Categories
celebrity influencers

The Dark Side of the Influencer Lifestyle

At first glance, the life of an influencer may be one to aspire to. They have money, notoriety, get into all the best parties, and get a lot of likes on their social media posts. However, there is another side of the coin to being an influencer, one that cannot be seen from the posts put out onto the internet. Everyone is always putting out into the world (via social media) the best version of themselves, and that is no different from famous people. But what exactly is an “influencer?” What makes an internet personality different from someone famous who also has a large internet presence?

An internet influencer has “created a personal brand on social media that has the potential to influence an audience” (Leban 225). An influencer is a type of microcelebrity, which is defined as “a state of being famous to a niche group of people and involves the curation of a persona that feels authentic to readers” (Edstrom 153). There are different types of influencers, but one of the most popular is the “high-net-worth (HNW) individuals… such as the billionaire Kylie Jenner” (Leban 225).

Being an influencer is not reserved for just anyone. In order to become one you need to have something that everyone e;se wants. For these HNW influencers, that happens to be money. The public is fascinated with the life of the rich, so much so they’ll do anything they can just to get a glimpse of their lives. That’s what makes the internet such an amazing place. For the first time in… well forever, people have immediate access to anyone they could possibly imagine, all it takes to talk to them is a simple @ or maybe a personal DM. Every part of an influencer’s life is on display for the consumer, which can end up harming the influencer much more than they may initially realize. You see, there’s a much darker side to the influencer lifestyle. This side of the lifestyle involves an inherent hypocrisy to how they live, a lack of laws in place to protect an influencer, or wanna-be influencer, from harm, as well as a heightened amount of scandals, which may or may not be accounted for because influencers have standards placed on them, which comes with the territory of having all eyes on you. This paper will work to show that darker side of influencer life, one that is hidden behind all the lavish social media posts and exclusive brand deals, in hopes to show that being an influencer as we know it today cannot continue without major improvements.

The entire way of life for an influencer is a moral hypocrisy. Being an influencer is entirely based on taste. As stated before, one cannot simply “become an influencer” if they want to. They need to have something everybody wants. An important piece of this puzzle to bring up is that “what brings high-status (e.g. what is preferred or valued) in one taste regime may differ from what brings high-status in another taste regime” (Leban 230). One thing that high net-worth influencers have that most people do not is access to a lot of money. While this may not mean much in one taste regime, it means everything when one is an influencer.

In today’s society, it has become a symbol of high-status to be ethical, or “woke.” Woke is a term described as “having or marked by an active awareness of systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those related to civil and human rights” (Woke). Some influencers have figured out a way to appear as though they are woke, while not actually taking any steps to help further the world. Influencers end up with all this money, but do not use it in helpful ways. “As with moral hypocrisy, the end goal is the self-serving motive to appear ethical in the eyes of the public, but also to feel ‘better’ in the private sphere” (Leban 232).

While this doesn’t have to be the case for every influencer, it stands to reason that it is most of them. An influencer’s main goal is credibility. “Credibility is important for the Influencers both for the growth of their own media brands and for their effectiveness as commercial product brand endorsers” (Edstrom 154). The question becomes, how can an influencer lead such a lavish and expensive lifestyle while still being woke? The answer is: they cannot. Some influencers may choose to give back to a community, donating large sums of money to charities, however, these influencers are few and far between. An influencer may seem to be leading a woke cause, but if they’re not putting their money where their mouth is, they’re not really doing anything at all to help.

Something notable to point out is how fast influencers are becoming more and more mainstream every year. For example, when The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon had Charli D’Amelio as a guest, the YouTube clip with her in it garnered over 18 million views. To put that into perspective, the most recent Oscars only made half of that viewership. There is a big market for influencers out there, and as the years go on that market just seems to increase, With increasing markets means increasing money, which makes every influencer just that much more of a hypocrite. As well with an increase in money flowing in, it means more and more people will try and become an influencer, which can and has proven to be dangerous.

Fourteen-year-old AJ Mitchell moved in with Jake Paul at the Team 10 House in Los Angeles. He was trying to make it as a musician and gaining subscribers at a good pace when Paul found him on the internet. Jake Paul decided he needed him working under him in his Team 10 House. The Team 10 House describes itself as “The first ever social media label for the talent, by the talent. Team 10 is a unique incubator for aspiring social influencers. Whereas other business models take the talent and solely push them out in the hopes of marginalized profit and publicity, Team 10’s structure creates a home for talent to be developed, nurtured to perfection, and to quickly create content” (Team 10).

