It Makes Me Uncomfortable When You ‘Do It For Instagram’

I can see your facade.

It makes me uncomfortable when you do this

Seeing a moment and living a moment are two very different experiences.

I came to this basic epiphany one day while working on set. When you stand for 10+ hours and see the same scene played by the same actors repeating the same lines over and over again… somehow this kills the movie magic. Viewing a film from behind the scenes is an interesting and underwhelming experience all in once.

Interesting, because the true value of production is so glaringly apparent. Its value absolutely necessary to dramatize any mundane scene that’s shot (which by the way, are all scenes that are shot). Underwhelming, because it kills the illusion of a projected fantasy we like to build up when we engage with media for entertainment. It’s like watching the reveal of a magic trick. Of course I’m curious to know, and yes, I know that it’ll ruin the fun after.

This same feeling happens when you see someone trying to capture the perfect shot on their phone. You know, the high angle shot that perfectly captures every dish on the table with purposeful alignment. I’m sure after careful editing, filter application, and posting, the end result is of ‘high value’ and has the potential to receive generous amounts of positive reinforcement. But in the moment, watching the photo-capture in action from a distant, it just feels, well, kind of pathetic.

The behind-the-scenes moment is so terribly underwhelming. Often what fails to be recognized is that this behind-the-scenes moment is essentially just normal, everyday life.

Real life behind the camera is underwhelming? Uh oh.

It’s a disenchanting sight because this seemingly high value production is in reality being meticulously manufactured. Not just that, but to witness the actual amount of effort that goes into pulling off a ‘casual Sunday brunch’ shot that’s meant to be whimsical just feels inauthentic. At best, it’s artistic photography with creative rendering. At worst, it’s deceitful storytelling of one’s life done for the sake of winning over social media engagement.

When everyone starts falsifying their lived experiences, we all lose. We lose sight of the beauty in imperfection. We lose the ability to decipher the real from the make-believe. We clog our perceptions of beauty with unattainable notions that pollute our esteem overtime. What we are saying every time we overproduce to render the real into artificial is that we value appearances more than truth. In turn, perpetuating a system where presentation means more than actual substance.

While the case for this is strong within social media, the same concepts apply to a wider context.

For instance, one night I was watching an episode of the documentary series Hot Girls Wanted, which explores the intersection of sex and technology, told through the stories of real people. The filming took on such an odd format that half way through, I had such a difficult time deciphering whether it was a documentary or a reality show. I ended up having to Google the answer. It was in fact a documentary. After that, I was still unconvinced that the whole thing didn’t involve some level of manipulation. The cast felt like it was comprised of professional actors and the dramatic unfolding of the plot strangely seemed to follow the same format of fictional storytelling. It’s not that I doubt the documentary’s validity in its fact telling, but more so that because of its overproduction, its sincerity felt compromised and its overall value became lost on me.

It may have been real, but it felt too fake. I couldn’t trust it.

Whether it’s for personal promotion, in advertising and marketing, or in non-fictional media such as documentaries, there is a trend in overemphasizing presentation. With it, brings the detriment of growing skepticism amongst critical audiences who grow more and more distrustful of content claiming to reflect the real world.

These days, we are oversaturated by digital content. We simply can’t absorb it all at the rate that it comes at us. We are selective and this forces content creators to compete in a race to seize our attention. Unfortunately, the way forward appears to be through overproduction of appearances rather than inventive development of substance.