Naomi Davis is an influencer with nearly half a million Instagram followers. Here she is striking a perfectly natural pose that every mother of five can relate to.
Davis recently crammed her family into an RV and left New York City, despite the CDC asking New Yorkers to refrain from non-essential travel and the federal government telling city residents to go into self-isolation. After considerable backlash, Davis issued a “Sorry if this bothered you, but we did it anyway” non-apology, although she at least had the restraint to not turn her road trip into a twee photo shoot.
But while Davis’ #toopopularforpublichealth saga was eye-catching, she’s far from the only influencer to have an uninspiring reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Concern in the industry is understandable; if you’re a travel influencer who can’t travel, your source of income has been decapitated. But an influencer’s job is to provide lifestyle porn. Followers know the lives lived on Instagram don’t really exist, but it can be fun to pretend otherwise by watching creators’ exploits, buying their products, and hoping that maybe one day you’ll be awkwardly groping your partner in an outdoor bathtub for the sake of your brand. What happens when no one can even pretend that these lifestyles are possible? Or when it becomes obvious how empty that fantasy is?
Sure, America’s unemployment rate might hit 32%, and 40% of Americans can’t handle an unexpected expense at the best of times, but what some influencers think you really need right now is some overpriced snug underwear so you can #stayhome in comfort and style. (Delivery drivers will understand that your cat really needs to appreciate the shape of your cock.) But hey, at least that guy’s not claiming that his dick baskets have magical anti-COVID powers. As spotted by Buzzfeed’s Stephanie McNeal, influencer and “biohacker” Ingrid De La Mare-Kenny went skiing while saying she spoke to a Monacan health official who offered this totally real quote: “Right now the elders, children & those with immune diseases should worry, but we have Simply Inulin in our systems working to fuel our immune system we are ok.” Simply Inulin is the 27 Euro fiber powder she sells. It’s part of her, Jesus Christ, Gangster Chic brand.
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Two weeks later she was quarantined because raisin bran could no longer guarantee her safety. But don’t worry, she was still getting dressed up to dramatically document her grocery store outing. The influencer economy is cutthroat, and you only survive it by being the center of attention at all times and at all costs. What do you do when you suddenly face the same limitations as your followers? You invent little lies that center you. “I thanked the cashier for being the warrior that she is by coming to work, she thanked me for appreciating her.” Yeah, sure. That’s what happened.
When “Influencer Who Participated in Toilet Licking Challenge Says He Tested Positive for Coronavirus” is a real headline, it becomes apparent that depriving influencers of attention is like locking someone in a room without oxygen. But, right now, most of them aren’t actually doing anything. They’re not making funny TikTok videos, or organizing charitable efforts, or helping their friends not go insane from worry and financial stress. Even Gal Gadot and the Please Pay Attention To Us Celebrity Revue warbling out a literally and figuratively tone-deaf rendition of “Imagine” took a modicum of misguided creativity. Influencers are just stuck saying “We still exist, you can still buy our overpriced shit, here is someone else’s quote about staying optimistic.”
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This can be darkly funny — some influencers are showing off every mundane photo that wasn’t good enough for consumption a few months ago — but it can also be borderline sociopathic. Here’s Julie Sarinana talking about how simple things like board games, reading, and exercise are keeping her sane, then pushing her $90 sweaters as equally essential for these tough times. And who among us doesn’t like to ruminate on the challenges faced by separated couples while showing off what we look like without pants?
Influencers have to stay relentlessly positive in the face of an issue that warrants reasonable concern, they have to keep the world’s focus on themselves in the middle of a story with a global scope, and they have to make their lives look as glamorous as possible while stuck at home like the rest of us. That’s how you get feeds like Marissa Casey Grossman’s who, in-between reposting someone else’s cartoon about “sending love to people without a stable income,” is talking about the relatable problem of not being able to lounge around on Miami yachts and Italian beaches. Reposting old vacation photos is, we’re told, a form of therapy, because “This is the only vibe I want on my feed right now…. take me back to Ravello, Italy!!!! Need this coronavirus situation, stock market situation, oil situation…. and all this negativity to end. It is absolutely CONSUMING me — and bringing me to a state of constant worrying.” If only the virus and the economy would acknowledge their negative vibes. Italians, incidentally, are also worrying a little bit right now, but at least she’s “sending love.”
If Grossman’s name sounds familiar in the same way that European villagers once shuddered at the mention of Dracula, in 2019 the former Goop ghoul both worked a swimsuit advertisement into her tribute to dead family members and carefully shopped her boyfriend’s “spontaneous” marriage proposal to brands as a marketing stunt. With “It’s Wine And Making Italy’s 12,500 Deaths All About Me O’clock Somewhere,” Grossman is exploring how far you can push your personal brand while removing all human personality from it. It’s one thing to provide a break from COVID news — we all need that — but to refocus the news on you makes you look like you’d post from your mother’s deathbed if you could work in a discount code for a bespoke urn.
If there’s one positive in watching the business of social media merge with capitalist indifference to human suffering like Jeff Goldblum and that housefly, it’s that some influencers see an opportunity for improvement. In The Verge, influencer Elizabeth Savetsky talked about how being stuck at home is forcing her to get creative and talk more about who she is as an actual person, and her Instagram feed is certainly more thoughtful than updates on the “GANGSTER CHIC TRIBE.” Maybe that will be a positive change going forward… or maybe a year from now we’ll be getting a flood of posts that read, “The Glargax invasion of Earth has made it tough to stay upbeat, but I can’t wait to hit the beach again once Los Angeles is rebuilt. Quick shoutout to our troops, and remember to be a trooper yourself by picking up my death-ray-repelling sunglasses!”