On my 35 minute drives to and from my church I usually listen to a few podcast during the week. I have several that I frequent, but have become quite fond of the dialogue I find on Drunk Ex-Pastors (there’s your shout out Jason and Christian) that consists of social commentary on a range of topics. One of their recent uploads made mention of a Netflix documentary entitled “The American Meme.” Their conversation around the project was enough to make me check it out for myself.
Fair Warning: We’re talking about social media influencers here...that means the videos/images on this doc might be a little sketchy to some. Just throwing that out there…
The doc focuses on several major social media heavy stars including Josh Ostrovsky (the Fat Jew), Brittany Furlan (of Vine fame), and Kirill Bichutsky (Instagram star). I’m choosing not to link to their respective platforms, I’ll leave that to you the reader. Paris Hilton also chimes in as perhaps the forerunner of how becoming a socialite in the modern era can produce fans, followers, and (financial) supporters/consumers of content and projects. Comedian/actor Dane Cook even makes a few appearances which hit me right in the nostalgic feels as he reflects on how MySpace helped launch his career.
There is soooo much to be unpacked from this doc as it offers a true but perhaps unofficial study into what social media has given the world. Phones and live feeds have now replaced the need for celebrity agents and our cultures current state is one where anybody at anytime can become famous (the doc spends time on this as well, remember Chewbacca mom?). However one thing I noticed, which those on the doc speak of often, is the hustle it takes to keep it going. Kirill Bichutsky travels from club to club across the U.S. catching flights and looking exhausted and extremely hungover. Brittany Furlan talks of how after Vine she never really made it back into the social media spotlight and has agonized over what getting “loops, likes, retweets” has done to her. DJ Khaled (Instagrammer/DJ/Music producer) highlights not only his life, but the life of his son, Asahd (who at 2 years old has almost 2 million followers himself on Instagram). Khaled talks about “always hustling” and reciting the mantra “we’re the best” about his family. It was during his comments about his work ethic, and in some of the other subjects filmed, the term “branding” came up and that is where my interest peaked.
I remember the first time I heard the term branding. Rest assured I had already been exposed to what it was, but never heard it verbalized outside the corporate world and conference tables. Instead of a slick wall street type making a pitch for branding the next Mc-whatever at McDonald’s, I heard the term used by a 19 year old college basketball player, Harrison Barnes. In an article for the Atlantic , Barnes tells of his sophomore return to UNC-Chapel Hill was done so to help his “branding.” Over the course of the piece it becomes very clear that Barnes was not looking at basketball as just a game, but understood it to be a business (Barnes even used his college selection as a experiment on social media, Skyping in live with UNC coach Roy Williams to announce his choice).
I can’t help but think of the famous Godfather line, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” However in the realm of internet celebrities and social media influencers, what happens when the personal becomes your business.
I often ask myself this question when I think about my blacksheepbaptist project. I say “project” because as of today that’s honestly how I see it. I often tell people the blog has become an outlet for me to “brain-dump” my thoughts and ideas concerning certain subjects while doing so with a platform in which I am comfortable working with/on. I post my writings/links to my personal social media accounts and am happy to engage with those who read, interact, and reshare my content. Yet, for me, when it comes to the idea of thinking about what I do as a brand...I feel a little icky inside. Now before you jump on about website hosting, domain name, and logo I admit I do have a line at which I judge myself. I’ve learned enough through my educational studies that all the drafts I write and sermons ideas I have need somewhere to go since they don’t always make their way into essays and pulpits. Blacksheepbaptist.com has become an “think tank” for me to hash out some things I’m trying to process and I’m performing this act in the most open of all forums; the internet. Maybe what I’m saying is as much as I like interacting with people online this project really is more for me than it is for anyone else. Who knows, maybe DJ Khaled would say the same?
Perhaps the reason my urge to watch this doc was so strong had to do with my presence in a proclamation course I’m currently taking this semester. The course deals with “alternative pulpits” such as blogs, vlogs, and podcasts” and how they are used. Because of this my brain has been swirling around branding.
Should I switch my social media accounts over to professional accounts?
Should I l learn and start my own podcast?
Should I break down and create a Snapchat account?
Would I be better off to just shut down everything and exist off the grid?
While I have many questions I do know one thing for certain; if something is overly branded I intentionally stay away from it. I take the stance of pushing back on what is big and popular and that would include how I view myself. If I have to worry about when and how I post things and how what I say might impact my “brand” than I feel as if I’ve lost something valuable. For now, I’m comfortable being an off-brand in a very branded world.