Lee Suckling: It's time to cancel influencer culture
Online influencers have, for a few years now, been in a class of their own. Instagram stars have become the new celebrity – they're not just "bloggers" anymore but "content creators". They give the world carefully curated online experiences and invite us into their lives. They make huge salaries based on brand collaborations and sponsored posts.
Yet as we reach the middle of 2020 – with everything that has happened so far this year –the sheen has worn off influencer culture. Instead of pool parties at Dubai hotels, we're now looking at people's paddling pools in backyards. Rather than of luxurious restaurants with model friends, we see people living alone in cheap and nasty shoebox apartments. The fancy car loans have been returned, the buff gym selfies disappeared, and the impromptu street fashion shows abandoned.
All of a sudden, we "regular" people are realising that influencers are just as regular as us. They are nothing special. All they've done is trick the world into thinking it.
Influencer culture as a profitable industry has been built upon the discount code. You've seen it before when someone is trying to covertly advertise a juice cleanse, a monthly shaving club, or a revolutionary eye cream: "Use my code LEE20 for 20 per cent off your first order!"
Yet during life in the times of coronavirus – and more recently, the Black Lives Matter protests – this sort of trivial promotion has been in terribly poor taste. Influencers aren't trying to hock their wares anymore because real people are actually dying, and social media has switched from a designer lifestyle channel to a source of real news and valuable information. Trying to sell a probiotic yoghurt or an OnlyFans subscription when people are suffering around the world just isn't okay anymore.
This pivot heralds a much-needed change in influencer culture. The commercialisation of the influencer has been harmful to society. When kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up, they don't say doctor or fireman anymore. They say they want to have their own YouTube channel. That's the new full-time dream job. The way we think about a societal contribution has shifted from actually doing something real, to just being inspirational. It's time for that to change.
We can't forget, either, the impossible beauty standards that influencers make appear possible, the portrayal of a notion that being "blessed" equals having money, and the ever-present idea that followers mean popularity, and that means being liked.Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
Thankfully, for now – and the foreseeable future, as the world shows no signs of calming down – all influencer campaigns and brand "collabs" are halted. There are no business-class flights to get on. Parties and festivals? All rain-checked for another summer. Public appearances confined to protests in face masks with thousands of other people (most of whom have a lot more to say right now than so-called influencers do).
As for those influencers who have tried to keep up their status? They now look tone deaf. They are making a mockery of themselves by exposing how truly trivial their lives and careers have become.
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What's more, nobody is missing influencer culture. During the last few months have you ever said to yourself, "man, I really wish I had a discount code for a new watch?" No. Have you been worried for the livelihoods of influencers whose deals have all fallen away, and now they can't pay their bills? Hell no. "Get a real job" is the only thing anybody thinks when an influencer complains about being hard-done-by in this new era.
We have entered a period where all forms of celebrity are starting to seem redundant. Ellen DeGeneres has been the target of cancel culture after appearing out of touch, overly fortunate, and mean. When influencers like Arielle Charnas (of Something Navy fame) fled the coronavirus epicentre of New York City for a pool house in the Hamptons, she was lambasted by followers. I think we've even finally stopped caring about the breast-waist-butt ratio of the Original Influencer, Kim Kardashian, too.
Will influencer culture (as we knew it) come back, when the world goes back to "normal"? I'm not so sure. Obscene marketing budgets have been slashed worldwide. Large-scale events won't be on the cards until at least 2021. Luxury brands might never do fashion weeks again. As for airlines providing first-class round trips to the "right people" for free? Ha! They're all still figuring out how to give their paying customers due refunds without going bust.
2020 has so far brought about a lot of change. Let us all enjoy the moment when we banded together as an international community when stuff got real, and influencer culture fell apart.