On Monday, Vice writer Justin Caffier posted a Tweet from a Los Angeles mural that was exclusively for “influencers and verifieds.” The Tweet captured the absurdity of influencer culture and social media fame. It rapidly went viral.
As part of a publicity stunt for the web series Like and Subscribe, the mural will be up until June 27th in a parking lot off of Melrose Avenue — a mecca of expensive boutiques and Hypebeast sneaker-shops. Guarded by a security man and masked by a white tent, the space strikingly stands in contrast to the colorful, selfie-friendly murals a few feet away. It’s ugly and ridiculous. That’s exactly the point.
When I visited on Monday afternoon, I expected there to be a line around the block. Instead, it was just a security guard idly gazing at an empty lot. As I approached the tent, he got up from his lawn chair and went to the alleyway to make a call. I instantly tried to sneak in. The moment I stepped inside, I heard a loud honk. A man screamed from a minivan. “ARE YOU VERIFIED? ARE YOU VERIFIED?”
What followed was a sunny afternoon in the depths of influencer hell.
The guard, named Qasim, and David Matthews, a music promoter that sat in a minivan to help him, were unaware of the overall purpose of the stunt or who even was contracting their security company. They simply got a phone call over the weekend from someone named Jack. Their instructions were barebones: stand in front of the tent and ask people if they were verified or if they had 20,000 followers. They check whatever social media platform people claim to be famous on and corroborate photos to make sure they aren’t pretending to be somebody else.
By four o’clock, they had turned away seventeen people and accepted four influencers. Though Mathews has an Instagram and said it was a “great marketing tool,” Qasim has no form of social media whatsoever. After learning that he was in a viral Tweet, he shouted. “I am lit!” An hour later, he called his wife to notify her about his newfound fame.
Around 4:30 pm, more people started trickling in — curious pedestrians who were taking photos at the more democratic murals nearby and influencers eagerly looking to flex. A “photo-taking” group organized by Airbnb stopped by for what they said was their second time.
Cameron Frazier, a member of the Airbnb troop who was visiting from Nashville, was turned away after Qasim checked his Instagram. He was apathetic about the rejection, noting that “it’s kind of disheartening but it’s their rules.” Qasim kindly agreed to take a photo of him at a mural across the parking lot.
Out of all the non-influencing civilians, Cameron took it the best. The others were a bit angrier.
Marin Cummings, 18, said. “Art should be more public and shouldn’t be privatized for people who can afford it, in the sense of social or economic capital.”
Tammy, the owner of the adjacent fitness studio Flux Rebellion, came to take a photo of the sign for her boyfriend. At first, she claimed that she “could give a fuck about getting in” but then quickly raced back to wax poetic about the societal implications of the stunt, declaring, “In a world where we are trying to promote openness and inclusivity, this is a stunt to promote exclusivity. From a marketing standpoint, I don’t see how it’s working. And I can see it’s not working because there’s nobody here!”
On the other hand, the influencers that visited were more than happy to take part in the anti-egalitarian affair. Over the course of a couple of hours, a series of verified including the rapper Xavier Wulf, YouTube personality GinaMayG, Instagram comedian Maurise Aouad, and tech vlogger Brian Tong strolled in to take their photo.
Jake Thomas, an actor known for his roles on the Disney Channel shows Lizzie McGuire and Cory in the House, arrived with a friend and then stayed around to pose with a couple of fans. Most of the influencers were slyly aware about the absurdity of it all. The bubbly and charismatic GinaMayG joked about how she was able to get her friend in who “ain’t poppin’ yet.”
As Tammy noted, the mural seemed to be a marketing flop. Despite gaining some traction on social media, only a few dozen people really bothered to make the trip to see what was actually going on. Considering its located in an area that’s infamous for overhyped stores and packed, spontaneous events, this is surely disappointing.
However, the mural does succeed in satirizing social media notoriety by giving it an unglamorous physicality. There’s something anticlimactic about a generic wall-painting of angel wings that’s only distinguishable because of a blue checkmark.
Out of everyone who visited the mural, it was a squad of aspiring adolescent singers and their self-described momagers that personified the influencer phenomenon the most.
IamJordi, a fifteen-year-old singer, songwriter, and dancer, was visiting from South Carolina for VidCon. Though her and her friend, singer and actor Gabriel Storm, aren’t big on Instagram, they were granted entry because of their massive followings on the streaming platforms LiveMe and StarMaker. They were ecstatic — posing for photos and divulging details about their social media ascent. The momagers enthusiastically explained why LiveMe and StarMaker were the ideal platforms for making their children famous. When I asked iamJordi what she would hypothetically tell a friend who got denied access to the mural, she shrugged and then stuttered. Moments later, her momager chimed in: “STREAM A LOT!”