A great charade was born about a decade ago when social media as we know it came to dictate popular culture, fashion, music taste and the overall trend pace. From social media arose the masters of the internet. The royalty of a new age. The influencers.
A certain wall blocked us from this royal class – a wall built by the "Perfect” filter on Snapchat, a fake nose job via the FaceTune app, a new eye color if you’d like, or even a new body. For a long time, this wall was undetectable – it was cement, eight feet high, impenetrable. Nonetheless, we would do anything it took to attain “the look” that we saw, to scale the high wall.
We bought the makeup. The dress. The bag. The sneakers. We bought in. And we didn’t even know it. We who consume, we who buy in, we are the influenced.
Eventually, regulations attempted to dismantle the involuntary class system that arose. Each influencer advertisement was required to be tagged as such: with a caption reading “#ad” — short for advertisement — or another disclaimer of some sort.
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I sat at the dinner table two weeks ago with two dear friends to discuss the issue at hand. I began to wonder – did the addition of the “#ad” signal the beginning of the end of the influencer age as we know it? Has the wall begun to crumble?
As soon as social media advertisements became tagged, we began to scroll away.
“If anything, a product promoted in an ‘#ad’ post is guaranteed to be bad. I scroll right past them. You just know it’s not gonna be good,” one friend said.
It seems like we’ve begun to catch on to the new world of advertising: the covert product placements, the brand-sponsored influencer trips to Coachella, the “Using One Brand for my Whole Makeup Routine” videos on YouTube, the “aesthetic” videos on TikTok. It has all become transparent. You can’t help but wonder: is it all a waste?
The more obvious the influencer ad, the more unattractive the product being advertised. Some people talked about missing the original YouTube days, where ads were undetectable. Though this was unethical, it somehow made the products more attractive, made us more prone to being influenced.
For better or for worse, the influencer age as we know it is ending. A new generation of big personalities who dictate popular style, trend pace and culture may emerge from the dust left behind, but the current #ad-driven internet has become easily detectable and increasingly irritating to many.
Gen Z is finally becoming sentient to the harm of influencer trend cycles. Though the influencer age may be drawing to a close, I contend that it won’t fully go away – it will just change form. There are many possibilities of what’s to come next. Could shopping malls come back? Will the Amazon storefront, the LinkTrees, the “aesthetic” serving TikTok accounts fade into the background?
I’d argue that gathering influence for your personal style is an art form, but Gen Z is done looking for inspiration in the things we know aren’t real anymore. The trend cycle will obviously never be obsolete – but it’s clearly reaching a fever pitch.
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Influencers don’t have any malintent, and not all social media is harmful. To make such a claim would be to ignore any beneficial elements of the platforms. Technology can allow us to curate, to discover art and music and movies and books. To communicate with distant relatives. To spread messages of hope and kindness. To laugh with friends. The good can still outweigh the bad – we're going back to the early days, where influencers did not hold the keys to the kingdom in their hands (or rather, in their iCloud drives).
Underneath it all, after this filtered wall has fallen, the desire for authenticity is what remains. Influenced though we are, we are breaking away, slowly.
Audrey Vonderahe (she/her) is a sophomore studying journalism and criminal justice. Follow her on Instagram! (just kidding...)