The 3 C’s of Late-Capitalism: The Celebrity, The Corporation, and The Carceral State.

Abby Souverain
Jan 27 · 25 min read

The growing relationship between Influencers and Surveillance and the psychological impact it entails

My little sister has constantly told me I should make a YouTube channel.

Naturally believing I’m one of the least interesting persons around, I ask her what I could possibly make a YouTube video about. She would say: “Just about like-your everyday life as a Mom and a College Kid. Talk about all the cool stuff you like to do. Just act how you normally do and you’ll get followers and free stuff.”

It was striking to me that a 10 year old could say this. How cut and dry she was able to recognize the tool of self-image and branding for what I assumed to be another hobby I’d never get around to finishing. Self-image and branding is something that Millennials and Generation Z alike have been able to tap into that is unlike any generation before. In everyday life, it’s typical for young adolescent and young adults to routinely have introspection about who we are and what role we have in society. Structurally, our material and aspirational positions in the world are more attached to class, beauty, and power more than ever before.

The past year alone I’ve come to recognize the growing link between The Self and The State. What individual power we have against both larger entities and each other. What clearer way has this new found sense of self awareness played out than the rise of the internet, specifically social media?

Long ago during the early days of social media with AOL and AIM chats, Live Journal, Friendster, Bebo, MySpace, it was attractive for young people to be able to express themselves creatively and easily from the comfort and privacy of their homes. But in the shadows of this new found virtual self expression came unknown mysteries. Whether it be the impersonality of cyber bullies, or the anonymity of predators. Countless stories emerged about the dangers of so many young and impressionable people entering uncharted territory that even adults were still learning to navigate.

The internet immediately became a place for people to stay connected to the ones they love, and also a place of transformation. The internet was merely a tool of reflection for the hands that explored it. It became more than a product, but an environment. The internet has undeniably become a powerful tool in how we view ourselves and the world around us. Almost as soon as the internet’s conception was the ability to connect beyond the confinement’s of who and what we know in our immediate lives. The World Wide Web described endless possibilities of information at the tip of your fingers. And with endless information, was endless access to people. Unbeknownst to the early creators of blogs, funny pictures, playlists, and keyboard emojis would be the budding playground of recorded digital footprint, and collection of information about ourselves and others by sources almost unknown to the average Joe.

Take into account the creation of a new stranger: The Internet Celebrity. As much as people often pretend to be perplexed at the quintessential idea of “being famous for being famous”, this was a natural course of events in an environment that promoted self-expression.

You could log into Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram to curate your interests hobbies and daily life into a virtual community. While the internet was a place of mystery and uncertainty, that is what essentially drew people to it, and even in that mystery, our human tendency has built familiarity into it. Encyclopedias shifted into Wikipedia. Photo albums shifted into Photobucket. CD’s shifted into MP3’s. Gossip tabloids shifted into gossip blogs. Bullies turned into Cyberbullies. Corporations, public figures, and celebrities alike understood the familiarity of human behavior, and translated this in a virtual way.

“The internet was merely a tool of reflection for the hands that explored it. It became more than a product, but an environment.”

It’s often a simple misconception that the internet created social phenomena rather than merely reflected what has already long existed. Whether it be bullying, groupthink deification of celebrities, heightened consumerism, obsessions of youth and beauty, and even the art of lying, exaggerating, or concealing who we are for material gain (cat fishing), these things have long existed but have taken on a new dress.

It is only natural that in a capitalist social-hierchy driven world dated back centuries ago where King’s and Queen’s and Princes and Princesses were praised by the public for the wealth and power they wielded were also the trendsetters of socially approved fashion, culture, and values backed by institutions such as the church. In a corporate-driven world where institutions such as Hollywood and Record Labels handpicked trained and groomed regular people into what we know as The Celebrity; 20th century A-list actors and musicians who were advised on what to wear, how to speak, and how to keep their dating lives under wraps for a promotional image. They were both admired and envied, yet humble enough to simulate relatable ness to their fans.

What my sister distinctly understands even as a child socially transitioning into her teens, is that people look to others for guidance, admiration, and inspiration. Even if this comes with a monetary price, people are obsessed with the idea of both “status” and “authenticity”, and the easiest way to tap into this is through a formula of a dream lifestyle and exceptionalism.

For centuries we have prepared for the likeness of The Influencer, both positively in the form of community bonding, and negatively in the form of exploitation and deceit.

