Social Genius

A series of connected short stories dedicated to the power of words and social media. Can be read in any order if you dare.

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2. (n.) Raison d’être.

 

Everyone wants to be famous. It’s the oxygen that millennials and Gen-Z crave. When you ask kids what career they want they will respond with a Youtuber, blogger, popstar and Instagram Beauty Guru. Society Influencers in the making, breathing by clicks and branding links.

That’s why we did what we did. The three of us – myself, Megan and Gabby – had the bright idea to become famous without actually being famous.

You’re confused now, huh?

Megan was a fashion undergraduate; I was in Media and Gabby in Sociology. I think it was Gabby who suggested it, the wild plan to see how far photoshop and social perceptions could go. We had all heard about Catfishing, seen the celeb gossip stories and the TV show about it.

It fascinated me, to see how far we could push something which never had any substance.

We started simply; training to test our Photoshop abilities. I had experience with it because of my course and we took a few random images off of Google and stitched them together to form a new person. Then Megan put it on her Instagram saying that the person had modelled some of her fashion choices for a course.

It became easy to lie, a name or a pronoun shifted into the conversation as easily as a sip of wine.

“Guys, people are asking who the girl in the photo is,” Megan gushed as she met us for coffee. Back then the plan was never kept quiet, and we were too confident when it came to people overhearing.

We traded names back and forth, seeing if one sounded too fancy or posh compared to others. That night we went back to my apartment and stitched more photographs together, testing the waters with another Instagram post, different poses and similar fashion.

We named our creation Morgan O’Hare.

Megan’s feed blew up with people asking about her, whether she had an Instagram and where Megan had met her.

“People always expect more; they want their curiosity to mean something. That sometimes means looking for evidence,” Gabby said as she twirled a pencil between her fingers.

We did a lot of lounging around my apartment since I was the only one who could afford a single room during University. Both Megan and Gabby had roommates to contend with before all of our leases were up. But these incidents were the main stage for our drama.

I spent hours crazily doctoring more photos. I was a digital surgeon of my own right, tearing my hair from the roots when skin colour or lighting didn’t match. Photoshop wizards had a different kind of magic, and I was learning it as though I was Harry Potter stuck in Hogwarts. The girl’s worked out a background for Morgan, parents and friends, likes and dislikes, hobbies and career interests, and they felt like authors penning a character that would actually take shape digitally.

Morgan’s Instagram was born, we said that she never had it until she had noticed the interest taken in her. She was originally from Sunderland but moved to London for the fashion culture and the hub-hub of a busy life. It was the drug she craved. People ate her up, or more the idea of her.

People always ate the anonymous up. We had seen it before.

Gabby wrote the captions, saying what she knew the people wanted her to say. Megan backed it up on her own social media, telling everyone to check the girl out. I added tags and photos. We all had our parts.

The page blew up. Before long fashion companies were emailing Morgan asking to model for them, a deal which we set up for only digital representations. For those missions we had one of us – more often than not Megan, who knew the poses fashion magazines wanted – in front of the camera before we altered them.

It was a side business, the money we gathered was split three ways and we pulled the money to our chests and revelled in it.

“Fashion has a huge impact, I’ve been trying to tell you,” Megan said one night, her laptop perched on her knees as she swept through an assignment. Her mom jeans were rolled up past her ankles, her brown hair loose around her waist, carefree even when stressed.

“People buy clothes to be different to others around them, it’s a self-identity thing, what often happens though is that they find others who like similar things, forming neo-tribes, small cultures of likes and similarities. It’s fascinating,” Gabby rambled, theories and names unravelling from her tongue even when she was absorbed in Game of Thrones.

But we found that other’s bought the clothes we promoted; self-identity paired with social identity. Progress became our way of living. Morgan became our reason for living -  raison d’être.

We occasionally got people messaging us, asking us all about Morgan – or rather, Morgan all about herself. Gabby handled that.

“What do they even say?” I asked, trying to hook my head on her shoulder.

