If you’ve ever spent even a moment perusing the Instagram account of a celebrity, you quickly realize that all famous people are best friends with each other. I was reminded of this after wandering into a Vogue magazine slideshow drawn from the Instagram account of Cara Delevingne, the model and actress who currently stars in Paper Towns. Included within the selected 24 candid snapshots: Rihanna, Kate Moss, Miley Cyrus, Ben Stiller, Pharrell Williams, Karl Lagerfeld, Karlie Kloss, Stella McCartney, and Justin Bieber. Naturally, you’d assume that, say, a professional model would have reason to be hanging with other professional models and/or famous fashion designers and/or famous fashion-oriented celebrities. But that always seems, in part, to be the point of these Instagram fame-blizzards: The message isn’t, Here are the people I mingle with professionally but, rather, All of us are total besties who hang out all the time.
Which is fine and good, of course, but ironic as well because social media was once thought of as a way to further humanize celebrities, giving us an unprecedented glimpse into their actual lives. Instead, social media turns out to be another tool to reinforce the idea that celebrities occupy a completely different sphere of existence from everyone else. These Instagram accounts are like postcards from Famous Land, where everyone’s on a first-name basis, everyone’s having a blast, and you’re invited, sort of — at least to watch from behind the glass.
Back in the olden days, before the internet, glossy magazines like Vanity Fair and People did a very good job of propagating a velvet-curtain approach to celebrity: pulling the curtain back just enough to let you glimpse their fabulous lives before moving you along swiftly to the next exhibit. Then along came Bonnie Fuller and her rebooted Us Weekly, circa 2000, with its famously popular feature “Stars — They’re Just Like Us!” Those pages pioneered an entirely different approach to documenting the famous: namely, endless paparazzi snaps of unmade-up celebrities in Uggs walking their dogs wearily or taking out the garbage or clutching Starbucks lattes. Fuller turned her magazine from a velvet-rope bouncer into a Maps to the Stars–style bus tour, where you, the reader, are peering out, hoping to spot someone famous in the shrubbery. There was, at the time, an outcry from certain sectors — those sectors financially invested in perpetuating celebrity mystique — that these invasive photos would strip famous people of their valuable auras of specialness. In hindsight, they needn’t have worried. With the advent of social media, every celebrity was turned into his or her own selfie-snapping paparazzo, and the more we see of their private lives, the more we realize they’re not just like us at all.
The current maestro of this tricky balance is, of course, Taylor Swift, who is the most successful pop star in the world and also totally your best friend. Her video for “Bad Blood,” released this spring like a summer blockbuster, managed to feature a string of cameos by famous and famous-ish buddies of hers while also having the vibe of being one big slumber party, like everyone was hanging out goofing around with boxing gloves and suddenly a video shoot broke out. The mastery of this accomplishment was highlighted by the subsequent release of Madonna’s similarly cameo-stuffed “Bitch, I’m Madonna” video, which, by contrast, arrived with the stink of contractual obligation all over it. It didn’t feel like a slumber party; it felt like a shareholders meeting for Tidal.
Swift has since upped the ante on her perpetual rolling bestie-fest with her recent practice of calling famous friends onstage during live concerts, from Gigi Hadid to Lena Dunham to Julia Roberts to Joan Baez. As Lindsay Zoladz notes in her sharp review of Swift’s cameo-studded live show, “Swift is hawking female friendship right now as though it were Diet Coke. But you know what? She’s a hell of a pitchwoman.” Swift’s habit of producing boldface names from the crowd like a magician producing doves from a hat is parodied expertly in this recent viral video, in which the writer Lara Marie Schoenhals welcomes to the stage, among others, Nicole Brown Simpson, the Blair Witch, a hologram of Maya Angelou, and “the ashes of the victims of the Salem witch trials.”
It’s a funny moment in the history of celebrity when famous people can feel both more distant and more proximate than ever, more intimate yet more unobtainable. We’ve always experienced their imagined lives in a steady flicker of continuous, contextless images — whether glamour shots in magazines or film stills or paparazzi snaps — but now these images have the added allure of seeming to originate from their very pockets, their phones, their fingertips. Yet even as we’re flooded with constant information about the everyday moments of their lives, we’re simultaneously being reminded about just how different their everyday lives are from our own.
All of which may help explain the bewitching appeal of Christine Ouzounian, a.k.a. the Affleck Nanny, a.k.a. the Spy in the House of Fame. Maureen O’Connor does an excellent job of breaking down the sexual-mores aspect of her tale, and I think there’s another dimension as well. Looking at photos of Ouzounian trailing after her celebrity employers, it almost looks like she’s been Photoshopped into them, like those novelty photos of Niagara Falls in which you could be placed in a barrel. Ouzounian’s so fascinating because she’s our modern civilian surrogate, who’s passed over to the other side of the glass. Someone finally found a way to photobomb celebrity. Can’t you see her? There she is, popping up in the rolling Instagram feed of the famous, and she’s waving at us, and we can’t look away.