Instagram and YouTube have notoriously become epicenters for corporations and creators to assemble formulaic business models that translates these ideals onto virtual spaces. During the earlier years of Youtube, what created its popularity was the idea of video sharing becoming easily accessible to more than just the contacts on our email list. People began creating regular content such as skits, news broadcasting, homemade shows, and visual tutorials for what couldn’t be found on Google. Then came the popularity of product review, hauls, and daily life routines wrapped up in the nickname for video blogs, “Vlogs”. This ranged from fashion, makeup, food, video games, music; practically anything that could be sold as a product could be used for content.

Rapper Soulja Boy and makeup artist Jeffree Star, to name a few are early examples of the Internet Celebrity derived from the era of Myspace. Homemade content creating, branding, and high engagement in a community of like-minded others is what built their followings and essentially a formula for self-branded internet personas.

Soulja Boy was able to create the idea of “viral videos”, where the dance crazes he posted on YouTube with his friends/business partners were meant to visually grab the attention of both his MySpace fans and onlookers which would promote his music and clothing brand across the country without the institutional hands of Hollywood and Record Labels whom celebrities were traditionally mediated by. Internet celebrities became real celebrities; names that were only recognizable to young teens who roamed late night message boards were now branching out into endeavors beyond the internet.

Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian immediately understood this innovative way of building a large fan base. Her strong online presence along with brand deals, television shows, and selective openness about her family and dating life to tabloids already riding on the train of the Young Wild Socialite was what elevated her from a pop culture sensation to a lifestyle empire. With platforms such as YouTube and Myspace, people with talent, or lack thereof, could build followings through the core idea of “interconnectedness” with their fans that was before an unattainable dynamic of The Celebrity. People were able to receive instant views and instant feedback to their content. The illusion of feeling like a celebrity was a friend of yours, rather than a one-way fixation on a screen, gave a Pandora’s box key to Corporate America to tap into a newfound access to the general public that broke the psychological barriers between consumers and their products in a way they haven’t been able to before.

Corporations wanted to tap into this virtualization of lifestyle and newfound access to potential consumers.

In 2006, one year after it’s creation, YouTube hit 100 million video views per day. Google acquired the website for $1.65 billion. In 2009, they began running ads within users’ videos. This garnered major pushback, with many people believing it was an infringement of users freedom of expression outside of corporate interests for Youtube and their now parent company, Google. This running theme of “authenticity” was important for many content creators who were in both the beginning and height of potential careers outside of internet fame. Even though many content creators were beginning to sign endorsement deals, fund their own blogs, apps, and music endeavors outside of their regularly uploaded videos, they wanted to keep the sense of homemade closeness with their core fanbases which was outside of the entertainment norms of television and radio. It didn’t matter whether these internet personas were financially gaining from their videos behind the scenes if they were able to psychologically be perceived as relatable and authentically themselves to their viewers. In 2012, Facebook bought the mobile platform Instagram for $1 billion. Instagram became one of the defining transitions from going PC to mobile; letting users feel more on demand connection to virtual communities. Subsequently after Facebook becoming it’s parent company, Instagram began showing ads in between scrolls of pictures — going from a visual community to a vision board of affluence and escapism. Youtube and Instagram (who both have now made Youtube TV and IGTV) has made it easier than ever for both businesses and content creators to sell, advertise, and market to viewers, becoming now an occupation rather than a hobby. To date, YouTube has signed with over 10,000 partners, including Disney, Univision, Turner, and Channel 4. Hundreds of YouTube’s partners are making six figures every year from advertising on the site alone. Youtubers in the business of fashion, beauty, parenting, and video gaming now can all build on virtual lifestyle brands beside the celebrities we traditionally see in the music and movie industry. What use to be an industry secret was now an intended goal for many up and coming social media users. Having the power to sell products in a more personalized way created a more intimate relationship between Corporate America and the psyche of the general public. What was then merely a Celebrity was now an Influencer of the sorts. It gave both social importance and affluence to a Generation of young adults and kids who are aware that they are likely to come out of college with large amounts of debt and very few job opportunity. The wish of young adults to feel both individual power, and admiration and love by their loved ones and strangers is enticing to many.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the Influencer came at a time of new virtual communities, extended adolescence, and rapidly growing disparity between the wealthy and working class which are all happening at the same time. It shouldn’t be surprising that the rise of reality television dubbing itself as Big Brother and The Real World introduced the idea of Celebrity forming a seemingly authentic, scandalizing, and “this could be you” pitch sale.

