Fame, Fortune, and Fragile Egos

By Angel Perez

Since influencer culture first gained traction on social media, critics have taken issue with the unpleasant byproducts of its unrealistic standards, shameless attention grabs, and questionable messaging regarding our consumerist society. As the ability to disseminate information using social media has become increasingly valued, media consumption has fueled a separation between public figures, who are perceived as gods, and their fans, who become loyal disciples willing to defend their actions regardless of the offense. 

The numerical affirmation provided by engagement statistics often promotes unchecked narcissism among the rich and famous, and the space between an average individual and their cultural idol is often inconceivable. With enough followers to populate an entire continent, the Kardashian-Jenner families and their associated acts make it very clear that their god-complexes can survive any number of controversies. The marketing structure of their family’s corporate empire is aimed at permeating every form of mass media, and dedicated fans hooked by constant public exposure create an environment in which their cultural relevance is unwavering. Operating on a platform of unattainable wealth and strict conformity to current beauty standards, the Kar-Jenners profit off of the consumerist desire to close the gap between the lowly man and his billionaire-celebrity superior. By pitching products under their cohesive branding, quality production becomes secondary to the element of luxury and a sense of participation in a lifestyle that is meant to be watched but kept far out of reach.

Kanye West, Kim Kardashian’s recent ex-husband, and Travis Scott​​, Kylie Jenner’s partner, are also members of this elite sect of the rich and famous. Both of these men have mass fanbases irrespective of their partners, and, when some voices began to speak out against their irrefutably damaging behaviors both on- and offline, the effects of this toxic media culture became evident. While research suggests that narcissistic personality types are more consistent among frequent social media users, this effect is greatly exacerbated when prominent individuals start to receive criticism. This contrast between their usual god-like treatment and sudden accountability for basic standards of human decency is the problematic disconnect, and defensive responses that trigger divisiveness among consumers often follow public outcries.

In the midst of a mental health crisis, Kanye’s incendiary language on social media regarding his current divorce received a wide range of responses from his fellow celebrities, media outlets, and the general public. When comedian Trevor Noah referred to a series of Kanye’s posts as harassment of Kardashian, Kanye’s public retaliation featured racial slurs that resulted in a ban of his account. The suspension of a prominent media figure’s “face,” his only source of support in propagating his narrative, elicited some complaints regarding freedom of speech and the treatment of those suffering from mental illness, while others praised Instagram’s decision for combating social media’s culture of hate and Kanye’s aggressive and highly public stances against his public critics.

However, Travis Scott’s Astroworld tour fiasco caused a fallout far worse than Kanye’s online attacks. When videos revealed Scott smiling and continuing to perform as fans sustained significant injuries and death, the divide formed between those who felt Scott should be held accountable and those who placed the fault on his “team” or on other factors beyond his control. Following the tragedy, Scott took to social media to offer “prayers” and “support,” but the short video clip he shared was only a thinly veiled attempt to claim ignorance and win back the public’s support.

Frankly, calling this an apology video is a stretch. Clips from the show detail concertgoers screaming about the chaos and destruction in the audience from the stage, which only elicits a smile. Whether Scott was actually aware of his surroundings, although it seems unlikely that he was not, the messaging regarding this incident reeked of carelessness and disregard. When social media has amplified someone’s voice, as is the case with Scott, refusing to acknowledge fault echos across every mass media platform as if to say, “I can do no wrong.”

The same pattern of media-fueled god complexes held by public figures is revealed in this scenario. Scott has been built-up as larger than life, an entity that looks over his subjects but never enters their sphere – even if it means preventing tragedy. As a result, when the public calls his behavior into question, accountability is practically evaded altogether. Viewing themselves as entirely separate from their fans, celebrities risk dehumanizing them by regarding their support only as a numerical value, as one fish in a sea of hundreds of millions of loyal followers. 

 By replacing the words “follower” and “influencer” with “worshipper” and “god” respectively, the dangerous framework of social media in generating narcissism among the wealthy and famous becomes apparent. Uplifting these individuals by placing them on a pedestal and seeking to justify even the most concerning actions causes mass media to promote this sense of immunity from basic morality. Media consumption is fueling this growing divide between the ruling class of social media celebrities, and we, the lowly peasants of the real world, are destined to do their bidding and maintain their status while they become increasingly disconnected from those providing a platform.

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