Although hesitant at first, AJ’s parents allowed him to move into the Team 10 House after extensive conversations with Jake Paul, his girlfriend at the time Alissa Violet, as well as Jake Paul’s parents. However, when AJ arrived with just a single suitcase to the Team 10 House, it was not at all what he was expecting. “For several weeks he didn’t have a bedroom, so he slept on the leather couch in the living room… [eventually] Mr. Mitchell was given a room to share with Alissa Violet, who was 19 at the time” (Lorenz). On top of this misconduct, AJ was also “never directly paid by Team 10” and had to rely on money his parents sent him to pay for food (Lorenz). Paul thought of his “payment” towards the people in his group was the fact that he would tag them in his videos. “If you were tagged in one of Jake’s YouTube videos, you could get 50,000 followers… Jake used this to manipulate everyone. If anyone didn’t do what Jake wanted, he’d tell everybody in the house not to tag them. Jake had a monopoly, and he decided who got famous” (Lorenz). This may seem gross and illegal to someone in the right headspace, however they would only be half right. “We have all these laws in place that have been around for a century to protect child performers, but they have not been extended to safeguard the health, welfare, and safety of children influencers. Because these young creators make money through a variety of revenue streams… they can be vulnerable to exploitation” (Lorenz). In fact, it’s been hotely contended that today’s child labor laws are “relatively limited in scope” (United States).

And this was happening to a young creator in a very well known house working under a very well known (albeit controversial) influencer, so imagine what’s happening to people trying to be influencers that we do not even know about. Especially with the rise and rapid growth of TikTok, children have become more and more involved in the creation process every year. “Child labor laws fail to keep pace with the rapidly evolving Internet entertainment ecosystem, and this issue requires specific action by the legislature and corporations behind popular social media platforms” (Riggio). Child stars have a reputation for ending up not in the best mental states when they grow older, and these children work under laws that protect them from living on the floor and not having food. Imagine what the next generation of influencers will look like once they’re grown after enduring these exploitative and unsafe practices. One would think, with so many eyes on these influencers, it might be hard to get away with scandals. But this is not the case.

While the scandals I am about to bring up in this paper have been brought to light, it is important to realize this has not been the norm. Influencers may have all eyes on them, yet their fame allows them to get away with more than one might initially think. Just recently, popular creator James Charles was outed as being a child predator. Charles started making beauty content in 2015 and rose to fame very quickly. By the time he was 17 years old, just about two years after the launch of his YouTube channel he was a spokesmodel for Covergirl. In the recent months, “more than 15 people have come forward to accuse him of inappropriate sexual advances and/or grooming, with allegations circulating primarily on Twitter and TikTok” (Vujic). But the public has heard rumors of Charle’s inappropriate relationship with boys ever since May of 2019, when Tati Westbrook attacked James by saying in a video “You tried to trick a straight man into thinking he’s gay, yet again, and somehow you’re the victim” (Vujic). So sketchy behavior has been going on around James Charles since at least 2019, but these allegations are only coming out now.

The scary thing is how long it took for brands to sever their ties with Charles. In a statement, Morphe, a cosmetic company that Charles has worked with since 2018, [and James Charles] tweeted out simultaneous statements announcing that they would “wind down,” although it’s not clear whether or when Morphe will stop selling their popular James Charles palette, which is currently still available. The announcement came after Morphe customers threatened to boycott the brand for continuing their collaboration with Charles” (Vujic). YouTube announced that it would temporarily stop all monetization on Charles’ videos. How long will each of these breaks last? It’s hard to say. Some influencers have faced similar amounts of backlash for problematic behavior in the past, but the brand deals all eventually came back.

Influencers like Jeffree Starr have had scandals in the past, although not seemingly as severe as Charles’, they all seem to go the same way. What truly gives me pause is the way that Morphe and Charles put out a statement together, like it was both of their decisions to stop putting out James Charles’ products. Even just looking back one paragraph, we know that Jake Paul was responsible for not feeding, paying, or giving a room to a minor who he was supposed to be helping. But has Paul faced any repercussions for his actions? Quite the contrary, as his most recent boxing match just went down as one of the all-time pay-per-view boxing matches of all time.

