Although perhaps they had some right to be worried. Because this whole status spectacle was taking place in a country where you can’t drink the water. A country that has serious issues with poverty, corruption, femicide, sewage spills, the occasional subway collapse. Occasionally you’d be reminded of this when a unit of stocky teenagers in paramilitary police gear made their twice-daily patrol down the beach, replete with assault rifles, balaclavas and all-terrain pickup buggies.
Still, the influencers didn’t seem to lose any sleep over it. Indeed, I began to wonder what did keep them awake at night, beyond the few scattered allusions to there being “too much hatred in the world” or “going through challenging times” on their socials. Perhaps there were fully rounded people beyond all the status symbols and artifice – but from my position, they all just seemed like children. They were frustrating children at that: stroppy, demanding, prone to major disappointment and mood swings. From time to time I caught them having little tiffs about out-of-focus pictures, or quietly seeingthing at each other when they ended up at the wrong lunch spot. Often, they were entirely silent, seemingly more comfortable with whoever was on the other end of their posts, rather than their immaculate life partners.
Quite who was paying for all this remains a point of mystery. Seemingly without a swimwear startup or juice brand to pick up the bill, I imagined them to be the children of German washing machine exporters or Argentinian corned beef tycoons, the occasional war criminal or asset stripper in the mix. They certainly weren’t super rich – they wouldn’t be here if they were – more likely they were the scions of the manufacturer class. The bored, vain spawn of 20th century success.
Perhaps what struck me most, is that “influencer” isn’t really a job description anymore, nor is it some distant grotesque, confined to Dubai skyscraper bars and pastel-coloured Notting Hill mews houses. You could say it was a subculture, a tribe – but it’s also just the standard behavioral model for many international travelers now. Those old cliches about sunburn, karaoke, shagging Spanish waiters? They’ve perhaps been replaced by this strange, cosseted, hyper-affected way of tackling the world.
It’s very easy to feel depressed by it all, by the shallow, infantile, international safety blanket it seems to create; entire continents and cultures smoothed into one big super sweet sixteen party. But when I look at my own friends’ travel posts, which are loaded with images of smoky techno dives, toilet mirror selfies, weird shop fronts, “difficult” local cuisine, I wonder how different we actually are.
Because, really, we’re all products of an age of perpetual documentation, where the LCD screen has become both mirror and window. It’s just that some of us are a little more aloof than others.