Everything wrong with social media, performative “wokeness”, and self-indulgent influencers

Featuring a tatted and bleached-buzz cut Dylan O’Brien smoking winged weed joints and cringe-filled, like, social media slang is Hulu’s recently released film “Not Okay” - a satire that reflects the current state of millennials and the i-Generation in the digital age, particularly poking fun at influencer culture. The story follows wannabe social media influencer and desperate attention-seeker, Danni Sanders (played by Zoey Deutch), and her journey of how she shamelessly clawed her way to fame. 

What I find hysterical is how the characters are based in the inevitably gentrifying neighborhood of Bushwick and its depiction of the people is hilariously accurate: iced coffees, leg tats, tote bags, fake Brooklyn accents, long acrylic nails, and thinking you’re the main character of a New York City rom-com. Bushwick has become a parody of itself, with companies such as ‘Hipster Bullshit’ that profits off the very millennial stereotypes of the neighborhood’s gentrified residents and Saturday Night Live writing a relatable skit that sheds light on how gentrification is changing New Yorkers.

Dylan O’Brien plays Colin, a weed influencer and cocky white dude from Maine covered in tattoo sleeves and wrapped in gold chains hanging loosely around his neck. He constantly takes selfie videos of him smoking a joint or vaping huge clouds of smoke or having girls lick his face for his verified Instagram handle and TikTok. I don’t know what Danii sees in him, but Colin is her big-time work crush at Depravity, a millennial magazine similar to The Cut and Buzzfeed, and she does everything to impress him... 

Danni, with her desire for Colin’s attention, faked a writing retreat trip to Paris and used her photoshop skills to post photos of herself sauntering around the l’Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower whilst she sat in her messy room eating bags of chips. Until a terrorist attack hit Paris in front of the Arc and she was suddenly flooded with messages and DMs from her followers, thinking she was somewhat affected. She saw this newfound attention as an opportunity to project herself to notoriety and continued to scam those around her with her fake trauma. 

Danni’s continued clownery as a “traumatized victim of terrorism” is a blunt reflection of the toxicity of social media and influencer culture: almost everyone on the Internet always has an agenda, which is to gain more followers and likes. You can see this from the way she befriended Rowan Aldren (Mia Isaacs), an anti-gun violence activist and school shooting survivor, and asked her to repost her story she published in Depravity and became involved in her advocacy efforts to end gun violence in America to make herself look more “woke”. 

The emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement also brought up an influx of performative activism, such as the #BlackOutTuesday which drew criticism for its lack of effectiveness and virtue signaling. The “social media activism” that people participated in ended up pushing away important information for organizers and activists who are actually trying to make a difference and some even accused white people for participating to not seem “racist” and taking the focus off what the movement really started for, which was to advocate and support black artists in the music industry. 

Similar to these performative allyship, Danni profits off of her “trauma” and, unremorsefully, the genuine activism of Rowan’s anti-gun violence advocacy efforts. Her desperation to be relevant is painful to watch, especially since she doesn’t realize how privileged she is as a white woman from a wealthy and well-connected family. Like Kendall Jenner, who received backlash for her involvement with a tone-deaf Pepsi ad and for claiming on Keeping up with the Kardashian that she “struggled” to find modeling jobs despite becoming one of the highest paid models in the industry. Oh, how it must be so hard for Kendall to travel all over New York and Europe to find a job. Sounds truly like a struggle.

Self-indulgent influencers and wannabes who think they’re the main character have turned into a culture that’s a byproduct of the toxicity of social media. Daily life has turned into a reality show where daily routines and recordings of events are published and shared online, everyone is conscious of their image and how they’re portrayed, and seeking attention has become a currency as content creation and influencing has turned into an economy. As a regular Instagrammer and writer myself, writing newsletters and making fun reels I’m also guilty of this self-indulgence - but what Gen-Z or millennial with a phone isn’t? 

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