As seen in this paper, the life of an influencer can seem to be one of the best lives to lead. However, the lifestyle itself is a moral hypocrisy, it leaves children in a dangerous position without labor laws, and it comes with a heightened amount of criticism, but criticism that does not seem to be taken too seriously by what is most important to an influencer’s life- brands and money. The influencer lifestyle has quite a dark underbelly that has yet to be exposed to the general population. “If there’s not some entity taking responsibility as an employer, then we’re going to see [all kinds of] exploitative and unsafe practices” (Lorenz). Influencer life is a lot like the Wild West right now, and somehow accountability must be taken to ensure better practices in the future. What that will look like, who knows, but until the public understands the full scope of these problems, and the lifestyle is hit where it hurts the most, in its wallet, then we will continue to see these unsafe practices upheld.


Works Cited

Edström, Maria, Andrew T. Kenyon, Eva-Maria Svensson (eds.). Blurring the Lines Market Driven and Democracy-Driven Freedom of Expression. Nordicom, 2016.

Leban, Marina, et al. “Constructing Personas: How High‐Net‐Worth Social Media Influencers Reconcile Ethicality and Living a Luxury Lifestyle.” Journal of Business Ethics 169: 225–239 (2021).

Lorenz, Taylor. “Jake Paul Promised Them Fame. Was It Worth the Price?The New York Times, 22 Apr. 2021.

Riggio, Amanda G. “The Small-Er Screen: YouTube Vlogging and the Unequipped Child
Entertainment Labor Laws.” Seattle University Law Review, 2021. EBSCOhost,
search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.CEB5082A&site
=eds-live.
Team 10, 2015, www.team10official.com/.

United States. Bureau of Labor Standards. Child Labor Laws. [Washington, 1968. EBSCOhost,
search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edshtl&AN=edshtl.MIU01.011396197
&site=eds-live.

Vujic, Katja. “A Guide to the Many, Many Scandals of James Charles.” The Cut, The Cut, 20
Apr. 2021,
www.thecut.com/article/james-charles-allegations-and-accusations-explained.html.

Categories
cancelculture celebrity influencers

Influencer Culture Takes Over L.A.

There are many hubs around the United States that contribute to both American and worldwide cultures. However, the influence of Los Angeles may just beat out these other cities being the capital of the entertainment industry and a creative center for many different industries as well. Culturally, it is home to a melting pot of communities that all share the vast landscape in California.

Over the past decade, a new digital age has emerged causing a shift in the way we consume media and entertainment. Social media being at the forefront of our daily lives, it has opened doors of opportunity for a new kind of celebrity. The old stars of Hollywood, in their age, were put on an untouchable pedestal for the rest of the people to admire, but the appeal was never that of being relatable or like us in any way. Their elaborate, glamorous lives were special and different than anyone else’s. Thanks to the digital age, celebrity is now accessible to all in the form of being an influencer, granting access to the lifestyle of the people others look up to and aspire to reach. Due to this new accessibility, it has caused an influx of changes and problems as well as opportunity. The rise of social media and the digital age has caused an overtaking of influencer culture in Los Angeles, with the over-saturation of influencers leading to the unfortunate replacement of culture with clout and contributions to gentrification.

In order to understand the complications, first one must explore what an influencer even is. It is likely a term heard and known by many, but the truth of the matter is that there are many forms of influencing and different ways of doing so. The majority of these people can be placed “into the following categories: celebrities, industry experts and thought leaders, bloggers or content creators and micro-influencers” (Zdenka and Holiencinova 92). It really boils down to anyone that has any sort of power or guidance on a significant number of people. This is why the celebrity is so accessible because of the range in which you are able to be an influencer and how “an unprecedented number of fame-seekers use social media as the gateway to self-promotion even if in reality, only a few get the kind of recognition that can be converted to money” (Gomez 10). In the last decade, especially when Instagram was released, that sparked the new influencer economy present today that gave communities and people a platform to share their work and communicate instantly. Platforms such as: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and now TikTok have all been successful in getting users and contributing to the growing influencer scene. With each new app that arises, is born a new set of influencers. At the rate of growth that social media and the digital world has grown, these numbers are not set to slow down anytime soon.

