How dangerous is the imitation game?

We've all been there, right? 72-weeks deep on some perfect girl's Instagram feed making a mental note of where she got her cereal bowls from. But what happens when it tips over into The Talented Insta Ripley territory? Olivia Phillips investigates...
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How dangerous is the imitation game?

It’s all fun and games until someone goes all Single White Female on you

Forget Black Mirror, if ever there was a scarier, more accurate reflective surface that has been held up against our tech-entrenched generation than recent movie release Ingrid Goes West, I’ve yet to stumble across it. In fact, when I discovered the trailer last week, I watched it twice, visibly cringed, welled up a bit, plunged into denial and then spammed my nearest and dearest with it.

Why? Because not only is it the most embarrassing cinematic representation of me, my friends, and everyone I know, but it also highlights exactly how dangerous a social-media obsession can get, especially if you’re in a bit of a vulnerable place. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s approximately 125 per cent of the time.

Allow me to elaborate. The premise of the film is Ingrid – troubled soul, powerless in the suffocating, ultimately nihilistic grip of Insta-addiction, AKA me – stalks her Insta-crush, Taylor – self-obsessed, big on hashtags, also me – all the way to Los Angeles, convinced that they can become BFFs.

I’d say hilarity ensues, but it doesn’t. Instead, it all gets a bit dark, with Ingrid adopting Taylor’s mannerisms, style, interests and even hair colour, and in one final, aggressive overture of towering creepiness, nicks her dog and then pretends to have found it as an excuse to introduce herself. It’s Single White Female for the social-media generation and it’s utterly petrifying. Not least of which because I actually know people that this has happened to. Granted, with less of the murdery undertones and none of the dognapping. But still.

I once worked with someone – let’s call her Lucy. Lucy had impeccable taste, so a rogue Insta-fan here and there doing a cheeky bit of inspo-swiping I would completely understand. But when her every move began to be regurgitated like clockwork by a girl on the peripheries of her friendship group, the office went into catatonic meltdown.

As a team, we were completely unable to get any work done, losing hours gawping at the brazenness unfolding on our iPhone screens. Lucy would buy a Zara dress, Stalky would buy the Zara dress. Lucy would head to Vegas, Stalky would head to Vegas. Quotes, landscapes, obscure fashion images from the ’70s… pic for pic, like for like, the identitheft carried on for months, eventually reaching its apex with a bizarre, dog-based scenario – much like the film, come to think of it. After all, a dog is as integral to an influencer’s starter pack as a Cult Gaia Ark bag, or a heavily curated shelf of succulents.

Anyway, it all came to a head when Lucy got a puppy and Stalky bought the same breed days later. Boiling point had been reached. There’s only so much you can plagiarise someone’s life. Hilarity, as you can imagine, did not ensue.

As for me? I’m far too insecure to have been anything other than obscenely flattered, but regardless of how I feel about it, what does it mean when social-media lurking tips over into The Talented Insta Ripley territory? Or not even as extreme as that, but just when your run-of-the-mill, casual Wednesday night, light ’n’ legal stalking turns into you down a full-blown scroll hole?

We’ve all been there. And sometimes it makes me think that every pic should come with a health-warning sticker, like on a pack of cigarettes. Or that Instagram should gently chastise you when you’re 72-weeks deep on someone’s feed, wondering where they got their cereal bowls from. Warning: Comparison is the thief of joy. Warning: Prolonged stalking of that Perfect Girl is inversely proportional to your own personal betterment. Warning: This is a mug’s game, mate. Oh, and P.S. There are far more interesting things going on on Twitter.

The links between social media and mental-health issues are becoming increasingly hard to ignore, and those pretty little squares are less like windows to the soul than ever. I’ve started thinking about them more like shop windows. Business cards. Puffed-up chests and padded-out CVs. They’re about as real as this movie that’s just been made about them. So by all means, use them to discover a brand, or a bar... but that’s it.

As Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” And if you must stalk, just remember this. That Perfect Girl? You'd better believe she’s doing it too.

Photo: Instagram/ @blondesandcookies