August 16, 2015

Scroll Models: Is It Unfair To Ask Popular Bloggers To Be Role Models?

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A collaborative post written and edited by Katie Oldham and Emma Gannon
Photos: Katie Oldham @scarpheliablog

Last week, I had an interesting conversation with my friend Katie, who currently lives in New York. As so often these daily chats do, it quickly turned from a passionate rant and into mini essays upon a theme of something that bothered us equally – the consideration of bloggers, YouTubers and online content creators as ‘role models’. And so this was the spark that began to form the basis of a joint endeavour. A collab post? A round table? A gin and tonic think piece? Whatever you could call it, we present to you:

Scroll models: is the culture of internet fandom stripping online content creators of their humanity?
“Something I’ve noticed recently, is that a lot of very highly-followed bloggers are getting cosmetic surgery and blogging about it.” Katie began, in one of the many emails we exchanged. Funnily enough, I’d just seen a big YouTuber announce on Twitter she was getting dental veneers.

“My instinct reaction was ‘ugh that’s so irresponsible, they shouldn’t be preaching about quick fake fixes’ but then I was equally shocked and upset with myself. They are HUMANS. They can do whatever they want with their bodies, especially something which makes them happier/more comfortable about being themselves.”

We’re in an Internet culture where bloggers share honest parts of their lives, and in turn, they garner a big following of people.

The concept of the ‘famous blogger’ originated as a type of online creator who permeated the membrane between being ‘writing the media’ and being ‘who the media writes about’ in a seamless and unprecedented fashion in a very short space of time, and anyone would be a fool to still classify blogging as journalism, when it has unavoidably become SHOW-BUSINESS.

Yet while some YouTubers now have fan-bases to rival even the most A-list stars, a blogger by nature is still someone home-grown, self-made and real. 

While ‘conventional celebs’ are frequently fodder for the Side Bar Of Shame, whilst almost expected to make all kinds of drastic bodily alterations to fit into cultural expectations, we brush this aside because hey, they’re celebrities, it’s what they do right? *shrugs emoji*.

But when these high-profile bloggers do anything slightly rebellious – our reliable, relatable informants – there is often widespread surprise because we expect them to be a little more “well behaved”? Do we think that because they’re ‘real people’ with a solid awareness of the power of their (often young, impressionable girl) influences, it’s irresponsible to be seen to be promoting something morally dubious?

But what’s the difference between that and dying your hair? getting a tattoo? getting a piercing?!’ We questioned, and the truth is? Nothing. Not a damn thing.

Anyone and everyone has the right to do anything with their own bodies that they want to do. Including people in a position of influence.
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The Line Between an Inspiration and a Role Model

It’s an undeniable fact that the notion of celebrity culture has changed dramatically with the rise of social media. Just this week NME published a piece entitled ‘Are YouTubers the next pop stars?‘ citing that the same hysteria once reserved purely for teen singing sensations has shifted bloggers and YouTubers too.

But a self-made internet star is a completely new type of entertainer, yet the same obsessive dehumanisation that we treat conventional celebrities has not changed, and that is a BIG problem.

After all, singers, actors, supermodels, bands – they are all prepared for this. All of these people have gone through extensive media training and have countless PR teams and spokespeople who ensure that they can step up into the limelight, present their carefully controlled image, then step back down again out of sight. They do their stuff, and they leave. Once behind closed doors, they can do whatever they wish in privacy, without fear of diminishing their reputation or worry of ‘setting a bad example.’ They have a very very clear cut Private Self and Public Self.

But where is that line drawn for people who become famous from broadcasting every detail of their life 24/7 on the internet?

Without any time relinquished from their ‘work’, bloggers are forced to constantly beware of every action and every word they say – full in the knowledge that the moment they do slip up, there are literally millions of people ready to jump on their mistakes and dedicate hours to creating forums about how problematic they are. We all know how harsh the internet can be, so what must it be like to live in a perpetual state beneath it’s critical gaze, without relief? Is it their fault for never failing to deliver us “life-porn”? For never putting a macaroon out of place?

This inevitably leads to self-censoring to be as palatable as possible, and earns them the title ‘vanilla’ – bland, opinion-less fence-sitters who will never be caught even straying close to the line of saying something #controversial.

The terms ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Influence’ are bandied round all across the blogosphere – but when did the virtue of inspiring someone suddenly come hand in hand with the curse that you never be imperfect from there on out?

Just One Scoop of Vanilla, please

In a now infamous article about YouTubers, last year, VICE wrote: ‘vanilla people have always existed in the margins of our daily lives. They
re inoffensive for the most part, naturally. But when pushed in front of us their prosaic manner and dull personas have the potential to enrage, because you expect entertainment but what you get is shit.This isnt where we should want entertainment to go. These arent the people we should want on our televisions, singing our songs or acting in our films. Theyre walking definitions of mediocrity…’

Vanilla-ness seems to be the main gripe of blogger-cynics, but it’s curious to notice the percentage of females termed with the V-word, compared to males.

Why is it that females of the industry are expected to maintain this pristine Disney princess-like image of sickly sweet pastel pink perfection, yet there have been countless incidents of male online stars such as Nash Grier, Sam Pepper and Carter Reynolds perpetuating awful behaviour such as harassing, attacking and even seducing and abusing underage fans, whose fanbases just laugh it off for the sake of a ‘bants’ in their videos?

