Simulacrum of the Simulacra: hybrid of Barbie, avatar & cyborg
In 2016 the Instagram-space was hit by Lil Miquela (usually called Miquela), who is a Brazilian American computer-generated model and music artist [“Not Mine” has attracted 397 635 views on youtube.com] from Downey, California. She has over one million followers on Instagram and some of them are famous bloggers and celebrities; most of her admires have started following Miquela, while wondering whether she is real or not. Her appearance is rather unique, she takes selfies and help collecting money for charity by placing links in bio. She could be a new Barbie – a new unique beauty ideal some girls want to play with and to look like her when grown up. She could be K’s hologram girlfriend from Blade Runner 2049. She is the one, whose nature you do not understand but recognise some features terribly well. She is a simulacrum of the simulacra – a copy of something unreal; a hybrid of a few copies such as Barbie, avatar & cyborg. Hence, she could be considered as an advanced structure of different levels of the identity engineering.
“Digital influencer, who will never demand a front-row seat.”
Insinuating Miquela’s artificial personality, The Guardian’s journalist Hannah Marriott described her as “Digital influencer, who will never demand a front-row seat.” Nevertheless, can we be completely sure about her never be seeing occupying a front-row seat at a fashion show? When looking at the different themes of the latest collections, I think we are moving towards that direction. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele has recently labelled his latest collection with “hybridization” and “ultranatural”. Meanwhile, Dolce & Gabbana made a sensation by having a fleet of drones carrying their handbags during the last runway show.
At Miquela’s Instagram account she is for instance photographed surrounded by people who seem to be real or standing by a wall with a blue Ikea-bag on the shoulder and the text under the photo “I’m buying furniture for my first apartment in LA”. She has an email address and also answers her emails but has not been available for any interview. However, the text in one of the posts in March refers to an article in the legendary “Interview Magazine”, where she has at least been quoted. She attends fashion weeks, takes pictures in real places and travels. In other words, she is everything what a real girl in her age of 19-20 would be, besides being real, isn’t she? Nevertheless, there is a moment of self-revelation presented through the sharing of her life on Instagram and also a moment of loss of control, when you sometimes see her peculiar body parts being slightly bared.
Parasocial interaction (PSI)
All these behavioural elements cause what we call Parasocial interaction (PSI), making Miquela’s follower experience personal contact with her by looking at her content. The interaction takes place within virtual reality of Instagram and constructed by Miquela’s digital identity and the realm of real life, what, based on her published photos, seems to be her existential environment. By exposing herself to the public, she makes us forget that she is not real but a certain co-creation of an identity. However, that identity seeks affirmation exactly in the same way as any real human one. Her human-like behaviour creates a “real” extension of her “unreal”-self. People comment on her posts, she comments on her posts, followers copy her make up. Could we say she is totally fake? Would we dare call her “real”? We do not know, because we have lost our critical filter almost immediately, while entering her Instagram-page. The conjunction between the information we see and clear marketing strategy behind it loses the causality in our minds. We do not see a marketing project but a person, however with twisted identity.
“She is fake! She has no visible pores!”
Reading different discussion about Miquela often saying “She is fake! She has no visible pores!” made me realize an incorporation of the followers’ fantasy into the technologizing medium turning the dematerialized identity of hers into one having qualities of a real. In other words, if she is a digital creature, thus the identity of hers is originally dematerialized as the person does not exist per se. However, by acting as a real within an artificial reality of Instagram and implementing elements of real life through the communication in her photos, Miquela adds certain qualities to her identity which make her almost become real in our minds. While looking for prove she is not real, her followers actually already perceived her as a real one in their minds. Therefore they look for human “defects” such as visible pores and even an empiric ascertaining of lack of such, does not change their mind. Hence, the fantasy goes before the intellectual mind, whereof emotions, completed by the elements of the Instagram manipulating attributes are taking over.
Authenticity by means of reembodiment
Furthermore, we are also dealing with authenticity which is obtained by means of reembodiment, where the fake character of Miquela becomes real by being brought into the real world. It is like a twisted concept of computer games, when we obtain a real feeling of ‘being the character,’ often through embodied empathy with an entity that is partly (an extension of) ourselves, and partly a separate entity that can be identified as a character in the game. In Miquela-case, we deal with the frame of reality and a constructed person, who starts feeling as a part of that reality, convincing the followers that she is real. Thereby, she becomes legitimatized by the reality through an act of reembodiment becoming a “real” person who gets her virtual identity to be extended to a real one – converted in to a real one.
The breakout of the invisible
What usually catches out attention on social media is so called “breakout of the visual”, when we see what we think is extremely personal. Thus, Miquela brings out the invisible replication of the self, originally locked in her digitalized identity, in the way real people do on social media and this is how she also penetrates our mind as a human one.