#Unlike: the rise of the satirical voyeur

From Father John Misty's Instagram feedFrom Father John Misty’s Instagram feed

Like or unlike, instagram is one of those things that most find themselves indulging a morbid curiosity for. Stalking people’s lives; admiring stranger’s outfits; perving on the lightly buttered sourdough toast and poached eggs that a colleague had for brunch: these images are fascinating and forgettable yet totally addictive. The phrases associated with Instagram – ‘upload’, ‘likes’ – are part of the vernacular, occupying a scared place in our brain as an easy route to short-term satisfaction (and with each like triggering a small shot of dopamine, it’s no surprise). And, as you refresh-refresh-refresh the feed, lusting after obscure images of feet or grass or sunsets behind concrete jungles you fall further down the rabbit hole; it’s all you think about, you become obsessed with it, conversations and dictated and distracted by it, moments tarnished and immortalised.

Conspiracies of how the whole network has been created to subdue and distract the masses aside, there is an interesting counterculture to the Instagram phenomenon, and it’s happening within the platform.

As with Facebook, everyone knows that Instagram is a curated space which doesn’t reflect the reality of a person’s life. Individuals pick and choose the best moments of their everyday lives to draw out a certain character trait and to carve out an identity within the confines of these images. It is, by nature, a conscious process and there is no spontaneity or impulse attached to the act of taking, uploading and writing a caption to post to your followers. This illusion extends to product placement with major celebrities, bloggers, vloggers and wannabes being paid to feature items which render their lives more extravagant and more desirable. In short, the medium has become a circus, a warped reality that people escape to for procrastination and when they want to damage their self-esteem.

It is unsurprising that in light of this there has been a counter insurgency against the farce, bright and brilliant minds working within the platform to subvert and mock the medium and make users realise how ridiculous they are.

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Working against the enemy within the enemy lines is a satirical method as old as time. In 1728, Alexander Pope mocked the printing press by writing The Dunciad, describing authors revelling in their own shit amongst a wild chaos of fast literature.  Almost 300 years later our contemporary satirists are taking to Instagram to make their apathy and disdain towards a self obsessed generation visible. Singer Father John Misty is a notable example of recent months, layering irony on irony, endorsing a random array of products such as Ted 2 and SmartWater, much to the delight of his loyal and rapidly expanding cult of followers. With every post Father John Misty (real name Joshua Tillman) hones his reputation as a sardonic and indifferent cultural figure playing above the circus of commercialism which is inherent in his job.

Father John Misty’s Instagram account illustrates a wider phenomenon of ‘realness’ online. In rebellion against the slick and polished accounts which many users so desperately strive to attain the anti-likers are deliberately curating mediocre posts in an attempt to push back. Filterless pictures of Tesco own-brand pitta bread smeared in Nutella will be accompanied by over-zealous hashtags and pasty, cellulite-covered legs pictured puckering in pouring rain will run with facetious captions about summer holidays.

A London-based zine run by Charlotte Roberts and Bertie Brandes have gone one step further. Set up as an antidote to soulless fashion magazines which perpetuate airburshed myths their Instagram rejects filters and devotes a lot of time to touring T-shirts which have ‘New Labia’ written on them. Fashion at it’s ‘In -Yer-Face’ finest.

Meanwhile the cult of the ‘Green Queen’ food bloggers is also coming up against some much needed scrutiny. A hidden Instagram gem, Deliciously Stella recently made a splash with a fiercely satirical profile that rallies against the almost identically-named, and wildly popular healthy living sensation. With admirable conviction, Deliciously Stella has thrown herself into depicting her “shit, unhealthy life”, with posts that include a face smeared with ketchup, sweaty post gym shots and a recipe of avocado and Haribo fried eggs on toast.  Her account comes on the back of an array of Instagram accounts – such as Cookingforbae – dedicated to the most unappetising plates of food out there. However this is one of the first which is curated with almost the same dedication and thought as her vegan counterpart.

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These are representative of a wider group of individuals who have looked out at the world and decided that they don’t like what they see. Picking apart their surroundings in the simplest forms inspires and enables more people to do the same; to poke holes in the social construction that we exist within today. They are refuting the idea that life as presented on instagram is either aspirational or attainable: real life is grubby, dirty and gloriously imperfect.

Yet there is a problem inherent in this model. The satiristic voyeur needs the platform he mocks to spread his message in order for his commentary to be valid at all. The ironic statements are swathed in further irony as a result. For with every sardonic caption, with every image of ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ that is validated by the likes of his followers the Instagrammer becomes more marred by the platform and more addicted to the glory; he inhabits a fragile nexus between disdain and dependence.

Where next for the satirical voyeur?

Image has been dragged to the front of an individual’s perception of self. In this new world, identity is formed by external factors, allowing inhabitants to embrace narcissism to extreme degrees. For the satirist to truly succeed, then image must remain secondary to substances and validation of their world view a by-product as opposed to a driving force. In short, those looking at the self-obsessed nature of this generation must revolt against the instant gratification that comes with the tiny dose of Dopamine and embrace the long slog of looking upon the world and doing something differently. To paraphrase what Michael Jackson preached, you may start by looking at the man in the mirror but if you want to make the world a better place you have to take a picture of yourself, then make a change.

First published on Imperica, 8 June 2015

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