What The Viral Fake Bus Hammock TikTok Says About Staged Videos

Lifestyle

It is, in fairness, an irresistible TikTok.

The scene opens with the action already underway, as if a bystander has just started recording an escalating drama. A man is suspended in a camping hammock, but it’s not outdoors — it’s fastened to the overhead poles inside a bus, more or less blocking the front door. (Based on the signage, it appears to be a Utah Transit Authority bus.) Facing him is the bus driver, who expresses his displeasure at this approach to public transit, and refuses to drive any farther until the man takes down his hammock. The man refuses, spinning in the hammock for emphasis, as other passengers start yelling at him for holding up the bus.

We see not even a minute of this confrontation, and while it appears the man jumps out of the hammock at the very end of the clip, we have no indication of how the incident was resolved. That, of course, makes it all the more compelling. Where did this guy come from? Where did he go? And where else has he inappropriately installed his hammock?

Viewed more than 93 million times on TikTok alone, the snippet first strikes the bewildered observer as an example of truth being stranger than fiction — an absurd but nonetheless plausible event in a dense urban setting where eccentric behavior is witnessed daily. Then one is eager to pick a side in the argument that conforms to a certain idea of social contracts: commenters divided themselves into those who found hammock man a rude obstructionist inconveniencing a busload of people and those who, on the contrary, felt he was hurting no one and should be left alone, or even admired for innovating a more comfortable mode of bus travel.

Only after the video had gone mega-viral and kicked off this spirited debate did any skepticism come to the fore. Surely the guy’s schtick is more than a little theatrical, and the woman recording him sounds somewhat rehearsed as well. Wouldn’t it make more sense, actually, if this were not some random glimpse into the madness of the modern human experience but a staged prank? In fact, it was: newlywed content creators had concocted the scenario and shot it for their own Facebook page, labeling the footage a “skit,” but lost control of the narrative when it migrated to other platforms without that context.

Lexi and Ocean, who are based in Las Vegas, list themselves as actors on their page and post what can be broadly categorized as “engagement bait,” designed to elicit comments and reactions. (The couple did not respond to an interview request.) They upload videos of each trying to stump the other with brain teasers, as well as influencer-style photos of themselves with captions like “How do you define happiness, and what brings you true joy?” They also post video skits such as “Gender reveal turns into twin surprise,” in which Ocean and Lexi play expectant parents who find out they’re having twins. These are typically labeled “for entertainment purposes only,” though it’s not hard to see how they might be shared as genuine.

The hammock prank, for instance, didn’t get much traction when Lexi and Ocean first shared it Facebook in early May, nor did it get any significant pickup on Ocean’s older personal page, “Aloha Ocean,” which has more than 400,000 followers. Scott Kash, the TikTok user who eventually blew it up, tells Rolling Stone he had never heard of the creators when he came across the video elsewhere on social media.

“I was one of those people, like, ‘Holy shit, is that real or what?’” Kash recalls. His curiosity piqued, he went looking for the source of the clip and eventually tracked down Ocean and Lexi. He noted that their original upload had been viewed just a few hundred times and was clearly presented as staged. Still, he says, it was “highly entertaining,” and he found Ocean to be a “good actor,” so he reposted the video on his TikTok account with the caption “hammock on the bus!?” and no other information. “It’s my kind of humor,” he says.

Kash, who tends to casually post material about his “normal life,” friends in Cleveland, and trips elsewhere, didn’t exactly anticipate the response he got. “I don’t know how TikTok works and what they choose to blast to everybody,” he says, but within half an hour, “hammock guy” had exploded, and he had media bombarding him with requests to license the video. All he could do was tell them it wasn’t his to sell. Meanwhile, the comments were coming too fast for Kash to read, let alone answer. Rather than try to tell people the episode was staged, “I was letting it roll in just because it was getting so crazy.” Soon he had to turn off all his notifications.

Eventually, reporters debunked the footage as a setup, and Lexi and Ocean recorded a Facebook livestream in which they claimed credit, saying the idea had come out of Ocean’s complaints about the discomforts of travel and fantasy of a “nappable” alternative to regular bus seats. (He also copped to a habit of taking keeping the hammock in the trunk of his car in case he had the impulse to lay out wherever he might be.) From the pair’s description of the prank, it seems that neither the bus driver nor the other passengers were in on the bit, though the two barely addressed the matter, choosing instead to respond to random comments, thank their fans, and recount the story of their recent wedding.

Ocean did assure viewers that he was unharmed after hitting his head on the bus pole in the hammock video, and he made one apparent reference to how the clip had migrated to other platforms. “A lot of people have misappropriated the content,” he said. But, on the whole, he sounded thrilled with the exposure, noting how “everyone” was watching their content. In addition to the millions of views on TikTok and X (formerly Twitter), Lexi and Ocean’s original post has 12 million views, bringing the total to at least 100 million.

And that, in our attention economy, is the name of the game. These two set out for attention and laughs, and, eventually, they got both. It happened through a combination of factors. To begin with, they were filming scenes intended to appear realistic and spark a response. A few individuals who encountered their work early on saw an opportunity to promote it from their own channels and maybe score some of that engagement for themselves. Removing context made the provenance of the clip ambiguous, which lent it a kind of cinéma vérité authenticity, driving heightened reactions and speculation about what people were seeing. The chatter no doubt triggered an algorithmic feedback loop that pushed the video to many more accounts, in turn generating more views, shares, and comments, all completely divorced from the “skit” frame of reference.

Maybe, too, we take these things at face value because we are living in a state of mutual hyper-surveillance, when, say, a woman’s real freakout over a supposed phantom on an airplane can fuel a week of memes and headlines because someone instinctively recorded it. But between the incentives for social media users, today’s modes of digital transmission, app-curated feeds and a general indifference to the facts of a given interaction between strangers on our phone screens, it’s safe to say that we’re going to keep falling for these fakes.

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