Let’s start with some good news: this is not an article about Gen Z reportedly swallowing Tide Pods or snorting condoms up their noses and out their mouths.
Instead, it’s about a much more boring trend: kids taking the “24 Hour Challenge” at Walmart, Ikea, McDonald’s and other chain stores.
What’s the 24 Hour Challenge? In short, it involves people recording themselves as they stay behind in retail stores and restaurants after closing, often by constructing some kind of fort or other clandestine hiding spot.
And then doing: Well, not very much actually.
No vandalism or debauchery. As practiced by the godfathers of this weird diversion, a pair of Belgian teens who stayed overnight in an IKEA in 2016, they basically make videos with wry, whispered observations, and post them on YouTube.
The trend is discouraged, as you might imagine, by most retailers. But the funny thing is that since it's such a boring, ultimately harmless prank, the big chains seem to treat it with the urgency of a cleanup in aisle five.
“We appreciate that people are interested in IKEA and want to create fun experiences with us,” an Inter IKEA Systems BV spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal when it reported on this odd trend recently. “We cannot guarantee safety in our stores after closing hours and that’s why we do not allow this kind of activity.”
Walmart too: They told the Journal they've been “dealing with this” for more than a year, “mainly hiding out in the toilet paper section, trying to meet their challenge.”
As you might expect, given that a lot of teenagers work at places like Walmart and McDonald's, employees are often in on the act.
A spokesperson for Chuck E. Cheese's told the Journal "some of our cast members may have gotten in trouble for helping" at least one overnight challenge. “We had our audit team look at the footage.”
But with corporate objections out of the way-;seriously, my mind is blown.
It’s an incredible artistic performance offering commentary on consumerism, nihilism, and man’s ability to find meaning in almost any atmosphere.
Nah, I’m kidding, it’s just a prank. The truth is it’s not all that different from things I did as a kid, albeit in the pre-YouTube era.
Moreover, the videos on YouTube are oddly compelling. Some of them, anyway; there are literally 53 million results when you search for 24 hour challenge. That's like if every man, woman, and child in Florida and Texas decided to do one of these videos. Twice.
So yes, there's a lot of variation. And a lot of skulking around and making a big deal of avoiding security the cops-;who truth be told, probably don't really care that much that a bunch of teenagers want to hide politely overnight in a retail store.
There's also a lot of surprisingly slick production, nonstop social media promotion, and waiting around for something to happen.
Kind of like watching a Samuel Beckett play, in that respect, or golf. But the YouTube stars play it up as if it's all the crime of the century.
“Literally a McDonald’s worker is hiding, and playing hide and seek with us,” says one of the teens in a 24 Hour Overnight Challenge video-;almost giddy-;on a video filmed overnight in a Florida McDonald’s.
And then... well, basically nothing happens. Except that the video has 16 million views.