The concept of social “identity” has been the center of many discussions over the last few years. Half of the world has an online extension of themselves via the internet. This is shifting the paradigm of how people behave and see themselves. It’s also changing how we relate to our favorite things like brands and characters. Engaging with fake people has been made real by things like twitter parody accounts several years ago. Lately, people have been seeing and interacting with fake characters made to feel real visually. One example is Instagram sensation Lil Mayo’s meteoric rise to fame. His account currently boasts 1.6 million fans who follow his every move as he lives it up in LA. Lil Mayo parties with Rihanna, Dillon Francis and Rich the Kid, but he isn’t the next big rapper. He’s actually a vintage alien doll manned by a guy named Alex Martyn.
Getting his start as an instagram account making memes of existing alien pictures, Martyn quickly ran out of subject matter. Then, as he told VICE, “one day I thought, If I just had my own alien, I could take my own photos and make more dank memes.” Then things really changed. People gobbled up the documentation of Mayo’s lifestyle and a robust community quickly sprung around him. His public presence has grown since those early days of 2015 until now; where Mayo commands a brand that has powered the mostly sold out launch of its own clothing line, SUCC.
While fans from all walks of life are descending upon Zumiez for merchandise or inviting him to lavish hollywood parties to show their adulation for Mayo’s more tangible presence, another influencer is building her empire behind the scenes. Lil Miquela is pushing the boundaries of identity at the intersection of tech, fashion and entertainment. The creator behind the wildly popular Instagram account is still a mystery woman. However, the CGI face and body she’s generated stays adorned by an increasingly wide spectrum of brands. The very interaction from the brands is a nod to the growing social clout of the world’s first computer generated influencer.
On the surface Miquela is a new breed. When investigated deeper, with more context Mayo and Miquela are just updated iterations of classic concepts such as the monster and the doll. This time however they interact with fans in DM’s and comments creating a loyal base of followers. There is sticker shock at just how real Miquela looks but beyond that she is no different than anyone. Even if the only filter we use on instagram is what we choose to show people, all of us are still curating our digital presence. In the end how are Miquela and Mayo any different? It’s just a person on the internet showing us what they want us to see.
There are inherent risks. Perhaps some little girl will see Miquela and think she is real. Perhaps that same girl will have some issues from attempting to match an unnatural standard of beauty. Or perhaps we’re overreacting. Are these “fake” people co-opting cool and selling it to brands? Maybe, but that’s no different than brands hiring celebrities. This is just the beginning of this concept of “virtual celebrities”, where we see influencers commanding large audiences when they aren’t even real. It’s definitely not the last time we’ll ask ourselves who we want to tell people we are on the internet.