Influenced by Influencers, a guest post by Jessica Patrick
I have a five-year-old son, and, without even knowing how it happened, the two of us found ourselves down the wormhole of child toy influencers on YouTube. These kids get filmed by their parents opening and playing with toys – new toys every episode, always opening, opening, opening. Always holding the box up to the camera, brand logo clearly displayed. Although my son enjoyed these videos, something about them always made me wildly uncomfortable – something about the parents exploiting these children, making money off their youthful love of play. Then one day I googled a particular channel that kept popping up on my son’s little kid algorithm and saw this toy-opening child, and his parents, made $29 million in 2020.
These videos are now banned in our house. I just can’t.
But even with these toy videos outlawed, I can’t get away from this influencer culture entirely. It’s everywhere! In addition to being an author, I’m also a high school librarian, and everywhere I look, I see how much and how thoroughly my own students are, well, influenced by these influencers.
I knew things were serious when I started to hear answers like Soundcloud rapper, YouTuber, and sponsored Instagrammer to the old “what do you want to be when you grow up” question. And, honestly, who can blame these high school kids for having dreams like this? When there are eight-year-olds making millions on millions of dollars per year for playing with toys on camera vs adults sitting at a desk for eight hours a day making barely above minimum wage…which life looks more aspirational? I’d want in on that action, too.
I found myself coming back to the idea of social media influencers a lot, so, even though the standard suggestion is to avoid too much pop culture in your writing to keep your books timeless, I decided to explore a little bit of influencer culture in my latest YA novel This Is For Tonight.
This Is For Tonight takes place over a weekend at a music festival, and it features rival YouTubers, Andi and Jay, competing in a corporate-sponsored contest for social media influencers to win an interview with the festival’s headlining band.
Andi has a YouTube channel all about crafting because it’s her passion and she loves sharing it. Her channel is a small one, with a handful of followers, but they are a true community. Andi is proud of the content she creates, even though it isn’t getting her a wide audience or making her money.
She has an opportunity to make more money off of her channel, but it involves completely abandoning what she loves and changing herself.
Does she want to do that? Is the money worth it? Why is she doing any of this in the first place?
Jay is a very popular YouTuber who runs a prank channel. In his videos he tricks people and laughs at them for clicks and ad revenue – and business is very good. His most popular video is one where he makes his own grandmother think he’s been hit by a car, and he has also been filmed smashing someone’s phone, stealing someone’s dog, and pushing someone into a small lake.
As we get to know Jay, however, we learn that his online personality is mostly an act, that it’s just a role he plays for the camera because he knows people love it and it will make him money.
How responsible is he for the content he puts out in the world…especially if he profits from it? Is there a difference between curating a personality for the internet and an actor playing a role on TV or in a movie?
I thought these were such interesting questions – ones that I kept coming back to as I watched the fifteenth YouTube video of a kid getting excited over a corporately sponsored new toy (and then hearing my own kid ask me to buy him this toy) or scrolling through my own Instagram feed to find picture after heavily-filtered picture of a Z-list celeb trying to sell Tummy Tea (and then having that flash of feeling bad about my own body, despite knowing that what I’m looking at isn’t even real). And I especially mulled over it all as I had one of my own Instagram posts (about state testing, of all things) unexpectedly go viral.
I don’t know the answers. And I don’t know that our influencer-obsessed culture will be able to agree on answers, anyway. But I certainly enjoy being part of the conversation…as long as I don’t have to watch another toy video ever again.
Meet the author
Jessica Patrick runs a high school library by day, writes YA romance by night, and pets as many dogs as possible in between. She lives in Southern California with her cute family and she has an MFA from Spalding University, an annual passport to Disneyland, and about 75 tabs open on her internet browser. She is the author of This Is For Tonight.
She has also writes as Jessica Love and is the author of In Real Life and Push Girl.
About This Is For Tonight
When Andi attends a music festival with one goal in mind – capture an interview with a famous band so she can pay for college – she gets more than she bargained for in this YA novel about family ties and finding your own way.
Andi Kennedy needs to make money for college, and fast. But her little YouTube crafting channel, while fun, isn’t exactly a money maker. So she’s heading to the world-famous Cabazon Valley Music and Arts Festival with a goal – film a video that will launch her channel into popularity and turn it into a legit money making venture, even if it means selling out her creative vision.
Instead, she finds obnoxious Jay Bankar, the annoyingly hot host of a popular prank channel who is the actual worst. Andi hates everything Jay stands for, which makes the undeniable connection she feels with him really freaking inconvenient. Soon she finds herself competing with Jay for an interview with the festival’s headlining band, which could be the key to turning her little channel directly into college tuition. But she’s starting to discover that there is more to Jay than his jerky on-screen persona, and she has to decide what’s more important – winning, or giving a second chance to a guy who couldn’t be more wrong for her.
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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