Anyone can aspire to be an influencer because of the nature of the platforms in which you can be successful. In contrast to a more corporate or professional career that stems from formalities and growing experience, influencers are born out of many things, from their relatability and people’s attraction to things they are interested in to viral fame. That is why no influencer has to be a celebrity. They are just people who add value to their social networks and reach a large number of people from their following from their knowledge or expertise in a specific field (Zdenka and Holiencinova 93). Users who are already using these platforms for fun, entertainment, or to stay in touch with friends and family, are already producing content. With that in mind, the attraction to being an influencer for many comes from making money off of something that is already happening. That lifestyle of an influencer then becomes the main goal and motivator for people trying to gain their following in order to live off of their earnings and simply produce content by living how they want.

In order to produce watchable, viral content, the environment and events are everything. Needing an aesthetic backdrop to put behind their lush lifestyle that people will want to follow results in a huge flocking of these influencers to Los Angeles. Being at the creative and cultural hub, the city becomes a place for these influencers to grow their brand and status and try to expand on their connections and opportunity for more success. People come to L.A. not to “break from the hustle of everyday life by relaxing and taking in the sparkle of Tinseltown,” but to earn more likes because those are influencer currency. Likes turn into followers, more followers turns into more fame (Fry). This move makes sense given that Hollywood has always been the home of many celebrities and home to opportunities as well. This is a place to meet like minded people and others in the creative field with similar aspirations.

Collaboration then becomes a major part of the influencer journey especially for young people interested in the party scene and getting together with people their age to create content and have parties. This influx of young aspiring influencers created collaboration houses.These young influencers are banding together to live in luxury, forming groups to live in a mansion together. This is both a financial and creative strategy as they are able to create content and have a luxurious backdrop to do it and also to collaborate and make exclusive events and parties. Some well known houses include The Hype House and The Sway House. Both are fairly new to the game as they are TikTok influencers. Starting in 2019, these mansions are being occupied by the top influencer celebrities and have a following on social media for the content released from the house in the billions.

The impact of this on the other Los Angeles residents, especially in these more upscale locations, are the shenanigans and volume of these houses. It is reported that “neighbors complained to the Times about hearing loud music late at night, trash left out front, the sounds of someone vomiting and the early-morning firing of paintball guns” (Leggate). Having consistent partying going on and loud events creates a less than hospitable environment for other wealthy residents in the area. The disruption and inconsideration of the neighbors comes from the influencer culture that lives on clout chasing and attention grabbing content. In order to hold viewers attention, things often have to be both in your face and loud. Group content especially needs some sort of exciting factor to keep viewers engaged.

This influx of influencers not only affects the residential life of Los Angeles, but the actual landscape as well. As many other subcultures are already outraged by the gentrification taking place in their neighborhoods, driving up the cost of living and erasing history within their culture, influencers are adding onto it. One instance demonstrating this is when “a (kind of) new mural on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles sparked outrage on social media, with people calling it “social media gentrification” and “perfecto capitalism”. (Adrian) The mural was only accessible to people with a certain following criteria and was a promotion for a new influencer oriented company. This is attributed to the exclusivity of influencer culture, like that of celebrity, but more harmful in the way that more and more people are making the effort to become an influencer because of its accessibility in comparison to A-list celebrities in Hollywood.

The connection between gentrification and influencer culture especially draws from the roots of capitalism. Once an influencer grows their following, much of their profits comes from brand deals and influencer marketing. A brand will reach out to an influencer they feel matches their target demographic, and therefore their followers would also be the company’s target as well. Influencer marketing is one of the leading forms of marketing because of its success for brands. Influencers hold so much power due to the relationship between them and their followers. There is a sense of trust between them because someone will only follow another person if they like them and what they are producing. The longer an influencer is online and puts out content, the stronger of a relationship is grown. People feel that they know the influencer, as if they are their friend. That is the power of the relatability aspect and everyday folk feeling that many influencers have. People today are more cautious of brands and other advertising directly from the brand itself because of the idea that they are only in it for the profit. The illusion of the influencer is that they are essentially doing the exact same thing, but instead of someone hearing it from a stranger, it feels as if it is a recommendation from a friend. The dangers of this especially those who are younger influencers, is that once they find success, they will do anything to propel that and upkeep an influencer status. That’s when clout chasing and authenticity come into question because of the fake-ness of social media.