She just switched her phone off and burrowed it closer to her chest. We were all logged into Morgan's account but it was a trust thing not to check the area Gabby had claimed. It didn't surprise me that Gabby had created another social media channel for Morgan, either.

“You know, just the average things. How I am, what I’m doing, what I want to do,” she said strangely, untying her blonde hair from the hair tie. She only did that when she was trying to flirt with someone, she said it was one of her master moves.

“Guys don’t talk like that,” I questioned.

“You know what they’re like Abi, they ask to see my boobs, I refuse, and I get the occasional come-on’s. It’s easy to handle, believe me.”

Megan’s professors wanted to talk to Morgan. Megan joked that they wanted to thank her for the rapid progress in Megan’s academia. We accelerate our mission into doing skype calls, buying voice changers to alter my voice when I speak to them.

It was only luck that I was the only one in the apartment at the time to talk to them, it wasn’t arranged.

Gabby and Megan had made a rough script for me to follow and it was relatively easy.

I got to see what made those people on Catfish had to deal with.

But the mission wasn’t always easy. We got into fights sometimes of people taking more credit for Morgan. I screamed at them that I did the photos, it was my work they were looking at. Gabby said that it was she who the people were talking to. Megan explained that she got Morgan to fame, plugging in links and brand deals, buying an app which promoted new faces for free. In those instances, Gabby slammed her way out of the apartment, left her books and contact lens solution on the coffee table in favour of stewing in her emotions. Megan just doggy paddled in her own frustration and ordered some cake. I closed my laptop and read a book instead, moving on from more than mission work and schoolwork.

Gabby became more distant but when she was around her eyes twinkled more. We didn’t comment on it. She came out of her shell more, tried on clothes that she never would have, and we praised her on it. It got to a good point where we had a girl's holiday, a spa weekend joined with a road trip with bars and the occasional club. It was what we needed, the time away.

But when we came back we forged Morgan into the holiday; that was Megan’s idea, the dresses short for going out in the town. We got a lot of appreciation for those, the follower count rocketing again.

Then one day Gabby rang us to say that she wanted out, she had had enough and wanted to focus on her studies. We couldn’t talk her out of it, no matter how hard we tried. But we agreed to slow down, dissertation and graduation rapidly approaching.

We didn’t care so much for the brands and the money, and we got a little backlash for that.

When graduation came and went, Gabby said her goodbye’s in bought coffee and silent words. I didn’t realise that she was saying goodbye at the time, it was that subtle. But she didn’t come around the apartment anymore and rarely answered our calls.

It was only when we checked the Morgan’s DM’s that we found that Gabby had been talking to a guy pretty heavily; day and nightly texts. The guy, named Brandon, had promised to take Morgan away from the stresses Gabby had described.

The last text was from Gabby saying that she’d meet him. That had been days ago.

The panic rose. We tried to find her so many times in so many ways, but we couldn’t. Thoughts surged. She still didn't answer our calls. Our thoughts became worse again. 

Megan broke down. She fell to her knees, blamed herself for what could have happened to Gabby. She wanted out of the mission and I allowed her. She took a chunk of the money, something that I wasn’t bothered about, and she left. Simple as that.

I was numb to it all, the signs were there but we had ignored them. There was still a possibility of Gabby being fine – that was the positive side of me.

I still update the Morgan profile now and again, I don’t talk to anyone, but I do check to see whether Gabby has in my place. I can’t think of a way to get out of it, it’s an obsession, another person who is free from the constraints of life and society.

Photoshop had always been my dream. It had just become easier, even when I got a job for a magazine and learned the inside tricks of the trade.

Morgan was another part of me, the gap I had filled since Megan and Gabby had left.

I wonder sometimes if Morgan took our friendship or Brandon first took Gabby’s and then ours. But that’s just me passing the blame onto someone else.

We all crave being famous, we crave attention like the water we need to drink. I have fallen down that rabbit hole, although I don’t crave it for myself. It’s a tricky hole to be in and clicks only make me fall deeper. They make me find a reason to smile when my brain papers over all of the cracks. This is just one huge crack that I'm trying to pass but keeping coming back to. I can live with that. 

 

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