Digital Culture

Olivia Neill, Baudrillard, and The Get Ready With Me Video

Image Credit: Olivia Neill, YouTube []

By Maya Bewley

Olivia Neill sits down in front of the camera. It’s around half eight and she’s getting ready for a night out after receiving her A-Level results. The room is dimly lit, scattered with the usual teenage detritus of deodorant cans, alcohol bottles, and fake plants. As she takes out a beauty blender, she sighs––“Let’s not talk about the fact I got a f*cking C in my A-Levels”. The video continues: shots of her foundation are interspersed with musings on her love life, eating habits, and sausage dogs.

But if all of this seems incredibly mundane to you, then it may be surprising to read that the video garnered over a million views. In fact, since the dawn of YouTube’s inception, the Get Ready With Me video is the trend that never seems to go away. With new iterations being churned out everyday, why does our love for this format go beyond admiring a simple makeup routine?

In his 1981 Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard explains how in the postmodern period, we have lost the ability to distinguish the artificial from the real. The signs and symbols that make up our society no longer try to imitate reality, but come before it. There is no concept of the ‘real’ or ‘original’––like The Matrix, existence is merely a simulation of reality. 

Baudrillard’s ideas ventriloquise the uncanny experience of social media today. As YouTuber Soeun in Seoul puts it, when you open the Instagram app, you’re entering a simulated reality. From the perfectly polished selfies to the meticulously ordered bookshelf: all are facades of a reality that doesn’t actually exist. 

As much as we buy into our distilled, glamorised, online selves, there’s a part of us that knows a filter will never truly capture the feeling of an early morning run, or compare to that first bite of a delicious meal. Even the ‘photo dump’ – social media’s latest attempt to appear candid – has been critiqued for being more curated than ever. 

So where does Olivia Neill fit in all of this?

The Get Ready With Me format is interesting precisely because it’s so good at concealing the fact it isn’t real. 

Whether we’re being told relationship drama, or the choice of a particular foundation shade, it’s like we’re being let in on a secret. Almost effortlessly, these anecdotes, combined with the cosy bedroom backdrop, simulate the experience of chatting to a friend. The illusion of perfection is supposedly up: we’re given front row seats for the social performance of getting ready. 
Of course, the irony is that it’s more disconnected than ever. How can we truly identify with what is essentially a virtual video of someone talking and applying makeup? It’s this constant blur of the lines between artifice and reality that makes the format so compelling. In the digital soup of hyper-contrived content, we leap at the chance to experience something that finally feels authentic – even if it’s just another bunch of pixels in the digisphere.

Categories: Digital Culture