• PHOEBE

On Influence

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

If you're lucky, summer is a heady mix of park days, pool days, a newfound zest for walking everywhere...and FOMO. The pressure to 'make the most' out of this time of year can be profound, and it's exacerbated (what isn't?) but our ability to use social media to compare and contrast our own beach breaks and Sunday BBQs with those of pretty much everyone we know – not to mention a whole load of people we don't. 

With this energy in the virtual air, it’s no surprise that a recent Vanity Fair article on the aspirational lifestyles of a group of mummy bloggers in the coastal town of Byron Bay, Australia - a place where "life appears to be not so much a permanent vacation as a permanent travel shoot; a slightly overexposed, subtly saturated, high-contrast vision of free-spirited order and control” - has gone viral. Aside from being an excellent piece of long-form writing, the story has come at a time of year when many of us might be frustratedly wondering how we, too, could spend less of our lives on laptops, and more of it on surfboards.

But there's more to it than that. In the piece, writer Carina Chocano taps in the cognitive dissonance of an influencer age; one that we all know is a carefully-captured mirage of affluence and wellness, and yet which people continue to follow "...for the self-harm, to pick at the longing and thwarted desires until they bleed shame." Chocano portrays a group of women whose pristine way of life is seemingly funded by their own small businesses (but who are supported, at least in part, by considerable familial wealth); who relentlessly document their daily activities on blogs and socials (while keeping their own children away from screens), and who espouse the values of tightknit local community (but simultaneously broadcast their intimate dinners and playdates to hundreds of thousands of people around the world).

If the scorn in the Vanity Fair article - and the ensuing comments and thinkpieces - is anything to go by, it’s clear that many people are eagerly waiting for this permutation of *late stage capitalism* to run its course. Even those who have managed to successfully monetise the influencer economy (including some of the women in the piece) are disillusioned by the reality of a career built on 'Likes', while many more have been left wondering why their lives aren't beautiful, successful, and sunkissed enough to have done the same.

With that said, vilifying influencers - even of the "midtier family lifestyle micro-influencer” variety, as Chocano scathingly opens the piece - seems like a case of misdirected blame. The problem isn't really one of uncontrolled individual narcissism, but rather a system that blindsided us into accepting, and then actively pursuing, the commodification of our public spaces and private lives.  We've reached peak personal brand and we're looking for the way back down the hill. The question now is: Who will be influential enough to lead the way?


FURTHER READING 

The Coast of Utopia Vanity Fair Read

Everything Is For Sale Now. Even Us. The New York Times Read