The Rich Kids of Instagram is a Channel 4 documentary, first broadcast in December 2015, that explores the lives of several young and affluent Instagram users. What sets these users apart from other affluent, young individuals however, is that they use Instagram to share and perhaps flaunt their luxurious lifestyle with anyone also on the app who wants to see. The documentary focuses on a few individuals, from different countries across the world and investigated their activity on Instagram, what an average day is for them and why they think they are so popular on the app.
Sammy, aged 36 uses Instagram to take selfies and pictures of his custom-made car, in order to document his life and the experiences he has. In the documentary he explains that unlike many, he didn’t inherit any wealth, he is an entrepreneur and his monetary success came from the property market. Sammy claims that everything he posts his real, what he would experience on a day-to-day basis but identifies that a lot of other users try and exaggerate their lifestyle through their posts, to try and make it look perfect. He contrasts photographing the expensive aspects of his life like his car, with images that reference his working class roots. For example he took a picture of a pie and mash sitting on top of a Rolls Royce, to try and show where he’s come from and how he made his own success. Sammy reveals that other Instagram users can be vulgar and excessive, posting images that just show hard cash in order to promote how wealthy they are.
Nathanial aged 21, or ‘Cash Fleezy’ as he is known on Instagram, created an account to represent an Avatar and explains that his appearance on Instagram is that of a character. Nathanial states that when he is not on the Instagram app, he is a normal boy however when he is on the app he makes photographs that could be considered excessive. His posts generate a lot of hate comments and Nathanial confesses he was hurt at first, but then continued make posts in order to ‘feed the haters’. He views Instagram as the ultimate way to show off wealth without feeling too guilty, because people can choose to ignore his images, he isn’t ‘in anyone’s face’ in real life. The support behind his images comes from his girlfriend, who helps take them and his Grandparents, who got wealthy through real estate, meaning them and his parents don’t have to work anymore. However Nathanial realises that he is the third generation and therefore will probably have to work in the future in order to maintain his lifestyle and generate his own wealth.
Lana, aged twenty is a multi million pound heiress, whose family has houses in London, New York and Monaco. Lana regularly spends amounts of around 50,000 pounds when going shopping, when asked by the Channel 4 team how much she thought a regular person would spend, she estimated around 3000. Her mother has Instagram in order to keep an eye on her and admitted to the documentary that she is often worried because people can be jealous. Lana got a lot of negative attention online because she was seen in a picture with Robin Thicke, the controversial nature of the image stirred up controversy and Lana received many hate messages. Lana explained that she effectively had to start again on her ‘brand image’ and work her way back into having a good reputation. Her latest endeavour is starting an online jewellery store, the launch of which she documented on Instagram. One of the main reasons why Lana is still on Instagram is to try and change her image to resemble that of a young, female entrepreneur.
Evan on the other hand uses Instagram to showcase how he spends his wealth, which he did earn and not inherit. He has over 120,000 followers and can spend up to 50,000 dollars a day, most of this is spent on having lavish parties with people. The usual guests are few boys and many girls, of which he picks who joins them, all of the girls are usually complete strangers to him. Nearly all of his party guests get in touch with him on Instagram, which explains why a lot of them are strangers, but he likes partying with strangers. Images of these parties are then posted on Instagram to demonstrate his radical lifestyle. When asked if he has a girlfriend, Evan explained he doesn’t really have relationships with girls because he travels extensively and hasn’t yet met a girl who will keep up with him.
Timothy, aged twenty two comes from a family in the diamond trade and explains that he has always been used to a decadent lifestyle; money was never really talked about as it was always there. He has been getting botox since the age of fourteen and despite receiving negative comments on Instagram, Timothy states that they don’t affect him, that he doesn’t care about them. Timothy has free reign over the wealth of his family, regular spending 25-40,000 euros a night in the presidential suites of different hotels.
Dimash, aged twenty, is from Kazakhstan, an oil rich nation that is currently experiencing an economic boom. He is the son of a rich businessman and is still in school studying sociology and entrepreneurship, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his father. Dimash is especially Instafamous in Kazakhstan, perhaps because of the way Dimash portrays himself. Dimash carefully curates every image of him to create the image of a model gentlemen. Dimash proposes that individuals can get a voice through social media, that it gives people power and that many younger social media users look up to him. Just like Dimash views his father as a role model, Dimash wants to be a role model for those who follow his account. Along with the images Dimash also puts a great deal of effort into the captions, often including inspiring messages to his followers, this is in an attempt to make the account appear less superficial. Dimash did acknowledge that when you have so many people looking at you, you have to be really careful about what you say.
Ezra, aged twenty five is currently living in a four story town house in New York, supported by his parents. He uses Instagram to highlight his love of designer clothes and shoes, despite his the fact that his parents want him to go into the business of real estate. Ezra doesn’t want to work in real estate but would love to merchandise fashion as a job, using Instagram to build a portfolio of his favourite outfits and designs. The images also feature him as the model, which contributes to the idea that he his showcasing himself as a brand. Ezra fully acknowledges that he is using Instagram as a business tool, explaining that you have to brand yourself first, then once you have got a following, you can start making products.
Out of the individuals in the documentary, I would consider Sammy, Dimash and Ezra to be the most self aware in their images. For Sammy and Dimesh, this is perhaps because they have had to work hard for their wealth, or have seen a family member work hard to support them. Therefore they have an idea of where the money comes from and what life could be without it. Both Sammy and Dimash take different approaches to Instagram however, whereas Sammy attempts to document his lifestyle in an honest way, Dimash works to construct an image of a perfect gentlemen. Dimash is effectively what Sammy describes when he states that many Instagram users try to exaggerate their lifestyles. What is interesting about Dimash though, is that instead of appearing to flaunt his wealth, his Instagram images are instead trying to act as motivational tools for his followers, giving them the idea that if they work hard, they can achieve the same lifestyle that he lives. This is a very neoliberal notion however and not all of the vast amount of followers Dimash has, could actually become as wealthy as he can. If Dimash acknowledges and knows this, then his Instagram account could potentially just be viewed as a different means of attracting followers. Ezra’s approach to Instagram could also be considered as neoliberal, as his aim is to establish himself as a brand, in order for him to have a career in fashion. Ezra seems to think that Instagram is one of the most important ways through which to gengerate a following and perhaps be noticed by the names in fashion. Instagram also appears to give Ezra the creativity to construct a portfolio, which collectively expresses his style and the potential he has to seek items of fashion and put them together to form a collection.
Whilst Instagram identifies itself as a social media, it is also being used as a business tool for many individuals. Promoting the self as a brand appears to be quite a common practice for individuals on Instagram, with quite a few of the participants in the documentary admitting to using Instagram to try and build up a brand reputation. However for some who are content to rely on a family fortune, or who have already established wealth for themselves like Sammy, Instagram is just a platform through which to speak to a number of followers in order to reveal the kind of lifestyles they lead. It appears to the the younger users, who have identified that they will need to contribute and start generating their own money, that Instagram is actually a valuable tool for making a name in business.