Vigan, Delphine from: Children First

Influencers, youtubers, loved and hated. They make money by letting fans into their private life while advertising. What if the kids did something like that? The French writer Delphine de Vigan tries to understand this phenomenon.

The chilling reality of kid youtubers
Delphine of Vigan
: Children first. Přel. Alexandra PflimpflovaEM / Odeon, Prague, 2021, 320 s.

The last novel Delphine of Vigan Children first is a reading that freezes. And the chills running down your spine will be heightened if the reader doesn’t know anything about kids youtubers and instagram influencers and decides to find something more about them while reading or after clicking the book. Because this story, like one of the author’s previous books, could be subtitled “after the real event”. At first, it all seems unreal and exaggerated, but later we find out, and when we search the Internet, we even confirm that it is. And if we have no idea something like that exists, we’re late, we’re out of tune, we’re out of touch with reality.

At first, it seems that the novel will deal with the completely different destinies of two women, Clara and Melanie, whom we meet during their childhood, when the family background and upbringing will determine their future course. The first becomes a procedural – a police officer who guarantees the consistency and irreproachability of the police file submitted to the judge or the prosecutor – and the second becomes a housewife who fills the void in life by monitoring the contents and communication on the social networks. It doesn’t take long and Mélanie, certainly influenced by her lifelong fascination with reality TV, posts the first video on her Facebook profile, in which her adorable (at least in Mélania’s opinion) daughter appears. The kindness of the child will bring him a flood of likes and enthusiastic comments, the number of which increases with the other videos, and thus will be born the foundations of the successful Youtuber channel and the Happy Récré Instagram account, whose main protagonists are Melana’s children.

The story then turns from Clara and Melanie’s life to the question of how far the exposure of private lives and especially children can go on the Internet, what all this entails and how much “work” parents and especially children should invest in it. In order to keep fans’ favor, Melania’s kids shoot two to three videos every week, in which they enthusiastically unwrap presents, perform various chores, stuff junk food and the like in silly contests. They come home with new products every day, promote various brands, meet fans, distribute signatures and advertise theme parks. And all this makes them a lot of money. Their YouTube channel has millions of subscribers who post every new post. Although, thanks to brand contracts, their children’s rooms are flooded with toys, clothes, games and art supplies, even if they have everything on their heads, this audience does not come for free. You have to constantly and regularly shoot new content, in which children are the protagonists, so that the fans do not go elsewhere and so that the companies continue to send money for advertising.

This, of course, raises many questions. One day, Melania’s daughter disappears without a trace, the case is taken over by the police, including Clara, and readers gradually begin to wonder if the children have a chance to lead a normal life, a chance to rest and decide whether to film or not. do not. Even in the story itself, there are voices of opposition to such exposure of children on the Internet, who denounce the frequency of shared videos. Another question that is unavoidable is whether such a thing is possible. Where did the author draw her inspiration? Exaggerates or simply describes reality? As one of the investigators remarked: “You have to see it to believe it. (p. 164) So: yes, it is the reality. Ten-year-old American boy Ryan Kaji and his family are among the richest youtubers today. Their channel has over 30 million subscribers. With a little research, we discover that he is certainly not alone. There are many channels that watch the lives of cute children. For example, Madison and Kyler Fisher from the United States run a successful family channel (over 4 million subscribers), which started with videos of their twins. Now the five-year-old girls got their own YouTube channel when they were three, and their younger sister managed to amass more than half a million Instagram followers in just four months of their lives. The family is expecting another offspring, whose profile will certainly not pass. Because it is not possible to create an account on YouTube or Instagram if the user is not yet thirteen years old, these influencer profiles are managed by parents.

In an interview with Gallimard, which published the book, Delphine de Vigan said she was interested in the paradox of the whole phenomenon: despite the excessive exposure of children and their private lives on the Internet, no one really knows much about it. thing. Therefore, no one cares whether it causes any harm to children. These channels are mostly watched by children, and since the content is in no way harmful, adults, i.e. those who have to protect children, usually have no idea of ​​their existence. At the same time, it is content full of publicity and, in addition, there is the already mentioned questionable position of the representatives of the children themselves. According to Delphine de Vigan, parents believe they have the right to promote their children. But it is a mistake. They are not the owners of the child, but its protectors. The character of Mélanie doesn’t think about it at all, the addiction to likes and the admiration of the fans have completely blinded her, she can’t live without it. But at the same time, she is a skilful manager who manages to earn a lot of money by exposing her children. And above all, she is a woman of her time, because social networks, the display of privacy, including in the most intimate affairs, are naturally part of today.

What will all the implications be? Will our reality stay like this forever? How will millions of fans and life in front of the camera affect children’s psyches? This is another essential question that Delphine de Vigan tries to answer, and so we find ourselves in the last quarter of the book in 2031. ice cream, because who knows what our world will look like in 2031? Which social networks will we (not) use, how much will we be (not) connected to and monitored? Delphine de Vigan is leaning towards the most likely scenario that it will be more than less, Internet users will be able to watch their favorite internet stars continuously and everything will be beautiful and positive thanks to the automatic deletion of negative comments. After the already rather chilling first part, these passages above all deliver an even more chilling representation of the effects of celebrity on the mental state of YouTubers for children. If we look at the attitudes of the parents of the real influencers for children today, we always read the same arguments: it’s not a job, the children love it, they have fun, they love their fans. Mélanie says the same thing in the story of Delphine de Vigan, and even if we have to wait to see if the author’s 2031 hypothesis is confirmed, she precisely freezes that, however unreal the first part of the present may seem, it is based on reality, and therefore there is no reason why the author’s predictions for the future should not come true.

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© Anna Zilkova

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