Just 19 years ago only 12% of the U.S. population owned a smartphone. Now an estimated 84% do. The introduction of the smartphone was a boost for tech companies and any employer that grabbed at the chance to use it. Now people could take the internet anywhere with them at all times uninterrupted. This extended people’s workload outside the office, extended people’s access to entertainment, and ultimately shifted access to services away from people who do not own a smartphone. People became interconnected more than ever, yet more desensitized to the actual world around them. The impersonal one way fixation of a screen came back once more.

Smartphones came at a time when people wanted to know what others were doing at all times, which is why apps like Instagram and Snapchat were set apart from other photo sharing platforms, in which you can see where your friends were, who’s pictures they viewed and liked, and how many followers and likes they had on their pictures. Surveillance became a way of life, it became an impersonal way to show our affection and competitive nature to others, and to also indulge in the need for uniqueness, self importance, and guidance to social rules.

Google has played a major role in how the internet has become interconnected and easily translatable. Google’s success was largely in part because of their use of analytics, algorithms, and predictive behavior. Many other platforms use similar models such as Instagram’s use of ad placement based on what kind of pictures you like or stay clicked on the longest, to Facebooks more controversial privacy infringement of selling off millions of stored data collected on users for corporations and political camps allegedly like would-be president Donald Trump to use for targeted advertisement. Or Apple’s encoding of it’s users fingerprints, face, and credit card information under the guise of simple to use devices.

The business model that underpins the digital world of tech companies shows a much larger picture than just selling phones, clothes, flat tummy tea, video games, and political approval, but rather the severity of the phenomena of Surveillance Capitalism.

Shoshana Zuboff, social psychologist and scholar explains in her book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power” the evolution of capitalism and its use of digitalization. This surveillance operates by providing free services to billions of people, enabling the providers of these services to monitor the behaviour of their users in great detail without their consent for corporate interests. In an in depth interview with John Naughton of the The Guardian, she explains in more detail:

“Surveillance capitalism unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later….Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.” (The Observer; Jan. 2019)

One might ask, is this use of surveillance merely just for service providers to more accurately pinpoint the demographics of their consumers to improve their advertisement? On the surface level, use of data collection and machine intelligence to predict behaviors has been widely successful for service improvement within the tech industry. But at what cost does this profit come to? Innovative apps such as Uber tapped into the wants of consumers who both sought exclusivity away from typical taxi services in exchange for sleek black car chauffeuring endorsed by celebrities such as Drake, that catapulted the company into popularity among the elite and general population. Also, the convenience of mobile pay which also profited by having customers also be hired as drivers. What sounded groundbreaking on paper also became controversial for its surged pricing during rush hour times and during holidays such as New Years Eve, which ultimately was exploitive to commuters who virtually had no other choice of timely transportation because of the attempted monopoly Uber began to ran apart of other driving apps and suffering taxi businesses. Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg came under investigation for his illegal use of data collection on users personal addresses, phone numbers, places of school and work locations, and much more for political campaigns and possible international election tampering, to target specific demographics of people based on categories of age, race, educational level, and region of stay.

Time and time again we have seen the ability for social media platforms to easily create communities for people with similar interests and backgrounds to interact, but also can be echo chambers for people who socially are divided by race, class, and gender both on and off the internet. The internet was originally a dreamscape of possibility for people to globally connect on a level beyond their usual dichotomy of in and out groups. But now, platforms have created environments completely divided based on algorithm and information collection.

There isn’t anything new about platforms (like television) catered to certain demographics (Disney, Nickelodeon, MTV, Lifetime, TVLand) also using a formula of predictive behavior for targeted ads (Toys, Condoms, Vacation trips, Pharmaceuticals). But as mentioned before, many people who have a smartphone are also in possession of what is their only connection to resources and information, what one might even call a lifeline to the internet in order to participate in the widely digitized world around us.

What was before an expectation of unbiased and unlimited access to new information has now manifested into artificial intelligence predicting the behaviors of it’s users and compromising their access to information through a filtered system of targeted ads and news stories. What AI engineers have calibrated for us is an enclosed space of what is assumed we want to know about. It is why statistically the majority of Americans virtually know little to nothing about what goes on in a regular news cycle outside of the U.S, and that misinformation or bias sources gain quicker traction.

Lawmakers have long fought a losing battle with tech industries on the issue of privacy and digital footprint, revenge porn, and the co-opted and blurred lines of free speech and false information garnered as credible.

