No matter how much people detest it, it is hard to deny the power and influence of social media. Just as America was once considered the land of opportunity, that same mantra has taken to its digital stage by way of social media. An easy five minutes of fame can transform into a lucrative, life-long franchise with the right amounts of commitment and marketing.
This is (almost) the exact mindset of 16-year old social media star Austyn Tester. The Tennessee native’s new album, Jawline, adopts a YouTube vlog style in a documentary about Tester’s journey in the live-broadcasting and social media worlds. The ability to build a “career” off social media has become interesting to study and observe, in theory. The triviality of Jawline’s premise, however, renders the track to social media stardom comical yet pitiful.
While Jawline recently aired on Hulu this past week, it first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018, where it won the Special Jury Award for Emerging Filmmaker.
In an NPR interview, the director, Liza Mandelup talked about her inspiration for the film.
“I kind of started thinking about my own teenage years,” Mandelup said. “And my next train of thought was how different it must be to be a teenager today when so much of your life is lived through a screen, and everything you do is documented on social media.”
The plot of Jawline is admirable—descriptions read that the film is a documentary, but the first five minutes feel more like a fully scripted motion picture. There aren’t many confessionals or one-on-one interviews. Instead, a camera crew follows Tester around and documents his content-creating process like a vlog. The documentary also captures the process of “more developed” social media influencers in Los Angeles. The two narratives prompt an interesting comparison, despite the connection between the two stories not becoming clear until the latter half of the documentary.
Social media stars or content creators should be applauded for finding creative ways to capitalize on something so simple. You have to respect the hustle. In the same token, this documentary did not exactly glorify the industry, and it wasn’t clear if the intention was a shout out to these teenagers for their ambitious spirits or a critique from older millennials who despise social media and are convinced that it is “ruining society.”
All the influencers depicted in the film are teenage white boys with tens of thousands of teenage female followers. Their power is clear, and luckily the influencers depicted in the film claim to share nothing short of positivity and empowerment on their platforms. These influencers are like the leaders of an online haven to encourage their fans to follow their dreams in a mean world. Their mindsets seem overly innocent and, with some distance from your teenage years, it would be hard to grasp why young girls are so obsessed with them. While the documentary champions positivity, it runs the risk of portraying social media too optimistically, especially considering the cinematic effects that follow this theme.
With xylophonic music and blue-green tints in lighting, the documentary can feel as if it is set in the future at times. The subjects’ descriptions of their industry also contribute to a feeling that the world of social media exists in an alternate reality.
“It took me years to get those connections, and to be able to, like, literally go visit Instagram office every day if I want to,” said Michael Weist, an LA-based manager for teenage influencers. “No new kid is going to be able to walk into the doors of Instagram, one of the most prestigious and secretive platforms … It doesn’t work like that.”
Overall, Jawline felt like a huge reminder that anyone with a conventionally well-put-together face and can spew pseudo-deep positive messages has the ability to gain stardom online. It’s an eerie and superficial message, but that doesn’t undermine the truth behind it.
Featured Image by Hulu