Love, virtually: The rise of the avatar celebrity
Instagram’s virtual superstar actually has 561,000 followers and counting
We have a tendency to regard virtual realities as an exclusively modern phenomenon. Perhaps because the public face of virtual reality is increasingly technological we overlook the inherent virtuality of commonplace media like movies and novels – any representation is an exercise in virtuality, from cave paintings to ideograms. But it is harder to discern between that which is virtual, and that which is actual, than it was 50 years ago, and something about the convergence of these categories feels uniquely monumental, and terrifying, too.
The “influencer” is to 2018 what the socialite was to 2008: a multi-talented (or partially talented, or lucky) public persona with a career premised on notoriety, and the promotional prowess that comes with it. YouTube and Instagram have been instrumental in cultivating this new species of celebrity, with the tremendous success of the Kardashian dynasty solidifying fame as a legitimate manner of entrepreneurship.Miquela Sousa has over 550,000 followers on Instagram. She is strikingly pretty with blunt, short bangs, a constellation of freckles and a full, regular pout. She routinely poses in Prada and Supreme; she shares memes, and her support for social issues such as Black Lives Matter. In short, Miquela Sousa is the archetypal modern influencer – barring the fact that she doesn’t really exist. Well, no. She does exist – she’s not a figment of my imagination. But she doesn’t exist in the realm of actuality; the entirety of her being is contained by her Instagram account.She’s the computer-generated semblance of a young, pretty girl, but something about the slightly irregular patina of her skin, and the peculiar symmetry of her features, alerts one to the fact that, whatever her composition, it’s certainly not flesh and blood.
No one has taken responsibility for the creation of this account, either, which compounds the sense of discomfort one feels in relation to the uncanny simulation. Is Miquela Sousa the sum of an avant-garde art project, a subversive comment on the pervasive artificiality of our self-representation on social media platforms? Perhaps. But since “Miquela” has released a single on Sound Cloud, and hinted at upcoming collaborations with major retailers and modelling agencies, it seems more likely that whoever made her is hoping to generate an income.It's interesting that whoever did this has insisted on maintaining their anonymity. I suppose they have realised that, if they came forward, they would irrevocably corrupt the illusion and detract from this account’s magical liminality. Right now the virtual woman known as Miquela Sousa is somewhere between the virtual and the actual – and if we knew that a balding man from Silicon Valley had dreamt her up in his mom’s garage, her influence would, no doubt, deteriorate.