The other day, whilst interning at a magazine, I sat next to a journalist. Big whoop, right? Wrong. It wasn’t just any journalist. It was a journalist that I follow across the socials, read everything she writes and recommends, inhale her weekly newsletter, and just generally hang on to in a digital capacity that would be considered abnormal IRL.
I didn’t even realise it was her at first, which is why I was so shocked when I finally did and double-taked (took?) because I’d made the decision, upon meeting this person, that she was actually quite rude. When making the tea rounds, I was ignored. When in conversation with the rest of the team, I was excluded. She also had a stain on her trousers. Essentially, she was nothing like the person I had fabricated inside my head.
It wasn’t her fault. Far from it. She’s a person, who did not have the foggiest clue who I was or that I knew who she was (whoa, inception) and who’s opinions and thoughts I just happened to agree with and so had subsequently followed. I had tweeted her occasionally, and got a secret thrill when there was any sort of response. Upon meeting her in person I actually became incredibly embarrassed that she may know who I was based on my online interactions with her. I was embarrassed that I had idiolised her.
This is exactly what we do with celebrities. But the difference between celebrity idiolisation as opposed to influencer idiolisation is that influencers are a much more attainable source of human being. It would be highly unlikely to see myself sat next to K-middy at a magazine. Influencers are much more likely to mingle with the great unwashed peasants of society (us). So when I found myself sat next to one – one which if I’d have realised when I sat down, as opposed to stomping off to make my own bloody tea – would’ve made me starstruck, happened to be just another peasant.
It’s the classic halo effect. I had stuck a big, tinsel covered shiny ring on her noggin and treated her online self as her true self, which sadly hadn’t been the case and this was almost earth-shattering for me. It was the adult equivalent of seeing your mum stuff your Santa sack with presents. The illusion had been shattered to reveal a mannerless woman covered in stains (slight exaggeration, but I’m still bitter).
We’ve done this since the dawn of celebrities and we will always idiolise celebrities. We need that societal hierarchy, something to aim for and look up to. We need the glitz, glam, the halo’s and the escapism; to believe there is a life so unattainably different from our own that we can’t even picture the people we see behind screens as people.
We create a world for ourselves that’s infinitely better than our own; one that we can enter and be in awe or jealous or proud of those we see. We want to think there’s another life that isn’t quite within our reach. That you’ll be pushed through the fame tube and pop out the other end beautiful and happy. Irrational dreams keep us sane, because if we weren’t just a teensy bit fanciful, what would be the point?
I won’t even begin to tackle celebrity idiolisation because, frankly, it can be quite scary how obsessed some can get. Super fandom can turn downright stalkerish, made all the more easy by the introduction of immediate updates on something we hold in our hand.
But influencers are not celebrities.
Influencers are average people who are slightly more talented, opinionated, or better looking as opposed to unattainably so, and have gained a minor following because of this. These people influence us – the clue is in the name. Our social and behavioural habits are being influenced by them in a much more real way than celebrities, meaning this is a new wave of idiolisation.
And not only this, they’ve sparked a new wave of influencing us to believe that we too can be an influencer. With less followers than the average cover star there’s a greater probability, when expressing a bit of love, for a like or a fave in return from them. It gives us actual hope of reciprocated interaction, and it’s THIS in which the danger harbours.
Could this then mean that we potentially idiolise them more? Because they are are 3 or 4 connections away as opposed to lightyears? Because they have risen from the ashes of normality into one a few thousand people look up to? Because this means that one day we could do this too? And so the dominoes fall and the clockwork ticks and we begin to look upon them as a virtual friend, one we could one day go for coffee with whilst we giggle about our exponentially rising followers.
So many of us idiolise influencers because we’re fed fakeness. We put a halo on these rose-tinted 2D versions of humans only to find that it’s actually just a bit of pipe-cleaner covered in glitter that was done on a Youtube tutorial. It is the halo-effect for millennials.
And it is this which means we must always remind ourselves that these people are not shiny versions of a human, they are nothing but people. Influencers are people. Celebrities are people. But it’s hard to imagine Beyoncé farting in a onesie, because it would shatter the dream; the pipe dream that she is a glorious angel goddess alien all of the time. I’m not asking you to imagine this, because we need her to stay that shimmery fantasy, and there’s a slimmer chance that you’ll not only not meet her, but see her fart in a onesie.
So instead I urge you to have a flick through those you idiolise, not celebrities, someone who directly influences you with their words, style, opinions, humour. Try to think of them being people. Imagine them doing an ugly cry, or having a fight with a spouse, or becoming a sweaty mess from a spin class, or not offering you tea. And don’t imagine them posting it of themselves on Instagram, imagine it fo-real.
Now, if you can, without going all cyber attack and tracking their every move, try to meet them. At an event they’re doing, or a talk, a pub they’re singing in, maybe even just pop them an email.
You’ll find that on the other end of your screen is just a person. A person who sits and eats and talks like you.
Sometimes, the shiny person on the other side is everything you thought they would be. Other times, they’re not, and it can be all too much if you weren’t prepared for it.
Social media is, like any major trend, cyclically moving and learning to appreciate honesty. The holistic wheels are in motion as we begin to accept these mirage accounts have people behind them. We’ve seen the hazard lights and taken a different direction into a healthier relationship with who we idiolise and why we idiolise them.
But we still have a way to go (#FakeNews). Don’t put yourself into the same situ that I did. Don’t bypass the label on their halo reading ‘DANGER’, and remember that they’re real, just like you.