So here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve never been a fan of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, but I’ve become mildly obsessed with a scripted satirical series derived from similar reality shows called UnREAL. The series ended its run recently, which made it a perfect candidate for binge watching. UnREAL isn’t easy to digest, and it features some pretty despicable characters. But it forces us to confront something we’ve all been complicit in: allowing truth and fiction to meld together to create an entertaining narrative.
In this world of scripted “live” shows and creatively edited “reality” shows, do we know anymore what’s real and fake? And more importantly, do we care? It’s a little less sinister in the world of entertainment, I suppose, but it certainly feels like this fluidity between fact and fiction is extending well beyond the realm of television.
When does sharing turn into…performing?
We all know by now that Instagram is a highlight reel, showcasing only the best parts of our lives. We’re constantly cautioned not to compare ourselves to the stunning images of bikini-clad models in exotic locations. But even just within the Instagram universe, the spectrum of lies is pretty far-reaching. There are travel bloggers who have been caught photoshopping themselves into stunning landscapes and photographers who have been caught doctoring someone else’s photos and claiming them as their own. And what about those accounts featuring completely digital models? Yes, the models are 100% NOT REAL. Becoming Instafamous is a very lucrative proposition, so we can understand why people produce the content. But what’s the motive for the followers? Do we live in a post-truth age where reality no longer matters? Or are we knowingly escaping into fiction like we do when we read a book?
I always enjoy perusing Man Repeller, which started out as a fashion blog but has since evolved far beyond that. Man Repeller consistently produces thoughtful editorials, usually with a strong female point of view. But it also has a robust comments section, where very interesting discourse often takes place. A few months ago, founder Leandra Medine wrote a personal essay examining sharing in light of personal changes, which unleashed a torrential discussion about social media. One reader referenced a Bo Burnham quote, which referred to social media as a prison, where we “perform everything to each other, all the time for no reason….It’s performer and audience melded together.” Does that affect how we’re wired? Are we constantly crafting a story for our perceived audience?
What if your authentic self is…boring?
Bloggers have expressed frustration that audiences claim they want authenticity, then reward the same overproduced content time and time again. It turns out what’s real and what really sells aren’t always the same thing. As bloggers, we create content for our social media channels as well as our blog. Balancing all of it isn’t easy, but the different channels serve as different outlets for us. We can be a little more playful with our weekend roundups on Instagram Stories, and engage in fun chats on Twitter.
I’ll admit that we’ve altered travel itineraries to make room for something we wanted to write about for the blog. And we try to show up when crowds might be thinner so our shots are clearer. But we’ll never be those people swimming with sharks for an Instagram shot. We won’t wait for hours in the bitter cold for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. And we won’t consume an over-the-top dessert which looks much better than it tastes. Our content is pretty true to who we are: we’re mostly curious, a little geeky and always hungry. We know we’re not the first bloggers to write about, say, street art in Washington DC, but we still had fun hunting for it and sharing our finds.
Since the idea behind these Mad Chatter posts is to start a conversation, I’d really love to know: as a consumer of content, how much does truth matter to you? How do you choose what to read/watch/follow? And if you’re also a producer of content, how do you balance being true to yourselves and delivering the “wow”?