Groups such as fascist right wing nazis are able to both build followings within private communities and virtually hide in plain sight and evade from having banned content behind the guise of “free speech”. They are given the access to boost their followings through viral hate-clicking and trolling, while anti-fascist activists are routinely doxxed, shadow banned, jailed, and killed by selling of their personal information to police departments. Or lawmakers attaching distribution of child porn with jail sentencing of minors, and banning websites for sex workers which gave safer and better secured environments to work. This happens all under the nose of the general public, shifting through endless moments of memes music and news cycles within their own subset community. Even after being investigated by Congress for potentially aiding in the illigetamcy of targeted election advertising, Facebook was then reported to be installing VPN’s on users’ phones, including their underage teen demographic, in order to compete with other data collecting companies such as Apple and Amazon. This installation of their research app violates Apple’s iOS services, which Facebook gets access to “private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps — including photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and even ongoing location information by tapping into the feeds of any location tracking apps you may have installed”.

Voice and facial recognition software patents have been sold to police departments across the country by corporations like Apple and Amazon to use in what’s been supported as “improved security” of communities and property which the police protect for the upper class, and during protests against police brutality or labor and prison strikes. The same facial recognition patents that have been infamously used for drone strikes overseas which attempt to calculate both the location and amount of people in a designated area to “effectively” hit targeted cities, mostly consisting of innocent civilians. The use of military weaponry and surveillance is not exclusively made by Silicon Valley. In fact, the NSA has long funded patents for voice recognition software in the 1980’s that was then bought by companies like Amazon to use for devices such as Alexa, or Apple’s phone assistant Siri. All of this seemingly has nothing to do with Google and Amazon, who’s venture capitalists continue to refine these products for even more violent endeavors such as heightened border security and prison security.

To understand the severity of surveillance capitalism is to look beyond the surface level of corporate interests; which is simply to make money no matter the cost of people’s privacy, autonomy, and physical safety.

Influencers serve corporate interests — which is overall state interests — on a micro-level. They represent a cycle of enabling exploitation through committed attachment to those of higher social capital’s identity, our imagined befriending of the wealthy, and desensitization to the idea people can be monetized and sold for profit.

Recently, the social media firestorm that was the hoax of Fyre Festival was created into a documentary showcasing exactly how far Influencers and social media moguls are willing to exploit both the people who buy from them and work for them for material gain. By just using one vague promotional video which showed a parade of socialite models enjoying themselves on the beach and on private yatchs, a dream was sold to thousands of upper class consumers who wanted to live an unique exciting life similar to the instagram models they followed. With payment of reportedly $250,000 for each post, Instagram models who usually spent careful attention to the detail of what they present under their names online, collectively promoted what would be a half hazard financial scam of millions of dollars lost that impacted hundreds of Bahamians. The Influencers who ultimately participated in this event never gave the money they earned through paid advertisement back to the people who needed it most that lived on the island, that was promoted as a temporary getaway for fans of socialites who wanted to live as large as the people they strangely admired.

It didn’t matter whether these internet personas were financially gaining from their videos behind the scenes if they were able to psychologically be perceived as relatable and authentically themselves to their viewers.

Models, musicians, beauty gurus, bloggers, and gamers have had numerous controversy surrounding the authenticity of the products they review and sell, the lives they have outside of recording cameras, and the kind of moral influence they have on young children such as my sister.

To understand the unyielding link between The Celebrity and Corporate America is to historically view the success of consumerism in the United States.

The first product that used celebrity endorsements was in the 1760s, where Josiah Wedgwood and Sons, producers of pottery and chinaware, used royal endorsements as a marketing device to show value in their company. The social implications of associated value through status is a long lived tale. The cigarette brand Kodas in the late 1700s introduced baseball player cards into their packs of cigarettes as part of a customer loyalty scheme. This created a demand for consumers to buy more cigarettes so they could gain all the cards of all the baseball players in the collection due to celebrity endorsement of the cards.

CocaCola ad circa 1955

Advertisement as we know it was redefined about 60 years ago during the early productions of national television. Coca-Cola commercials began showing imagery of everyday people drinking the product and using the product to socialize with others, rather than the original format of showing products on their own. The creation of a newly imagined Santa Claus in 1931 was an opportunity for the company to use holiday tradition and family values as a way to tap into the psyche’s of Americans seeking comfort, familiarity, and authenticity all in one. The recent use of adding names onto bottle gave even more of a personalized authenticity to advertisement, making consumers believe the product is for them and unique to their experience, encouraging the consumer to also share any bottle they buy with a name of a friend or family member they recognize. Coca Cola hasn’t looked back since this re-imaging, because it works.

