Kylie Jenner

Above: Kylie Jenner on Instagram.

The Envy Machine

Given the pervasive use of The Gram these days for sharing photos, the following question may be posed: into what type of context or atmosphere does an image-led micro-blog post arrive or emerge?

One answer is: the photo enters a context in which the dominant theme (that trumps all others really) is that of impressiveness, or, defined another way, a scene in which the propagation of mild--or even intense--enviousness (SOED: a feeling of resentful or discontented longing aroused by another person's better fortune, situation) is rife.

There are very few who post to The Gram with a view to their subscribers being underwhelmed and unimpressed by the content of their newest effort (unless this be ironically for humour). Many users set out to impress and sow-the-seeds of enviousness in others when they are preparing a post. Posting a photo-and-caption to Instagram is very often a form subtle or not-so-subtle boasting (ODE: excessive pride and self-satisfaction about one's achievements, possessions, or abilities).

Sharing a photograph--something that is achieved instantly-globally--may be motivated by an urge to show off, but the game is to do this as subtly as possible, so as not to appear to be too obviously strutting, swaggering, parading, and swanking. The end-user is their own best PR-manager and the brief to the PR-manager remains consistent across tens-of-millions of users: encourage others to look upon me as a chic, sophisticated, fun, well-adjusted, wealthy, and, above all, popular person.

And to do this subtle aggrandizing of one's own own-name-brand, the classic mechanisms and strategies of advertising are used: glamorize, idealize, sanitize. The terminal use of photography, as Jean Baudrillard predicted in the 1990s, is "the production of a disingenuous advertising campaign that the whole world lays on for itself."

(1 September 2018)