“She has always had a fairly complicated relationship with the truth, my wife.”
I’m one of those people who find most social media weird. Don’t get me wrong; the internet is a wonderful tool, but spending hours on social media …. I just don’t get it. Reality TV, which really should be called ‘Manufactured TV,’ is one thing if it’s limited to competitions of one sort or another, but let’s face it, the minute you stick someone in front of a camera or put them on public display, what they do and say is going to change. That’s human nature for you. And that brings me to the more complex manifestations of social media … that most bizarre time-sucking phenomenon. IMO it’s bizarre to put your life on public display and also IMO it’s inevitably going to warp your life, and the lives of the people you care about, if you Vlog your daily life.
Ellery Lloyd’s suspense novel, People Like Her, is the story of a highly successful product influencer, Instagram phenomenon, Emily Jackson (Instamum aka ‘Mamabare’) whose schtick is that motherhood is chaos, sleepless nights, messy hair, and a house that looks like it’s been burglarized. Of course this is just the sales pitch that has attracted over a million followers to her Instagram account. But the face that Emily presents to the world is very carefully sculptured, a product of very deliberate, studied marketing. The novel unfolds through three very distinct voices: Emily, Dan, Emily’s writer husband, and a stalker who has an ax to grind with Emily. Poor Dan really has no idea of what he’s dealing with when it comes to the Mrs.
It turns out that each country has its own quirks when it comes to Instagram parenting. I‘d been taking my cues from the American moms I admired, who all waft about in cashmere, keep their Carrara marble worktops pristine, dress their kids in plaid shirts and designer denim, and run everything through the Gingham filter to give their photos a subtle vintage effect. A little more googling uncovered that Australia’s lithe, free-spirted mamas all pose against surfboards in crochet bikinis, with their salt-scrunched hair and their tanned blond toddlers. Swedish Instamums wear flower crowns while they coo at babies lying around in grey felt bonnets on paste washed-linen sheets.
You see, with a bit of research, social media makes understanding what people all over the world connect with very simple indeed.
Emily prides herself on her ‘brand’ which she states she “built on honesty, and I’ll always tell it like it is.” Emily knows that for Instagram success, you cannot show maternal competence or organization: “you have to be unable to leave the house without at least a splotch of Bolognese or a splatter of baby puke on your shirt.” Now Emily happens to be extremely competent, an incredible planner and organizer and so the persona she creates for Instagram is a performance. Meanwhile Dan feels overwhelmed by Emily’s Instagram life which has managed, by its demands, to cannibalize his writing career. The fun here is the sheer nastiness of it all: the way Emily manipulates her followers, the way she orchestrates their home to be flooded with free goods whenever she publicly mentions needing a product, and the way it begins to dawn on Dan that he has no idea who his wife really is. Emily has many wonderful characteristics, but put her behind an Instagram account and the humans in her life become accessories to her image. There’s one brilliant section in which Dan goes to answer the doorbell early one morning only to discover that his wife has an interview (of course he knew nothing about it and was totally unprepared) and Emily, the puppetmaster deliberately trashed her house and kept her husband out-of-the-loop to add to the sense of domestic chaos. The book skewers social media, its supreme superficiality, and how people become so addicted to snaring followers and gathering ‘likes’ they sacrifice the very real flesh-and-blood human beings in their lives. While the book adds nothing new to the dangers of stalking and the hazards of putting one’s detailed personal life on social media, the nastiness makes for entertainment.