One minute you’re a massive wanker on a Cairo-bound EgyptAir flight, and the next, you’re a globally ‘famous’ massive wanker after having your photo taken with a hijacker wearing a suicide belt, grinning beatifically for the camera like the embalmed corpse of a man who’d died suddenly only a few pleasurable seconds into his very first blowjob.
This is viral fame in the 21st century.
Mercifully the hijacker’s suicide belt turned out to be a homemade fake, which was great news for the terrified hostages on board, and even better news for Ben Innes and the producers of Celebrity Big Brother. Security experts labelled his stunt “irresponsible”, while the Metro opted for “quirky”. And it was this loveable quirkiness that put him on the longlist to inhabit the most depressing house in the land, where people go to dream about boasting column inches in the Clacton and Frinton Gazette, like some of the marginally famous BB housemates who went before them.
Apparently, “selfie legend” Innes was rumoured to be on the CBB producers’ wishlist along with Michaella McCollum, one half of the ‘Peru Two’, the laugh-a-minute cocaine smuggling duo, fresh from a two-year stint in a Peruvian jail cell. “She would definitely have some fascinating stories to tell,” wrote the Metro, with OK! magazine adding that Innes and McCollum’s infamy was their appeal. I mean, if infamy and a few anecdotes are the prerequisites for identifying new housemates for this moribund reality game show bullshit, then maybe the producers can arrange for the Hatton Garden crew to drill their way into the house in the middle of the next series. Or what about that woman who killed a swan after she dragged it ashore for a selfie? Ha! Sure, she’s only got one story – but what a story!
Of course, the viral fame that Ben Innes enjoyed isn’t usually something you have any control over. It can happen when you least expect it. You could be hit by a car while cycling to work one morning, upload the accident footage to YouTube (a few weeks later, once you’ve regained consciousness), only to become a viral sensation, because your GoPro-recorded scream at the moment of impact has been ripped from your video and digitally inserted it into Minnie Riperton’s Lovin’ You. You’ve lost your spleen and become a meme, which is comforting.
But today’s ‘Internet celebrities’ – those who seek fame and work hard to develop their online personas – are just about the worst we’ve ever had.
Remember when Instagram was just a tedious medium for sharing a heavily filtered shot of the fancy seafood risotto you were allowing to go cold? Or enhancing your photos with so much ‘drama’ that everyday scenes started to look like still frames from Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video? Well now it’s home to some of the world’s biggest pricks. I know this because my 25-year-old colleague has exposed me to several high-profile Instagrammers recently, with full knowledge that I would caustically denounce their very existence.
Take Dan Bilzerian, a moneyed Robinson Crusoe-a-like, whose Instagram account – with over 17.7m followers – basically documents the trappings of his obscene wealth, his day-to-day existence at the centre of a vast constellation of semi-naked women, his unfathomably large gun collection, and his cat ‘Smushball’. If he posted a photo to Instagram of a family member’s funeral, the casket would almost certainly be obscured by a woman’s arse in the foreground.
A few months ago, Bilzerian met with Donald Trump when he was merely the Republican front-runner rather than the likely presidential nominee he now is. Documenting this meeting of minds on Instagram, he wrote: “In an age of pussified political correctness, you have to respect the people who remain unfiltered.” The only way the horror of a Trump presidency could be compounded would be the appointment of Bilzerian as his first Secretary of Defence. Then, while Trump builds walls around America and racially profiles anyone unlucky enough to be trapped inside, Bilzerian can deploy his private army of bikini-clad, gun-toting models to take on ISIS.
What a time to be alive (for now, at least).
Another Instagram star my colleague showed me was a ‘nightlife photographer’ called Kirill Bichutsky (aka The Slut Whisperer / Kirill Was Here), who’s credited with “inventing a new brand of sexism”. I must admit, the old brand of sexism was getting a bit tired so we really needed something fresh and even more degrading for 21st century attention spans.
With close to 950,000 followers, Marie Claire once described his feed as “a gaping maw of misogyny”. And from what I can glean – without having to spend too much time wading through it – that’s pretty much spot on. It’s basically a matrix of photos featuring women, mouths agape, receiving his trademark ‘champagne facial’ (something which apparently changed his whole ‘brand’). With so much foam spewing from their mouths amid the general mayhem of a nightclub environment, it looks like a photo montage of an horrific chemical attack.
Kirill says that he’s living the American Dream, which, according to Marie Claire, is now a case of “getting paid to do whatever the hell you want”. And that’s the thing: Kirill is paid vast sums of money to appear at clubs to do all this, which makes me think I’ve got life all wrong.
Why slog my guts out working full-time for under £30k a year when I could be approaching curvaceous women in Morrisons, asking if I can photograph myself crushing a Walls Vienetta between their boobs for my Instagram account. Or maybe I could film myself smearing pesto over a woman’s arse with a playing card, while Steve Miller Band’s The Joker (or maybe Saint Motel’s Ace in the Hole) plays over the store’s PA system. These kinds of gimmicks could really energise my brand. This is what the world is now.
It’s this kind of shit that bothered me before the EU Referendum last week. But while this unpublished post has been gathering dust in my drafts folder, the world has changed dramatically. At least the post-Brexit fallout appears to have killed Ben Innes’ 15 minutes of fame. But that’s still not enough silver lining for me.