a performance of their performance, or imitate an imitation, is something far more interesting. It is ownership, but without the infringement of copyright. That is to say, to emotionally have, but not hold.
Content is shared individually and collectively, on both their own and Go House’s Tik Tok and Instagram. A review process exists for all videos posted to the ‘Go House account’, a process which Arnold states “needs to improve” to prevent anything “blatantly or erratically stupid” drawing further negative attention to the house and its members again. The “blatant [and] erratically stupid” content in question refers to Lauren Whelan’s video in which she stated that she used the house’s balcony to “spit on poor people”, and former house member Ryan Mar’s ‘diversity video” as Arnold titles it, which attempted to make light of the lack of the houses diversity but which, ultimately, is blatantly and erratically racist. When asked about this video, Arnold dances around the subject by refusing to discuss the intention of the video itself, instead speaking about his own meagre attempts at abating racist criticism through balancing the diversity of the house. He states that himself and Browne “reached out to people of all different colours and creeds, some of those people answered the call, some of them didn’t. They were busy, they didn’t want to. If someone left and there was a person of colour who fit the criteria that we wanted and it worked out, yeah, we would have them involved”.
Mar’s exit of the house was depicted as “amicable” by Browne and Arnold in a recent youtube video, released on Browne’s youtube on the 15th of September. In the same video, following their news of Mar’s departure, Browne records a group of seemingly young teenagers attempting to break into the house, their prerogative for breaking and entering, in Browne’s mind, being to “take pictures with the Tik Tokers”. This interesting and supposed prerogative seems to sum up the symbolic lapse in judgment in the Go House creator’s perception of their ‘start-up’. When someone wants out, when they cannot take the heat (or criticism of overtly racist content in this situation), there are always young people ready to scale the borders of a southside mansion, in order to feel a part of whatever sitcom family dynamic they present themselves as embodying.
Everyone’s a content creator. And to a degree, everyone's an influencer as well’. . ‘ I want more people to criticize us, it’s fuel for the fire, isn’t it?
When I ask him what the difference between a Content Creator and an Influencer is, he responds by saying that they are both fundamentally “icky words”. But then romantically justifies himself by stating that “everyone’s a content creator. And to a degree, everyone's an influencer as well”. You heard it here first: all icky, all equal.
Nearing the end of our interview, Arnold veers off screen to ask the house's personal chef “What’s for dinner?”. The response is a blunt “lasagne”. He looks satisfied with this answer. Later he posts pictures of himself, sitting in the same position he held throughout our interview, laptop opened, headphones on, devouring the dish.