The Problem With Instagram, According To Adrian Grenier

Instagram was supposed to be the great democratizer. It allows anyone who can scrape together enough cash for a smartphone and a data plan to enjoy its pictorial splendor. However, Adrian Grenier wants us to know its egalitarianism ends there. He Instagrammed a photo comparing Kim Kardashian to an extravagant-looking woman in a 19th-century painting to talk about how the app encourages income disparity. (We know he's not who you wanted to hear this from, but he's who we've got. Besides, he has a point.)
The image actually comes from an ArtNet article published last month titled "Ways of Seeing Instagram," which is in direct conversation with a 1972 BBC series called Ways of Seeing (along with the same-titled book) by John Berger. He argues mass media has the capacity to do both good and bad. One one hand, it democratizes art; on the other, its power to influence through images is extreme. Too extreme. And, the ArtNet story says the same is true for Instagram (and most social media).
To illustrate just how powerful these images can be, he connects Instagrams like this one of Kardashian to European oil paintings that existed, almost solely, to glamorize the lives of the rich and powerful. We can only conclude both are the result of some sort of FOMO-inducing game of visual one-upmanship — where else would they seem like a good idea? — but it's this kind of glorification that reinforces the line between the haves and the have-nots.
"Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion," said Berger over 40 years ago. "The existing social conditions make the individual feel powerless. He lives in the contradiction between what he is and what he would like to be."

This contradiction is exactly where Instagram lives. It's where it thrives. The idea may be harmless enough, but when you consider its power to proliferate images of excess, it gets a lot darker. And, that's without a filter.

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