“Be a leader not a follower.”
That was my mother’s directive when I was growing up in the Bronx. I took her advice for decades, until the conception of social media.
I started to follow people I know, people I used to know, ones I don’t really know and celebrities I’ll never know.
Hence, I read with interest Megan Angelo’s debut novel "Followers" — a wake-up call that we are all complicit in helping perpetuate the modern goal: becoming famous. When Floss, one of the story’s three “celebrated” protagonists, says, “I’ll do anything,” she’s speaking for all of her ilk. They will put their names on books they did not author, endorse products they do not use, support causes they don’t really believe in to look altruistic, and forge relationships with those more famous just to up their own ante.
And we buy it all, literally and figuratively.
Followers traces the present-day path of ambitious friends Floss and Orla as well as takes us 35 years into the future to meet Floss’s daughter Marlow. At the end of the last decade, the first two young women are New York transplants seeking their fortunes. Orla, a budding novelist, works as a blogger for an entertainment website; Floss works at scheming and scamming to get noticed by anyone for any reason.
After finding each other on Craigslist, they begin sharing an apartment as well as ideas about how to make their respective dreams come true. The plan? Orla will use PR contacts — as well as other tricks of the publicity trade — to get Floss the notoriety she craves. In turn, Floss will always make Orla her plus-one, and introduce her to new industry contacts as the next big literary thing — because if you say something enough times it will eventually be so. Their calculated moves indeed get them press, which leads to fame, which leads to money in abundance.
The partners in celebrity crime (actually grime) are very proud that they found “a way to be someone who had done something without having to actually do it.” Eventually though, success takes a turn. Friends get thrown under the bus and innocent bystanders become collateral damage. What’s the difference though, as long as one can count followers in the millions?
The chapters dedicated to Marlow show us what will become of us if we keep worshipping at the altar of YouTube. She resides in a gated California village where government-appointed celebrities live every moment of the day on-camera. Marlow’s dream is to one day live life off-camera. Playing to her 12 million loyal followers has become a grind and fame has lost its luster. Her new goal is to pursue the truth about her family history, which she has been lied to about since birth, because the concocted storyline made for better TV.
In my own life, I am trying to put a stop to reality show-sponsored products coming into my home. The last time a box of Kylie Jenner’s make-up was delivered, I went to the computer and found a video that offers a virtual tour of the Forbes cover girl’s cosmetic empire, her massive HQ with the Ben Hur cast of thousands who do her bidding, her daughter’s nursery adjacent to her C-suite, and all the bells and whistles that a 22-year-old billionaire could dream of.
I then made my 22-year-old daughter Meg watch it as I schooled her that every time she buys one of this manufactured celebrity’s lip glosses, she is giving up her hard earned money so that Kylie Jenner can buy yet another Birkin bag. I also tried to impress upon her that rather than being obsessed over the lives of these famous for fame’s sake “stars,” she could focus on making her own life the best it can be.
As Orla’s mother Gayle put it so eloquently when comparing herself to the Internet-famous: “I’m more interesting at home in my kitchen.”
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels "Fat Chick" and "Back to Work She Goes."