I feel old all the time. It happens with age, y’know?
Superfluous statements out of the way, a better way of qualifying it is that I feel increasingly out of touch with certain parts of society. I’ve been thinking of that absurd Gymshark line up over the weekend and having trouble working through my mental and emotional responses to it. I wonder if they’re indicative of being too judgemental or discounting large subsections of society unfairly. This is garble. I’ll try to do better.
I don’t Instagram. At a stretch you could say that I did briefly when I ran the Air Bud Pawdcast social media account. Really though, I posted and didn’t bother to look further into the platform. I’m not much of an image based person. I like reading and audio a ton, but there wasn’t a ton of appeal at looking at photos. This is no admonishment of anyone who uses the service, it’s just not for me and that’s fine.
I feel deeply unsettled by the rise of Attractive People Fame. Don’t get me wrong, attractive people have prospered since the beginning of society. This in itself is nothing new. It’s not like I woke up in 2018 and suddenly discovered that celebrities were pretty. Attractive People Fame takes this to another echelon. With the rise of the Kardashian Clan and the words “social media influencer”, being famous in itself has become a career trajectory in a whole new fashion. I’m not breaking ground saying this. There are a lot of people making money for being popular and attractive. There are corporate tie ins and sponsorships. These people a) being alive and b) using products has become a very visible avenue of advertising. I’m not trying to stand on a rickety pedestal and say this isn’t work. I know that a lot of effort goes into scheduling posts, cultivating an audience, reshooting and retouching photos until they’re perfect. It’s a real job with a ton of hours and thought. This isn’t my issue.
Cult of personality has become a career in a whole new way. Yet again, I don’t see that in itself as an indication of crumbling societal values. Take me as an example: I follow a lot of Dan Harmon’s stuff. I was a big fan of his show Community and began listening to his podcast Harmontown way back in The Year Of Our Lord (aren’t they all?) 2012. I’ve paid actual dollars to go to live podcast recordings. I bought a limited release book that his ex-wife put out of his Tumblr writings collated. I met him and got him to sign my book. I’ve interacted with other Harmontown fans in the online community. I’ve met some of these people out in public; When I was visiting Portland and sought out fellow Harmenians because I thought we might have similar interests. It’s not blind adoration. I don’t personally see Harmon as an aspirational figure in all manners. He has issues and views I don’t agree with. I do, however, think that he’s an incredibly good writer, is hilarious, talented and unbelievably sharp. I like a lot of what he does and the kinds of guests/friends he brings onto the show.
It might be a personal bugbear, but I have a ton of difficulty reckoning with Attractive People Fame. This might be rich coming after the past paragraph, but Attractive People Fame and its societal influence feels different to me. I don’t listen to Harmontown and ache to be those people. I’m not out there buying the products they shill to keep the lights on. I’ve met Harmon and other show members a couple of times, but it’s not why I follow the show. It’s entertainment, and the way its errant observations bring joy to my life can’t be understated. My mind sees Attractive People Fame and it worries me. Why? Because it seems irredeemably predatory.
Attractive People Fame is enormous in younger demographics. Teens and tweens following a collection of Influencers and their daily lives. I’m talking Instagram Models, Fitspo people, etc etc. It’s an industry that’s driven by aspiration porn. It’s telling these impressionable kids that this could be them. They could be hot, rich and successful by imitating these people. They see glimpses of these Attractive People at their best. They see all the rewards, but not the hardships.
They don’t see the 50 takes required to get that perfect shot. They don’t see the intentional angling of the model’s thumb right below the label. They don’t see the meticulous diet complete with calorie counting and a-z macronutrient content worked out. They don’t see the personal stresses and anguishes behind the scene. They don’t see the marketing team creating spreadsheets of release schedules. They don’t see the sales people hunting out sponsorship opportunities. They don’t see the Attractive People being told exactly how to cultivate their Brand. They don’t see what it’s like for your personality to be A Brand and how all consuming and dehumanising that is. They don’t see the hundreds of thousands of kids who don’t make it and spend their lives chasing a dream that’s so far out of their reach. They don’t see that no matter how many products they buy to emulate their role models, 99.9% of these kids will never be their heroes, never be friends with them. They’re a revenue stream to an industry which is so much larger and more brutally cynical than the heroes they look up to.
I see kids eschewing valuable life skills and experiences in order to aspire for something they don’t realise is entirely beyond their reach. I see kids developing eating disorders or dangerous health initiatives in order to have these perfect bodies. I see kids desperate to be noticed and adored without an understanding of the pacts that come with fame. I see a level of superficiality qualified as a goal that opposes true human connection and understanding. I see values shifted to an extent that growth really will suffer. I see a future with a much larger quotient of adults who will eschew compassion for Their Brand.
I already saw a 5-8 hour line comprised of thousands of individuals, waiting to be let into a warehouse with 19 different clothing items so they could take photos with Attractive People leading lives they themselves will never come close to. I’m not scared of who these kids will be, I’m worried for the people they could miss out on becoming.
Which is what I’m sure a generation said when MTV created VJs.