People can project what they want to project. Influencers will go all over Los Angeles into places they are not even aware of the culture and pose with things of significance without appreciation for the history and use it for their aesthetic. Likewise, especially starting out, influencers will take any brand deals they can get in order to get their income started. So, they may praise and try to sell a product to their viewers that they don’t even like or use.

Authenticity is a major concern because of the nature of the market and the desire for an upcoming influencer to gain their income and feel their career blossom can easily outweigh being authentic in their posts. Being accustomed to already scouting locations and editing photos for the best posts online or curating videos they think will get more attention and staging certain events makes it seem like part of the job as an influencer. “People’s claims of digital authenticity sometimes turn out to be superficial attempts to claim certain alternative identities to enhance their egos or the knowing cultivation of personas in the interest of persuading others for the purpose of some form of gain” (Hund 30). Because the digital space is newer, and influencer culture has only sprouted in the last decade, navigating these problems is unique to this industry and time. The collaboration between influencers and companies need to be regulated in order to keep ethics in check. Another major factor with influencer culture is that because they could be any regular person, the rise to fame over a short period of time can have a negative effect on celebrity life, culture within L.A. and the influencer themselves. It can be seen in a lot of young TikTok stars and YouTubers getting constantly canceled or called out for problematic instances because they do not know the societal expectations and responsibilities that come from being a celebrity and having that lifestyle.

The glamorous aspects of being an influencer or celebrity are the normal motivators for influencers, meaning that the other aspects of being in the spotlight are overlooked. In a commercial, capitalist world, it is easy for a young person who has grown up with social media and this culture to aspire to have that as their career. The additions of the negative impact of social media on society and mental health in general due to the facade that can be cultivated online, sparks problems within this industry that are not even addressed because of the newness of it all. The infiltration into Los Angeles not only is harming the cultures present, but the new digital age and influencer culture is removing the authenticity of L.A. and the people that reside there.

Overall, this rising influencer culture has had a lot of impact within the last decade and continues to thrive with new markets being created within digital platforms. Unfortunately, that is causing an influx of influencers to Los Angeles, which is changing the landscape and existing cultures there as they take over mansions in Beverly Hills and other high end areas, and use the existing subculture scenes for their own clout and aesthetics for their online profiles. There is a definite rise of gentrification and with influencers, marketing has soared and capitalism with it as people spend a large portion of their day scrolling on various social media platforms. It is evolving and becoming more relevant in the grand scheme of things as we see these rising influencers infiltrate other creative hubs such as films, music, and television. The desire for more fame, money, and success are driving these new celebrities into other spheres aside from the social media world, indicating that not only are they here to stay, but are paving the way for a new route for other people to follow in order to attain the lifestyle of a celebrity that everyone desires.

The residents of Los Angeles push back against gentrification and many are bothered by the new wave of influencers joining the scene, but the best change that could come from those coming into the city would be to enter it respectful of those who have resided there and be mindful of the culture capital having a significant history. Appreciation of the places they go and not simply using the beautiful aspects of Los Angeles for their own gain and advantage online would be a step in the right direction to correcting the harmful over-saturation of this group. The values of influencers and upholding an authentic, mindful brand is steadily increasing as the more original influencers who were not mindful of that are being called out and canceled. That will hopefully provide enough inspiration for these newer, upcoming influencers to not make the same mistakes and have an authentic, responsible presence online that is mindful of the power that comes with a following and fame.

Works Cited

Fry, Naomi. “‘Fake Famous’ and the Tedium of Influencer Culture.” The New Yorker, February 2021.

Hund, Emily Ann. “The Influencer Industry: Constructing and Commodifying Authenticity on Social Media.” Thesis / Dissertation ETD, ScholarlyCommons, 2019, pp. 28–30.

Kadekova, Zdenka, and Maria Holiencinova. “Influencer Marketing as a Modern Phenomenon Creating a New Frontier of Virtual Opportunities.” Communication Today, 2018.

Leggate, James. “TikTok ‘Content Houses’ Take over Luxurious LA Mansions.” Fox Business, Fox Business, June 2020.

Mecava, Aridan. “LA Influencers Compete Over Exclusive Urban Space.” Pop, 2018.

Ruiz-Gomez, Alexandra. “Digital Fame and Fortune in the Age of Social Media: A Classification of Social Media Influencers.” ADResearch ESIC International Journal of Communication Research, vol. 19, no. 19, 2019, pp. 08–29., doi:10.7263/adresic-019-01.