Megan Angelo’s Followers: A World Lonely with the Vanity of Social Media
By Naya Clark
June 18, 2020
Followers by Megan Angelo
2020, Graydon House
384 pages, $26.99
It’s difficult to deny that the way many of us display our lives on social media influences our lifestyles, decisions, privacy, and our perceptions of the world around us. Followers, a novel by Megan Angelo (Graydon House 2020), is a fictional prediction of a world molded by social media culture. Followers revolves around the lives of Orla Cadden, whose dream is to become a literary success, and Floss, an aspiring celebrity influencer. Told in alternating stories, the novel sees Floss and Orla hack societal prestige through digital connections. Then there is Marlow, who lives in a society almost solely dependent on social media.
The tone is set when the death of A-list social media influencer Sage Sterling that the public loves to hate—Orla’s sole journalistic beat—causes the writer to scramble to create a fictional celebrity in order to sustain her career. Meanwhile Floss is in her own shuffle to make her mark as a model and actress. The two roommates, who early in the book rarely crossed paths in their tiny New York apartment, decide to feign the persona of an influencer agent. Angelo recounts Floss and Orla’s increasing level of clout, overwhelming amount of free promotional products, and their adventures of keeping up the ruse.
The clever hack illuminates the ease of falsifying credibility in a society ruled by internet fame. Angelo describes Floss and Orla succeeding at this with a sort of high:
“But now, with nothing but her job and her phone and her instincts, she claimed a minor superpower: she had made someone famous just by saying it was so.” The fictionalized success of social media influencers in Angelo’s world seems monumental, while the reader is aware that being a digital spectacle consists of juggling egos and the constant seeking of companionship.
Interwoven within the story is Marlow, intriguingly connected and living in a town called Constellation—a curated, Hollywood-reminiscent place, with controlled, artificial sunsets and citizens who exist in a tangle of celebrity gossip and promotional lifestyle vlog content. Marlow has been groomed and commodified by executives from the day she was born. Even as a child, Marlow’s life is televised, observing the houses in Constellation, which have plants growing from their roofs, resembling hair:
“The houses all have a hair! Marlow had crowed that day, as her father pulled the car up to the gray-side of Colonial Type 5 with the moss-colored metal roof. She had thought herself very clever, and her parents had laughed at the joke. By the time is sunset, though, most of the other children had said the same thing. A chorus of house-hair comments echoed up and down the fresh pavement, the opening chords of a town had gone from soulless to settled in twelve hours. Marlow could still remember standing in the street that evening, that’s the town’s first man-made sunset went off without a hitch and the banners unfurled ceremoniously from the streetlights. ‘Welcome to Constellation’, they said. ‘Where Fame is our patriotic privilege.’”
Much like 1984, and the more modern Black Mirror, Followers rides a slippery slope into the constant and willing surveillance of its subjects. This reality allows audiences live viewership and the ability to comment on the lives of influencers, who were raised into the legacy of social media success of pseudo-happy marriages, growing families, and overall ideal lifestyles which are decided by fans and executives. A particular scene that contextualizes this:
“The morning was for numbers. Marlow woke at seven to take one pill in front of–she gave a mental glance at the dashboard that kept track of her followers, blinking on the screen inside her mind–eleven-point-six million people, as of this moment. She hooked the quilt beneath her armpits in two places–wardrobe malfunction prevention had installed loops on all her bedding, had sewn prongs into the lace edges of the short silk gowns she wore to bed. Then she sat up and took three deep breaths, opening her eyes on the last one. She blinked four times, unhurried. Smiled twice. The first smile was meant to look sleepy, to hint at the consciousness emerging. The second was meant to look spontaneous, giddy...The network had sent her a clucking note yesterday, reminding her to aim for consistency whenever possible. Departures from long-held routines can seem to the audience like signs of emotional trouble...”
