It seems that we have now arrived in a place where Katy Price is the voice of reason. The news broke a few weeks ago that due to pandemic travel restrictions, a mob of influencers were stuck in Dubai. Far from this acting as a cautionary tale, others have since followed in their wake, deeming their journeys ‘essential work travel’. This mass migration of influencers to Dubai has plastered our social media feeds with leathered bodies and colourful cocktails, while we wither away in the confinement of the UK. Apparently, lockdown measures do not apply to the London borough of Dubai.
Price, who is not universally known for her level headedness, weighed in on a radio show with the advice that they should all “go and get a job.” I take this to mean that Price, who some might argue has made an extremely successful career out of being not particularly good at anything, takes a disapproving stance of just exactly how essential their “essential work travel” is.
As a recent graduate currently on furlough, I have plenty of time at my disposal to ponder my purpose and compare myself to others. In my hectic timetable of sleeping late, staggering out for a guilt induced run and then coming back to scroll through job adverts, I have ample opportunity to consider exactly what it is I want to do. As a general rule of thumb, I am pretty anti-work, so perhaps the unstructured, omnipresent, yet untaxing nature of the influencer’s daily toil would suit me well.
Is the posturing, the fake tanning, the sheer doggedness of the endeavour a valid alternative in a world in which other opportunities seem limited? Is the sand really whiter in Dubai? Or is it a mirage in the desert?
Being an average history student, I decided to take a shallow dive into the history of the influencer. Taking the term at its vaguest and loosest sense (you can see now perhaps why I refer to myself as an average history student), Queen Victoria used to publicly endorse chloroform as anaesthetic and encouraged it’s use before it was properly established in society. Use her discount code “TURBERCULOSIS10” to get 10% off your next treatment.
This approach is not so different perhaps to a Kardashian sucking on a diet lollipop on Instagram. Celebrity endorsements and social media have warped the landscape of consumerism. The likes of Michael Jordan and Kate Moss have spearheaded what it means to be the face of a brand, making it possible for products to sell out in mere minutes and widening the playing field for aspiring influencers. From monarchs to models to addicts – the plunge into what it means to be an influencer continues.
The ascension of the influencer also correlates with the changing styles of advertising over the past ten years. Facebook is now the second biggest advertising vendor in the world. Each social media app has a suite of sophisticated marketing features that will ensure that products are crammed down our gullets.
Shopping has also become effectively automated. The process of buying products has changed dramatically since our parents’ generation. Zenith Optimedia claims that the average user is signed up to at least three social media sites, browsing them for at least two hours a day (I’m currently holding up this statistic). Revenue streams run continuously through our screens. Although the invasion of privacy through targeted advertisements seems like a universally evil thing, it has also presented our generation with opportunities to work.
In a study by Frey and Rahbari in 2016, it was found that technology has created far more jobs than it has displaced.
This is important. According to current employment statistics, the number of people in the UK who graduated from higher education increased from 24% to 42% between 2002 to 2017 and a third of graduates are overqualified for their roles coming out of university. This is an over-saturated market that cannot support the intake of students. Even more horrific, the average hourly salary for a 21-year-old in 2021 is £7.30. Therefore, the trend towards an employee market rather than an employer’s market is paramount. Graduates need more opportunities, and the modern landscape of advertising offers this.
I have always been both repulsed and fascinated by the ‘exotic’ life of the influencer, which flits between tawdry and glamorous. I can understand why they exist. Behind the filters, there is a human being who is essentially a modern-day salesperson taking advantage of the current situation. This is nothing new, or particularly offensive.
Boris Johnson has ensured that the outlined travel restrictions have been just confusing enough to exploit, if you are that way inclined. And influencers are inclined – usually by swimming pools in painful looking thongs. And now the swarm of locusts, upon discovering Dubai’s hospitality sector largely closed, have flown on to Mexico. The reason why parasites have such good survival rates is that they are endlessly adaptable and don’t give a toss who their host is.
With cases in Dubai climbing each day, the life blood of the city has been sucked dry. Those that work in hospitality, whose occupation is essential to their survival, have been disregarded for a few weeks in sun. Even more belligerent is the notion that these influencers are doing the British public a service. Laura Anderson, of Love Island fame, claimed that being an influencer in Dubai was “really hard”. She must be blind to the keyworkers that continue to help keep the world turning, because this is an unprecedented level of narcissism.
As someone taking government money, albeit currently essential for my survival, I don’t really feel in a position to pontificate about the validity or not of other peoples’ work endeavours. In the modern era, ‘a real job’ is neither easily defined nor easy to come by. All I have to hold on to, and I am holding onto it grimly, is the thought that at least I am not pretending. I’m not anticipating that my followers will find my tripe ‘motivating’. Influencers that see themselves as anything more than an objectively attractive sack of bones and muscle are lying to themselves. I look in the mirror and see one of the many furloughed graduates.
The life I am currently living might be dull and worrying but at least it is real and not set on shifting sand. I can tell myself I haven’t sold out and likely never will, as I’m almost certainly not hot enough to be an influencer, anyway.
Written by Jack Stringer | Illustration by Rebekka Katajisto
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