And today in OH THE RAGE, we have this (or do we…?): In Los Angeles, there is a mural of which only people with 20,000 Instagram followers can take pictures. Or with 20,000 Twitter followers. Or who have been verified on either platform, their profiles adorned with that tiny blue check mark that says so much while simultaneously saying so little. The mural is guarded by security personnel, too, who require you to present your credentials before they will permit you to approach it. It is, of course, provoking the ire of internet users across the globe — most of which are not verified users or boasting 20,000 or more followers — but it turns out that there’s more to the whole situation than meets the eye.
On the one hand, it's a relief that that's the case — although I suppose that the reality of the situation has its own issues, too. Either way, though, here's what's been going on:
On June 25, Vice contributor Justin Caffier published the tweet that launched a thousand furious metaphorical ships: “There’s a new security-guarded mural in LA that only allows influencers and verifieds to take pics in front of it,” he wrote. The tweet was accompanied by two photographs — one of Caffier standing in front of the mural (although he doesn’t have 20,000 followers, he’s verified on Twitter and thus was able to gain access to it), and one of a security guard standing in front of a white tent that’s been erected in front of the mural along with a sign reading, “PRIVATE MURAL for verified influencers and people with over 20,000 followers only. We apologize for the inconvenience. See security staff for proof and access.”
Caffier also posted a few more details in a follow-up tweet:
The mural just sort of… appeared; no one was really sure where it had come from or why it was there. But you’ll notice that at the bottom of the sign, there’s a bit more text — which, it turns out, is where the trail begins in terms of unraveling the whole absurd mystery. “Influencers: Please tag us on social media!”, it reads, leaving both Twitter and Instagram handles for something called “Like and Subscribe.”
There’s not much on those accounts — the Twitter page, for example, has just five tweets, most of which are about the mural (which, honestly, is unsurprising, given that the creation date of the account was just this month). There’s one announcing it:
One… uh… commenting on the backlash:
And one featuring a video of a news report on the whole thing:
Before all of those were published, however, this one landed:
Which, I would argue, is our first clue that something here isn’t exactly what it appears to be. My immediate reaction to seeing this earlier tweet was, “OH, this is definitely a viral marketing stunt; whatever it’s meant to be advertising is getting announced on July 8” — which, indeed, did turn out to be the case, even if the proverbial cat needed to be let out of the bag sooner than was intended.
According to a piece Caffier wrote about the mural for Vice, which was published the day after his tweet made the rounds, the whole thing is an advertisement for Like And Subscribe, an upcoming “scripted comedy on the Go90 streaming platform about YouTubers.” Created by Jack Wagner, the series stars Dillon Francis as a “supermanager of influencers,” as the Hollywood Reporter put it; the cast also features Jon Milhiser, formerly of SNL, and Brandon Wardell (this guy). Apparently it will consist of seven episodes that will run anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes each.
So, yes: The mural is satire. Wagner came up with the idea for it based on all the things he’d been thinking about as he worked on the show, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “It is a very strange phenomenon when you see all these people literally traveling to take a picture in front of these murals in L.A.,” said Wagner. “So I thought, 'what if there was a more exclusive, rare mural for people to Instagram? It could show a true level of status.' This mural really just showcases that you're on a different echelon.”
It also explains why the mural is so hideous. As Caffier put it:
“Beneath the white canopy tent that hid the mural from those passing by on the sidewalk was a painting exquisite in its manufactured banality, a pastiche of all the worst Instagrammable street art trends of the past decade. Front and center were LA’s 500th pair of angel wings. Then you had ‘City of Angels’ above, replete with scare quotes. There was even a little meta Banksy-esque stencil of a guy wheatpasting the (painted) rest of the mural up. And topping it all off was a verified checkmark halo, meant to signify the influencer’s divine status and superiority to the plebs who would never make it inside the tent. Living in LA, you see a lot of bad murals, but I had never seen one so intentionally awful in my life.”
He added, “I loved it.” I mean, there's no mural like an intentionally hideous mural meant to comment on our social media obsessed culture, right?
Before it became clear that the mural was a stunt, though, people on social media — verified and unverified users alike — had pleeeeenty to say about it, much of which was quite clever in and of itself: