Who better to present a programme about sponsorship and social influencers – those online alchemists who turn clicks into money – than Vogue Williams? Its name alone, Vogue: My Sponsored Life (RTÉ2, Wednesday, 9.30pm), sounds like a belated confession, as though a fashion magazine took title sponsorship of a human being.
For her part of the deal, it must be said, Williams makes for an appropriately glossy brand ambassador. A model and presenter, she strides glamorously through the series in sinuous slow motion, as though its director, Martin Gaughan, were channelling the aspirational aura of a fragrance commercial. That may be intentional, because, like her patron, Vogue is stuffed with ads. "In the eyes of brands and businesses I'm a social influencer," she levels. "I know how mad that is," she adds, laughing, "but it's also absolutely amazing. I just got some new bed sheets today, and I didn't have to pay for them."
Why go to the expense of hiring a model and taking out ads to sell sheets when one free sample and somebody with a healthy Instagram following will do the work for you?
All this free linen is possible because Vogue – like vodka or the Son of Sam's dog – can make us do things. That has always been the point of models, whether flogging dresses, ice cream, diets or causes. But the novelty of digital makes Vogue ask, "How did we get here?" One answer might come from her benevolent brand of bedding: why go to the expense of hiring a model and taking out ads to sell sheets when one free sample and somebody with a healthy Instagram following will do the work for you?
Vogue's focus, though, is on the individual entrepreneurs in this social-media gold rush, such as Suzanne Jackson, a fashion blogger who made a fortune in retail – "I am absolutely, violently jealous," Vogue hoots – the notorious Los Angeles gossip hound Perez Hilton, or the curious Cassandra Bankson, who first gained attention in a frank YouTube discussion of her acne, and held on to it with ever more surprising revelations, such as possessing two vaginas. "It's just incredible what you do," Vogue says, in admirable possession of a double meaning.
Vogue asks the questions everybody's thinking – about method, money and mental health – entirely without malice but with a directness that can make insincere people squirm. What happens to the owner of the adorable Norbert – "a dog that's Instafamous and writes books" – when he dies, she asks? His cutesie, smile-peddling owner will just get another. It's similarly satisfying to see the leader of a costly, depthless SocialStar Creator Camp – which bills itself as "the fast track for new and early social media content creators, true entrepreneurs" – crumple under her dogged questioning.
Of the chronically oversharing YouTube parents Jonathan and Anna Saccone Joly, Vogue is much more equivocal, but they do a fine job exposing themselves: "We filmed the whole miscarriage… It's relatable."
If that suggests “influencing” can become a harmful compulsion, that’s where the show is leading us: first to an Instagrammer hospitalised with depression, then to a psychologist, and eventually to a cafe proprietor so “controversial” with viral publicity that it becomes indistinguishable from trolling. If you can’t beat ’em, Vogue finally resigns herself, join ’em. But the thrust of her show is that what people will do for attention – monetised attention, especially – can be toxic. Careful, Vogue. Don’t be a bad influencer.