CocaCola ad circa 2016

Women have also largely made up a majority of consumer demographics for decades. Food companies began showing ads of housewives cooking food with their brands, used cleaning products to associate a serene and happy family environment.

Tide ad circa 1950s

Beauty and health products which overwhelmingly targeted women to use as a secret weapon to win the approval of onlookers, or an aspiring career path. Advertising not only promoted associations of an improved daily life, but also made consumers question what they could possibly lacking from their lives, and attaching themselves directly to the product rather than just an item to use.

This technique is still used today, where personification of advertisement creates dependency, a need to be “in” on the latest secrets and trends, and long term customer loyalty to the products used in order to change whatever is imagined to be lacking.

Advertising in America became a marketing tool of Lifestyle, long before people became famous for promoting Lifestyle.

The Celebrity and Corporation have explicitly sewed a relationship with consumers where personification of product, and the attachment of consumer identity to whatever is being sold has become more sophisticated than ever.

What is sold to you is what you can become with a product. It is why the simplicity of Apple marketing used dark silhouettes of diverse groups of people dancing with the stark contrast of a held iPods was an innate enjoyment I watch; people are able to imagine themselves as the silhouette.

People are able to imagine themselves as a creator when they are using an apple product that famous rich people also order and use at the same time as them. It makes them feel “in”; no longer observing and admiring others using said product at a distance. No matter if Apple has unashamedly copied old model patents of Samsung phones, their frequent unnecessary changing of phone models to keep consumers coming back to update what they now have is considered a visibly “outdated” phone, and their recently outed practices of purposely slowing down their software on all of their old phones whenever a new model is released to convince consumers they need to stay up to date with whatever it is they roll out. On paper, it sounds absolutely mad for a tech company to purposely sabotage their own product, copy already used patents of rival competitors, and risk class action lawsuits in order to sell more product.

One of the largest corporations on the planet built it’s brand loyalty on simplicity and aesthetically pleasing minimalism to engulf itself into the imagination of as many different types of people as possible. The late Steve Jobs aligned himself as a man of people, a humanitarian, a person acclaimed to be on the pulse of modern and future society. One year before his death he took no acknowledged responsibility for the widely reported mass suicides of employees at a highly surveilled Apple warehouse factory in Longhua, China which exhibited poor and harsh working conditions against its employees. The response to the suicides by security and Foxconn, the largest worldwide employers behind McDonald’s and Walmart at the time, was to threaten jail time for any further attempts or photographs by press of the building, and installation of nets outside of windows to prevent fatality of employees jumping out of windows.

From Apple, to Amazon, to banks oil companies and large clothing brands like H&M Gap and luxury clothing brands burning their millions of units of extra inventory to make sure designs that are thrown away are not worn by homeless onlookers to prevent “cheapening” of their brand; never mind the implications of 71% of earth mass pollution and deterioration of the o-zone layer is largely in part by only the top 50 corporations on the planet out of 8 billion people. What is even more jarring is the indifference to our human condition, yet labored loyalty to the upper class in which we hope to be apart of or acknowledged by someday. It’s telling that what we measure our morality and self value by, is through an infrastructure built to collapse on itself.

At it’s core, capitalism is reactionary and contradictory. It will routinely use both discrimination and symbolic representation, adopt revolutionary and conservative rhetoric, individualistic ideals with generational indebtedness to maintain itself as an invisible yet powerful institutional force.

It is why a fast food restaurants like McDonald’s are able to score sponsorship for the Olympics, when it would be safe to assume no Olympic athlete would actually eat McDonald’s. It does not matter because McDonald’s target audience are the people sitting at home watching, who they want to both encourage to indulge in their food while giving them a sense of positive affirmation that their overall health will maybe get better someday. It is why just 20 years ago many record labels and radio stations refused to promote and play rap music on public radio stations, but have now created predatory contract deals for what is essentially an assembly line of young people to endorse as a response to Rap becoming the most popular music genre in the world.

We cannot look towards capitalism and it’s constituents as guides of moral parity or any sense of quality when at it’s core is a means of opportunity for more material gain. The founding creator of chattel slavery and imperialism cannot give you substantial insight to a better community and better Earth tomorrow, when all it cares for it’s immediate survival of today, and will continue to reinvent and reshape its statehood for as long as it can. Capitalism as a business eats without hunger and disposes without boundaries, until there is no longer anything else but it’s own bones to gnaw at.

It is a popular but flawed rhetoric to often blame influencers and celebrities as the sole culprits of glorifying decay in our society.

