The day you stumble upon the intricate, twisted, labyrinthine world of lifestyle bloggers is a dark day indeed. There I was, minding my own business, sitting in my dressing gown with a cup of coffee in one hand and the latest copy of the nation’s bastion of middle-class cosiness The Guardian in the other, when suddenly someone sent me a link to a lifestyle blog entitled ‘See the Sparkle’.
The blogger behind it is, as her ‘About Me & Some FAQs’ page tells us, a girl called “India Alexandra Struthers. My father lived and worked out in India for 9 years and both my parents love India so when I came along (they thought I was going to be a boy) they felt India was perfect!”
Yes, I know, even the way she introduces her name is pretentious twaddle, but there’s more. On the same page, she tells us that “I luuuuurve breakfasts at home on a Sunday morning (Sunday is the day)”, and that being asked whether she prefers Christmas or her birthday is “wow, tough, seriously, seriously tough … Do I have to choose? I think if I really had to, it would be my Birthday.” In doing so, she highlights that these are the great and gruelling struggles of our time.
Her mother, Cassandra Struthers, is also a blogger, though at least she actually has a real job, even if it is as the psychotherapist behind “The Core Energy Technique, a mindfulness technique”. I wouldn’t call it bullshit so much as beatified nonsense. One time, they went out for dinner together (at Selfridge’s) and both blogged about it.
Another gross offender is Rosie, aka ‘The Londoner’, who describes herself as “a roaming blogger who’s lucky enough to call London home”. Essentially, she’s unemployed and spends her time doing lovely things and telling everyone about how lovely her life is.
Like this one time, she went to a ridiculously fancy restaurant (mains come in at around £20) with a bunch of her similarly giddy friends. The post details the apparently hilarious goings on of the evening, in which her and her chums enjoy champagne (£13.50 each, £54), cocktails (£10 each, £40), oysters (£29), filet mignon (£28.50 for two, £57), chicken, (£24.50), pork belly (£22.50), lobster (“for the table” – £24.50), sweetcorn (£4.50), truffled mashed potatoes (£7.50), greens (£5.50), strawberries and cream soufflé (£7.50), eton mess en perle (£9.50), dulce de leche crème brulée (£7.50), and the BBR signature chocolate glory (£12.50). Oh, and some tea (£6 between the four of them). Add it up. Go on. Bad at maths? Me too. That makes a total bill of £342. Divide that between the four of them and it’s about £85 each. ‘The Londoner’ (note to self: she is the definitive Londoner. Nobody else counts) also delights in telling us that “shared calories don’t count”, but that even though she “stupidly didn’t take a proper picture of this dress (bad blogger)”, it is “just the dress I needed to hide all that soufflé”.
Whilst there are male bloggers who are just as aggravating, most of the most successful, and most offensive, specimens seem to be women, and it’s worth asking why. Ever since the ‘good old days’ of rampant housewifery in the 1950s, women have been the largest “consumers” of most goods – they do more grocery shopping than men, they spend more on clothes, cosmetics, shoes, handbags, luxury goods, the works. Companies selling products know this – that’s why so many of the petulant, irritating, blatantly sexist adverts on television and elsewhere have women in them: the advertising strategy goes that if you can see yourself in the place of the consumer depicted on television, you’re more likely to buy the product.
So naturally, when producers reach out to successful lifestyle bloggers to give them free experiences and products in exchange for being featured on their blogs, most of these bloggers are female – it’s a simple, and logical, market strategy. What the bloggers themselves never seem to realise is that they’re selling themselves out to support sexist, manipulative, damaging industry after sexist, manipulative, damaging industry – from the latest line of dresses that only look good on you if you’re a size microscopic or smaller, or the hottest brand of foundation you’re forced to lather on yourself every day in order to be socially acceptable. And it is a case of selling themselves out – in the past year, Rosie (aka The Londoner) has been to the Maldives, Paris (for Fashion Week), Florence, Bali, Disneyland Paris, Paris (seperate minibreak), Morocco, Paris (another minibreak), Switzerland, Versailles, Lake Como, Dallas, New York, and then New York again, in the same month, on the back of her blog. The personal rewards these bloggers can reap from their work are enormous.
“So what?” I hear you say, with a class of beaujolais in hand. “She’s allowed to enjoy nice things!” you clamour, from the arms of your custom-made leather sofa. “This is just the politics of envy!” comes the outcry from the chap in the tweed at the back.
At this point, the average thinkpiece writer would reply, with only a slight twang of self-righteousness; ‘NO’. They’d then launch into a nifty bit of manoeuvring: with something about moral wealth not material wealth and I, the honorable columnist, have much moral wealth. Throw in a sprinkle about how we need a return to the values of kindness and consideration, and you’re there – once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.
To those individuals, I, in turn, say – “NO”. This is the politics of envy. Of course it is. As a young person preparing to make their way into a world where employment prospects are at their worst in decades, am I envious of someone who is able to live a life of luxury on the back of her ability to look good in a restaurant, take a few photos and write about it later (badly), from the sofa in her cosy Fulham flat? Of course I am.
Am I envious of these bloggers who wind their way through the vapid emptiness of their lives from cosmetic-company-sponsored luxury to travel-company-sponsored jaunt with the trite gracefulness of a flaccid gazelle? Yes. I am.
Fundamentally, it comes down to what kind of picture we paint of ourselves as a society. As the privately-educated masses come to occupy not only the corridors of power, but the green screens of Hollywood and the festivals of British music, our entire cultural framework is being cleansed; robbed of its good old kernel of good, old-fashioned, real life grit.
As Stuart Maconie wrote in the New Statesman, “turn on a TV or radio in the decades before the millennium, and you’d see the faces and voices of working- or lower-middle-class Britain. People who’d gone to the same schools as you, walked the same streets, lived in the same sorts of houses but become celebrities by the miracle of social mobility that entertainment and sport had always promised.” For politics to turn bland and posh is one thing. For TV, radio, entertainment and sport to go similarly is another, more pressing, tragedy. But for our internet – yes, ours – to go the same bland, beautified, banally privileged way as every other element of our cultural life is a horror we must not tolerate.
Vapid lifestyle blogs and their vacuous, Gucci-clutching, Moët-quaffing architects represent the worst of us; they are at the centre of the toxic “culture of aspiration” that promises glamour and privilege with one hand whilst suppressing those most in need of a better future with the other. They’re a sick kind of capitalist cultural pornography, and when, in the great tradition of hyper-privileged upper-middle-class folk leading the revolution of the precariat, I lead the charge to take down the City-funded, Westminster-run, Pimlico-blogged circle-jerk of 21st century capitalism, they’ll be the first to go.
Who’s with me?