virtual vixen 2.o
The expectation of a digital life imminent has shifted fully to the present tense. It is safe to say that human interaction on a global scale has become a very caustic experience— especially in this period of political unrest and civil disenchantment. Receiving news is no longer a pleasant experience. Factuality is a privilege. Diversion is a necessity (the more immediate, the better) and numbness is a new natural. It seems as if there is something missing between us; a discrete layer of empathy or understanding. Nevermind globalization having us speak the same languages and concern the same things— something is missing and it is unclear if we can ever have it back.
And now to ground this tangent back to life, technology has become the shared medium of utopia amongst us. Tools to better life by addressing inconveniences and solving them by some system or automation. Easiness guaranteed. The singularity is a hypothesis that details technology's advancement to a level so irreversible that humanity must face a permanent change. This moment is usually marked with the idea of artificial intelligence and virtual realities, yet both of these concepts aren't too farfetched. Ask Alexa if she's heard about Lil' Miquela. I'm sure the two have brunched recently.
Public relations and mass-marketing is dire in a digital age, especially where advertisements can gain an innumerable amount of impressions with each screen or device the average person obtains. Filter that through the promotion of lifestyle through particular brands, and there lies the function of the "influencer. " If it is the influencer's job to promote lifestyle the least one could hope is that they are living, correct? Nope. Not anymore. You do not need to be alive to promote a way of living. F**k. You do not even need to be real to promote life.
Lil' Miquela is a digital creation by Trevor McFedries (aka Young Skeeter) and Sara Decou. The two are founders of Brud (@brud.fyi), a "transmedia studio that creates digital character driven worlds" in effort to promote global tolerance through cultural understanding and the use technology. The team is composed of artists, engineers, and activists using their talents to promote a sort of common good or create their own. So far, they have created three personalities, @lilmiquela, @blawko22, and @bermudabaise. All three of them are particularly stylish and composed of generally attractive features commonplace of the Instagram market they exist within. Brud has also meticulously crafted histories to these characters to make them as detailed and relatable as possible. Miquela herself (herself?) has disclosed her Brazilian ethnicity in interviews and musical inspirations from her cultural upbringing. This information is presented alongside the fact that she was produced just recently in 2016.
What really drives the appeal of these digital influencers is the remarkable lifelike quality of imperfection given to them by way of their storylines. Background, ethnicity, and family are discussed in interviews which hint at a desire to make Miquela appear as a human, solely built on the fact that she says she is. This point is countered with an entire robot narrative that questions their creation and manufacture— topics she ponders openly on her Instagram accounts. Jealousies over relationships and rivalries are also detailed through cathartic Finsta-styled captions full of emotional detail.
Throughout these posts Miquela announces her sentience as a robot, and although she has not been physically seen in (flesh?) she is posed with numerous living figures from Baauer to Tracee Ellis Ross who post just as believable captions on their ends. This presents "validity" on an "I told you so," basis. Something can be made real simply if certain people tell you it is.
Upon further critique, there is actually nothing morally wrong with Miquela. Her core beliefs are humanitarian at best. Black Lives Matter, LGBT Life Center, and Downtown Women's Center are a few of the organizations and movements shown in support in her Instagram bio. She's socially conscious. She woke. She's a social justice worker who had her account hacked by another computer-generated pro-Trump Insta-troll. All of this, but she is still a robot. This means that this support or "ambassadorship" is virtually unreal.
Miquela has a developing resumé underneath her Yeezy's. Her fashion week coverage by way of taking-over Prada's Instagram was noteworthy. Her growing music career, with singles available on all platforms, was another "are you serious?" moment. Very recently, she was even named Dazed’s Beauty Arts Editor.
Probably the most notable, Miquela models the grid-worthy aesthetic of popular streetwear brands alongside luxury— the 2018 "high-low," as I'd like to call it. She wears big bottoms and small tops and is just racially ambiguous enough to stick her head in everybody's business. Combined, she represents a standard that she is indeed reinforcing within the industries she inhabits, modelling and marketing. Miquela is unattainable in both the believable and unbelievable way. On the flipside, she also represents the idea of "impossibility."
Given her portfolio in publications such as V-Files, Vogue, and Nylon, regardless of her reality, Miquela is still taking up space. Important spaces that could be occupied with actual people who truly represent what she can only embody. Actual models of color can be hired and paid to do all the work she has done, but instead valuable resources and opportunities are given away by the likes of CGI. Although her beauty is aimed to highlight the beauty of people with her features, she only promotes the already existing stigma against booking real models with these features for these campaigns.
A similar case occurred with the outrage created by Shudu Gram, a virtual model created by a British photographer, Cameron-James Wilson claiming that she is a "celebration to the current movement of dark-skinned models." Although the attempt is not malicious, it by all means emphasizes the notion that the real thing isn't enough. The idea of "unattainable beauty" is already a pervasive one within the modelling industry and it suddenly just gained some power. Why aren't actual dark-skinned models reaching this level of appeal? How are you a photographer and not in contact with the dark-skinned models you want to celebrate? Why create a digital avatar to represent a type of beauty that you can just easily cast? Too many questions can stem from these very poor responses to "representation matters," however, if you contemplate too long you'll realize it's just robots taking over our minds.
As of recently, Balmain announced their "army" of virtual models to star in their PF18' campaign, validating the trend amongst fashion’s elite. The oddness surrounding human replacement by hyperreal human creations honestly disturbs me. I would even call it unethical, without quotations. Most jarring in the discussion surrounding these influencers is that they legitimately aren't here, or there or anywhere - and cannot catch these hands. Like any image, the most they can do is be present when they are interacted with. Next time you're fooled by one of these digital baddies, look them right in the eye. Nothing will stare back, and the smallest bit of humanity will be restored.