Influencers are merely reflections of the current quality of our lives upchucked right back to us. Influencers are not trendsetters, but recorders of opportunism. They extrapolate and give what we want to chase, even if we as an audience morally know it is wrong tone deaf and outright annoying. It is why wealthy personas of fame and status such as Donald Trump were able to run successful campaigns with virtually no merit, qualification, or accuracy.

Identical to the foundation of corporate interests, they don’t really care whether what they do is loved or hated, destructive or helpful, but if they are able to make a profit off of it. Similar to Google eagerly digitizing and storing millions of books (regardless of copyright infringement), or photographing and live recording every street and house on the planet; projects that are so massive and take intentional effort to execute, yet with no consideration to first ask anyone’s permission.

Pictured: The Notes App Apology

It is easier for Corporate America and the celebrities they endorse to ask for forgiveness on a notes app while cashing their checks, than to ever ask for permission to do the exploitive things they do.

With an ever changing costume of capitalism, also comes an ever changing victim to its destructiveness. It needs the apathy of us as participants to constantly look the other way and forgive in order for labor to be allocated and checks to be signed. It might seem strange that companies like Google and Amazon would have similar interests to that of Private Prisons. But fundamentally capitalism is in need of a carceral state to survive, a state in which an underclass of people are forced to be indebted to the banks, companies and politicians they work for because of their ability to allocate as much of our basic needs behind a carrot stick to motivate us in the most dehumanized way to keep working. To understand the inextricable link between The Corporation and the Carceral State, we must recognize that our society’s most vulnerable populations are the easiest to exploit and criminalize. With criminalization comes profit without consequence and without proper reparation.

Even if you aren’t a person of color, of lower class, a disabled person, an activist, an ex-con, a sex worker, an immigrant, a member of the lgbtq community, or a refugee — these people are all in close proximity and essentially in danger to the profitable surveillance and ultimately carceral state. As mentioned before between the battle of state legislators and internet providers criminalizing sex work and the online presence of safe spaces for sex workers, threat of any minority group is a we problem, because in the long run there is no end to a burning flame not met with opposition.

The moving pendulum of who is considered virtuous and in need of protection shifts just as much as the consciousness of the State — whom still criminalizes

The labels we have created to attach our identities and the people we admire who sell ideas and products for us to consume needs to find new meaning and a new unshakable morality. What use will we have to support a Black president who kills brown children overseas in record numbers, a latino cop who generationally incarcerates their own family, or a trans politician who legislatively votes and writes their own community out of existence?

The idea human bodies are easily disposable and profitable to the systemic benefit of those in higher social classes is not to be taken lightly.

As lightly as influencers who promote exploitive tourism in non-western countries, who promote displacement of black and indigenous people through participating in gentrification, who subscribe to blackface or racist ideals of beauty for profit with whatever extracted out-of-context trend that’s here today and gone tomorrow.

All of these issues should not be confused as individual problems. ‪Sexism will tell you that dysmorphia, contrived sex appeal, and deceiving self-image with a price tag all started with women flocking to Instagram. It will tell you “cancel culture” is a serious threat against the visibly affluent, when it has been proven to not be an actual consequence by both their peers and the general public, but rather just an uncomfortable realization that those in power are now met with immediate disapproval by those they would usually be able to ignore without the interconnectedness of social media.

“It’s often a simple misconception that the internet created social phenomena rather than merely reflected what has already long existed. Whether it be bullying, deification of celebrities, heightened consumerism, obsessions of youth and beauty, and even the art of lying, exaggerating, or concealing who we are for material gain, these things have long existed but have taken on a new dress.”

Misogyny and racism will tell you that influencers and their consumers encourage these values in a vacuum when in reality they’re brands are personifications of a human condition we already have long subscribed to and need to do away with; a condition where women’s value is directly related to western beauty standards and their ability to make their bodies of servitude to men, a condition that able bodied people white people and cis heterosexual people should be the only one’s worth respecting and accommodating for in everyday life, a condition that tells us it is okay to be unethical and lie if it will elevate us above those we compete against for scarce resources, a condition that says being poor is a character flaw and being super rich is an achievement even if the majority of people on this planet and their children’s children will statistically never sustain wealth in their lifetime.

Because it is branded exceptionalism, it is beautifully packaged vomit of the things we don’t systemically address but spray some Febreeze over to subdue the stench. It is a packaged imagination that we as individuals will never end up at the short end of the stick if we keep playing the game, or will eventually come out of it one day and celebrate with the very people whom we both admire and will never actually know.

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