If you, like at least 198k other people, followed along last week as influencer and Goop employee Marissa Fuchs went on a six-day scavenger hunt ending in a “surprise” wedding, orchestrated by her partner Gabriel Grossman, you know the strange mixture of fascination, resentment, and comedic relief it inspired. It united officemates and Twitter commenters in shared awe — and, once The Atlantic published an extensive pitch deck the couple allegedly sent to brands and media prior to the stunt, shared exasperation.
Fuchs, who blogs and Instagrams under the handle @thefashionambitionist, has been creating fashion, lifestyle, and travel content since 2016. Grossman is a vice president at Morgan Stanley. It's not clear how much of the week's activities were paid for by Grossman and Fuchs, but based on how it was represented, a sizeable portion of the New York-to-Montauk-to-Miami-to-Paris extravaganza was evidently gifted. The week included stops at places like Gurney's, the Surf Lodge, and SOHO Beach House; Fuchs was provided with gifts from LoveShackFancy and Ramy Brook, and went on a shopping spree at the high-end boutique The Webster. A helicopter ride with Blade, unfortunately, had to be cancelled due to bad weather.
"Without Marissa's knowledge, we'll arrange to take her to destinations that will incorporate her love of adventure, wellness, fashion, and most importantly, her family and friends," the pitch deck reads. The irony is that there's almost no chance any of this happened without Fuchs’ knowledge — for one thing, the pitch deck included in-depth Instagram engagement metrics it's unlikely anyone else would have known.
For many, observing Fuchs and others like her is an exercise in gentle mocking. But others seem genuinely annoyed and even angered. Take a look at many of the comments on Fuchs' Instagram account, or the conversations in closed groups like the podcast Who? Weekly's Facebook fan page to see what I mean. Criticism of everything from the couple’s relationship to Fuchs’ appearance to her Kim Kardashian-esque cry-face began to bubble up almost as soon as the stunt kicked off.
And yet, no one wants to look away when influencers do stuff like this — even when it means contributing to their bottom line via follows and views. Why do we love to hate influencers so much? And why is it so hard to just turn them off?
"I think this could be compared to reality show culture, for sure. People are smart enough to know that shows like The Bachelor aren't 100% real-life, but we keep watching almost to see what they'll try to pass off as 'reality' next. It's a meta conundrum: we know they know we know it's fake, but they know we know they know we'll keep watching," posits Stephanie Maida, managing editor of the website Guest of a Guest, which was one of the first outlets to cover the stunt. "It's 2019, and the fact that Instagram does not equal reality is common knowledge. So the love-to-hate addiction is like, what will this person do next that I can roll my eyes at?"
Comparisons to The Bachelor are apt, especially because contestants in that franchise do essentially what Fuchs and Grossman did: forgoing the traditional intimacy of rituals like dating, getting engaged, and being married in favour of notoriety and free stuff. But Bachelor contestants are rarely subject to this level of short-term obsession and vitriol. Perhaps it's because we've become desensitised to the ABC franchise. We know how the sausage is made, and that there's a huge team of producers behind it. The Fuchs stunt felt more grassroots, and therefore more ridiculous.
"I think it's pretty tasteless. It reeks of Fyre Festival. Is it real because of their love, or because it got the appropriate amount of corporate funding to make it viable?" asks Boz Boschen, a marketing and advertising professional who tweeted about Fuchs and Grossman. "Who's running pre-production for this engagement experience? I have a feeling it's 'her team' which sounds to me like code for her friends who are hoping to scam a free trip from some schmucks in marketing."
The real trouble began with the pitch deck leak. There is something inherently grating about the meticulously coordinated schedule featuring all the hottest spots superimposed over heavily-filtered images of the couple. But, we also want to believe in true love. Followers thought Fuchs and Grossman’s adventure was cute and romantic, until they realised it was a couple leveraging a time-honoured tradition for personal and financial gain.
"People generally enjoy seeing all influencer generated content because influencers are perceived as more genuine than celebrities. Despite many influencers pushing out more ads on social than celebrities, or many having privileged lifestyles, there is a connection people seem to have with them," says publicist Fabiana Melendez. "However, once the deck came out, that once sweet (albeit slightly gimmicky) engagement/wedding was quickly seen as duplicitous. This has brought on a new debate: in an era where people are commodifying every moment of their lives (from births to weddings) when does it end?"
It all points to a collective exhaustion with social media, and the pressure even us non-influencers feel. Because Fuchs is a "regular" person, we begin to question why our own lives don't seem to measure up to hers in comparison. Even if we don't mean to, we compare ourselves to influencers — which is precisely why brands love working with them so much.
"Social media have shifted our conceptions of intimacy. They're so compelling precisely because they (purport to) offer us glimpses behind the curtain of other people's private lives, and enable us to share glimpses of our own," explains Sarah Handyside, a doctoral researcher at the Centre for the Study of Women and Gender at the University of Warwick. "Of course, a massive amount of management and curation goes into it all — but acknowledging that work is disorienting."
As if we weren't sensitive enough, the very mention of the word "wedding" has a galvanic effect, especially if it's a wedding few of us could ever hope to afford. The pressure surrounding weddings is not dissimilar to that surrounding social media; a convergence of the two is sure to get under people's skin. "The average American wedding now costs $30,000, and one of the most common reasons men today say they aren't ready to propose is that they aren't financially ready for that next step. A wedding of any size or style can be a significant expense," notes Hannah Orenstein, author of the novel Love at First Like.
"To see a couple splash on such a lavish affair that takes place from New York to the Hamptons to Miami to Paris and involves a scavenger hunt for diamond jewellery, that can be pretty frustrating to watch,” Orenstein says. “Especially when you take into account that it appears some or all of Marissa Fuchs and Gabriel Grossman's engagement was sponsored, and they might have gotten some of the swankiest items shown on Instagram for free."
Influencers, however, say they’re inspired by Fuchs. Which likely means this isn't the last stunt of its kind we’ll see. "Sometimes our audiences forget that we are influencers. This is good — means we're doing our jobs well! But in reality, an influencer is synonymous with an entrepreneur. Both look for unique opportunities to make money," explains business coach Shaunda Necole, who has 135k followers on Instagram. "In my humble opinion, it doesn't make this wedding any less authentic because it may have been sponsored. The job of an influencer is to turn regular activities, things that they would do anyway, into sponsored content and share it with other people."