I am watching a re-tweeted video of a writer I don’t know or follow opening a Fed-Ex package, a conscious glance at the camera, nervous side-smile. She sits on her made bed’s white comforter in a red dress, hair straight from the stylist, red lipstick. She removes the wrapping to find a book (hers). She pushes down her head, staring at the cover, and laughs to herself (for us). She grins and looks away in disbelief (knowing exactly what was in the box). She thumbs through pages and moves the most self-aware hand to her chest. She might cry. She laughs again. Now she’s crying. It’s strange. She is simulating having the moment while having it. In trying to make the moment more special, she’s made it less authentic. Too much like a movie. Or a commercial for one. But thousands of people—deep into five figures—have pressed like on the video.
Some tips for aspiring influencers:
1) Create a façade of your life. Place a persistent emphasis on the surface of it. The audience has been programmed through history to expect, even in real life, the edited surface of others, forcing them to perform a reading of the underneath. This reading is a deeper fiction than even you could ever write.
2) Sell the façade. Buy followers—even if they’re just robots. Simulated fame sells just as well as real fame. The audience will think: I want to pay attention to them because other people pay attention to them. I should want what they want. I should want what they seem to have. The audience stops at the image, video, or textual witticism symbolized to stand for a reality, reads all the wrong things into it, and stops before they read into it too deeply (where truth may lie) (but probably doesn’t).
3) Believe the lie you sell. If it’s not possible, pay an expert to help you. Their job is to make propaganda look like authentic expression. This is how you make money now.
I do wonder: why does social media self-promotion make me so mad? I have the same impulse to want fame for nothing but being myself—a myself whose version I control. The writing of this essay is no less a performance than someone portraying themselves on social media. I tell myself: on social media, the influencer charade is so in your face whether you asked for it or not, and, in a book, the author charade is hidden between covers you chose to open yourself. Plus, I can call a book art instead of commerce even though it’s both.
If I can publish a book with this essay in it, I may have to become more active on social media to help sell it. I’ll attempt to be earnest, transparent, and vulnerable. I suppose this is like an anti-influencer, which in the context of this culture is just another brand of influencer. Still, I’d rather hate myself for achieving the notoriety I crave than to be stuck solely clicking the buttons companies want me to click. Fame seems to be the only way out of our mundane mediated consumer reality when, in fact, it’s just going deeper into it—an illusion of transcendence.
Maybe the sane response to living your whole life in a world predominantly mediated by video is to film or be filmed. Maybe the sane response to living your whole life constantly being advertised to wherever you happen to be is to market yourself.
I’m not sure the sane response is to write this essay.