Even many alternative female bloggers who ‘defy the norm’ will never be seen with a cigarette in hand at a festival, or hungover as balls in an Instagram post, despite it perhaps being their reality.

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Skeletons in the Pinterest Closet

I hope Katie doesn’t me putting this in, but to me, Katie is a rather popular blogger and someone who a lot of people admire for her courageousness and bright outlook on life. It’s very interesting to see how people have responded to living an inspired life, quitting Uni, living in New York and basically taking her life by the balls.

When I chatted to her about this, about the idea of HER being an actual role model to people, this is what she said:

“But I am such a problematic person. Like there’s photos and videos and shit I’ve said in the depths of the internet from past years when I was just a kid and didn’t fully grasp the permanence of anything done online, that would be so easy to find if people wanted to, and would end up being an ~issue~ for all that I’ve created now. Like I said the other day, I don’t want to not tell people the story of what happened the other week- meeting those strangers on the subway then running off with them and ending up getting super drunk off stolen beer, leaning up against a yellow school bus at 4am – because it is SUCH a magical story and I want to share it.

I feel I’d have to put this huge disclaimer at the start like “SMOKING IS BAD, DON’T DO IT, STEALING IS A CRIME, DON’T BECOME A CRIMINAL AND DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS” but like for fucks sake I’m not a parent. I’ve never said you should follow by my example. People know this shit. Don’t they?”

I follow a very successful fashion blogger on Instagram and every time a packet of cigarettes is spotted in a picture her followers go absolutely crazy. Why is it on Instagram that things are SO BAD when in IRL it’s actually not that big of a deal?

Not only do bloggers have to be squeaky clean in their present, they also end up having to apologise ceaselessly and atone for every single mistake they ever made in the past, when people go digging through their twitter archives to pull out something juicy.

But it’s all ‘their fault’ for putting themselves out there, right?

In Conclusion: Love Art, Not the Artist 
Truth bomb: the currency of the blogging world is money and motivation.

From travel bloggers whisking us away on their whirlwind globe-trotting adventures, YouTubers talking candidly about mental health problems and encouraging us to be brave, or fitness gurus killing it with their gym-made-easy channels – what keeps an audience invested in an online content creator, in actuality, is how they are made to feel about themselves while engaged – the positivity instilled in the viewer after watching a vlog with an inspirational message, or just the general reassurance felt knowing there are others out there like us, is what fuels this industry. Which, in my view, just further supports the reasons why we should not make reluctant role models of those who create.

Besides – is the idea of a role model even relevant anymore, when the web allows us to curate ourselves, understand what we want out of life with how to get it, and empower us to be the best version of ourselves we can be?

I strongly believe that no creator of integrity is trying to preach that people should be more like them, copy their life and try to emulate their way of living because they ‘have all the answers’. However, it’s inevitable that (especially young) viewers end up doing that, but that’s down to one critical flaw in which we as a society perceive art and the idea of ‘fame’.

Because….we celebrate the artist, instead of the art. 
And why? 

We believe we love the creator, because they created the creation we love.

How do we separate that, if the main focus is such strong personal brands?

What art is left?

We scream ‘I love you so much!’ in hundred-strong crowds at people we’ve never even met before, because they make music we love. Wrote a book we loved. Starred in a film we loved.

And THAT is the overarching problem of the role model, and why we MUST stop burdening normal human beings with the curse of that title, because suddenly they are bound by attempting to live up to these unattainably perfect standards of something entirely fictional, whilst also being accountable for the decisions and behaviours that everyone who has called them that, mimic.

And we’re better than that, right? Surely we have enough self-empowerment to appreciate and respect someone and love what they do, without shifting the blame of our actions onto their shoulders?

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This is what an inspiration blogger can be:

1. A powerful motivator for good things in your life

2. A rant-buddy to wax lyrical about mutual opinions, or to debate with

3. A cheerleader to spur you on to find happiness and control 

But what it is cruel and damaging to do, is to call someone your role model who never set out to be that in the first place. It’s cruel, it’s unfair and it puts people under pressure – it makes people keep secrets and feel awkward and insecure. It makes people vanilla blank canvases when really we shouldn’t be afraid to share the truth.

We are ALL beautiful, human messes who never stop screwing up – even those people who seem so perfect and seamless online.

So let’s stop trying to be other people, and quit it with the outdated RM-title.

As god-damn cheesy as it sounds, why dont you let Future You be a role model (I think we stole this sentiment of Matthew Mcconaughey Oscar speech) be ourselves, appreciate those who inspire us, and help others to find themselves too.

Visit Katie’s amazing blog Scarphelia for more of her writings. She’s one of my favourite people on the Internet / planet.

  • I love this! I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently just on a personal level, how humans just have an innate tendency to label people and reduce their wonderful messy humanity down to a few words or phrases, without room for the wild, experimental things that all people do. I know I get frustrated when people make assumptions about me in a way that excludes acceptance of certain behavior, but I know I do this to other people all the time!!! Ugh it’s frustrating. I love what you wrote though – love the art, not the artist. Great words! xx

    http://www.theshabbysuitcase.com

  • Nicky

    Wonderful article. Pity this kind of writing isn’t found in all of my Vanilla magazines.

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