The comments from her audience in her early routines range from: “She DOES always look so content though,” “Such a bold floral on that cardigan, but she’s pulling it off!” and “Doesn’t anyone think it’s weird the way she drinks that juice…”
The allure of Followers rests in the glamor of these curated lives, the falseness lightening the dystopian undertones of the novel’s surrounding society. Angelo does this by capturing the levity in the future of beauty culture: mud mask parties, the shrill tone of vain women, beauty ads, and their cohesive ability to manipulate viewers and sponsors alike.
Much of the novel is like the sector of the internet world many of us run into today: paid sponsorships by influencers who toggle between appearing relatable and unattainable. Trends in style, tech, lingo, and medication are always peripheral to the behaviors of the characters in Followers. Throughout, characters are simultaneously misunderstood and unable to express emotion. Particularly for Marlow, as her life is constantly televised and commented on by her viewers. She’s initially able to withhold her slightest dissatisfactions with the aid of the ironically coined fictional prescription drug, Hysteryl. Smoothie subscription ads are the prime real estate of entertainment for her live viewers. Her authentic behaviors that are unstifled by Hysteryl are limited to off-camera zones.
With date markers and a universe of increasingly complex technological advances, Angelo is able to convey how quickly culture evolves in this world and changes between the time Orla was in high school, the evolution of tech that leads her and Floss to develope an internet persona, and the hold it has on Marlow’s life. Overall, the real conversation Followers has with its readers revolves around the meaning of individual and collective success. For many characters, the intrinsic motivation of their lives is social media, and what’s lacking is the intimacy of interpersonal communities. Take for instance Marlow who “...always ordered dessert, just to prolong the experience of being in a place full of happy-looking couples her age. It felt almost like having friends.” Although it is a habit stemming from a somber reality, it translates, making the reader feel a similar hollowness. Angelo writes simply enough for the complex dystopia of an internet obsessed culture by eloquently articulating her characters’ emotions.
Followers, at times, feels like a glint toward tech-horror: the dehumanization of being watched, displayed, and unable to express negative emotions (i.e. profanity, raising one's voice, and mild property damage). These limitations add the atmosphere of Followers within the genre of physiological gore that wouldn’t be entirely impossible in the hyper-designed future of designer babies, humanoid robots, and mood-altering prescriptions. In many ways, the life of the characters in Followers is not so different from social media today. Much like the aforementioned Black Mirror, Handmaid’s Tale, and the Twilight Zone, Angelo creates an all-consuming world of characters controlled by tech, their humanity becoming muffled in their false realities. Much of the novel follows their lives in the tone of celebrity buzz gossip. Additionally, Followers gives the impression of a racially Caucasian, or ambiguous future, which comes across as a lackadaisical address to discussing what the world may look like in a place that relies so heavily on vanity.
Nonetheless, the hypothetical world of Followers is compelling, an enchanting novel, in tone and imagination. In the same breath, it is a future that isn’t completely far removed from our own, it's plot like an expanded dive into two stories that can exist independently. At times it’s difficult to tell whether it’s because many of the tech advents Angelo writes about already exist or whether Angelo is successful at illustrating a futuristic world even more dependent and systemically tied to social media than what we know today. Followers is in an interesting position of dystopian tech fiction. It offers a more realistic vehicle into what the dystopian future of social media might look like, rather than robots taking over a post-war landscape. Although it isn’t an entirely new concept, it is entertaining to have the intertwined worlds of Floss, Orla, and Marlow elaborated for the reader to reflect on their own relationships to social media, and what it means to be successful in the age of the influencer.
NAYA CLARK is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and Editorial Assistant at Urban Ivy. She enjoys interviewing artists, musicians, writers, and community organizers about their crafts and perspectives. Her work can be found in Split Lip Magazine, the Rumpus, Plasma Magazine, among other publications. In her spare time, she is propagating plants, writing sentences here and there, volunteering at art museums, and trying to learn something new. Sometimes she doesn’t know what to write.