The story of an underprivileged kid from a small town with dreams of fame and stardom has been told so often it’s become a cliche. Dreams of Hollywood, Wall Street or the top of the Billboard Hot 100 have traditionally caught the eyes of enterprising, starry-eyed teens. Today, that same stardom is being sought on social media.
“Jawline,” a documentary that debuted on Hulu August 23, explores this uniquely 21st century story. It follows teenage social media personality Austyn Tester during his rise to fame, giving viewers the chance to watch the birth of an online celebrity.
Although “Jawline” is a documentary, it’s structured very much like a film. The narrative is focused on a real person, but the film is framed to set Tester up as the main character in his own story.
Making Tester, as opposed to another influencer, the main character adds to why the narrative is so compelling. Tester is from a small town in Tennessee and comes from an underprivileged background. His circumstances set him up as a compelling underdog.
The beginning of the film paints Tester as a genuine, down-to-Earth individual. Tester is someone you can root for. You want to see Tester succeed. This same effect might not have been achieved had the main character grown up wealthy.
“Jawline” is also aided by how it explores people and groups other than Tester. For instance, the beginning of the film switches back and forth between Tester trying to create content from his home and a group of influencers in Los Angeles being instructed on what to create by manager Michael Weist.
There is a clear difference between Tester’s content and that of Weist’s clients. It seems like the Los Angeles influencers are being forced to churn out content, whereas Tester does it because he loves it and wants to succeed.
This juxtaposition suggests that while we should root for Tester to achieve higher levels of fame, it may come with some unintended negative consequences.
“Jawline” does not only focus on influencers — there is also a minor focus on their fans. They are shown ecstatically meeting their favorite social media celebrities and are featured in voice overs where they talk about their love for the influencers.
With how pervasive social media has become, some people in the documentary say they feel more of a connection with their internet friends than with their real-life friends. This emotional connection to social media has led fans to feel connected to certain influencers, even going so far as to call them family.
Including fan perspectives was a wise choice. Social media influencers wouldn’t be nearly as noteworthy if they had no fans, so including the perspective of fans was important to exploring the full scope of an influencer’s story.
It also opens up discussion for a variety of questions relating to how people use social media and what is so appealing about social media celebrities.
The documentary does not shy away from the less than glamorous parts of working in the business of social media. Weist points out how influencers have a “shelf life,” so he’s always looking for new talent to replace the old talent when their time runs out. While this part of the business isn’t pretty to look at, its inclusion paints a full picture of what the business is like.
The film does not sugarcoat the fact that not everyone makes it in the business of social media influencers. Tester — although set up as if he would achieve all of his dreams like the protagonist of a fairy tale — does not get a happy ending. He receives a taste of the fame he longs for, but it fades quickly.
Tester’s arc, which ends with what seems like a failure, goes against the increasingly common idea that anybody can make it as a social media influencer. It serves as a reality check for what the world of social media influencers actually looks like.