“I feel like we’re living in a supermodel culture.”
This statement provides us with the thesis of indie band Foster the People’s new album, Supermodel, according to the frontman Mark Foster. The band’s second record, which was released in the U.S. on Tuesday, is a concept album meant to critique the supermodel culture in which Foster believes humanity is currently entrenched thanks to social networks. While he believes that social networking has brought about some revolutionary ideas such as news aggregation and the ability to effectively coordinate in an emergency, Foster is concerned that our obsession with communication behind a glass screen is “a cheap version of the real thing.” He goes on to explain that he believes that social media makes everyone supermodels and, as a result, we become both deceptive and insecure.
“We’re putting on a face that we want people to see but it isn’t necessarily the honest face of who we are and we’re basing our self-worth based on how many retweets we get, how many likes we get, how many followers we have, how many friends we have and for me social media and the way that we interact and what we prioritize in culture is really fascinating to me right now,” he says in a video series entitled Supermodel.
While Foster’s fascination with social networking and how it effects us seems genuine, the conclusions he reaches are neither new nor compelling. Article after article has been written condemning social networking as a death of “real” communication. Most often, social media has been used as a condemnation of the Millenial generation at large. These pieces all rely on the same idea: that communication via an electronic medium is somehow less genuine than face-to-face communication.
But they, and Foster, fail to consider just how important it is to be able to communicate with people around the world and find new communities that may have otherwise gone unknown. While theorizing that social media is making people deceptive and insecure, Foster doesn’t consider how the advent of social media has actually put the power of self-esteem and image back in the hands of individuals. He believes that things like selfies are deceptive and our desire for likes and retweets hinders our self-esteem, but he doesn’t consider that the concept of sharing your own picture puts the control of one’s image firmly in one’s own hands. The ability to share one’s best depictions may seem vain, but it gives a person the opportunity to feel good about themselves. In fact, studies show that the popular, social-media-driven pictures known as “selfies” are an invaluable self-esteem boost for teenagers, particularly for teenage girls. It’s an act that emphasizes an individual’s right to control but has been constantly portrayed by mainstream media as inherently narcissistic, perhaps because people can now choose their image as opposed to letting big media or other people in general control it. For someone who claims to protect his pride as an animal would in Supermodel’s lead single “Coming Of Age”, it sure seems hypocritical for Foster to criticize something as harmless and effective as taking a picture of one’s self.
Ultimately, Foster also fails to follow through on a consistent message even within the art he creates. The actual lyrics of the album almost never address the concepts that he claims to be the focus — social media, self-esteem, and reflection are almost absent in the album — save for in what was originally meant to be the album’s title track “The Beginner’s Guide To Destroying The Moon” which features Foster shouting over crunching guitars that “You’ll never be whole” until you “stop your self-importance and lift the weight off somebody else.” It seems less like the concern he expresses for humanity because of their addiction to social media and more like a tired idea that using social media makes you a narcissist.