The perils of influencer culture come to life in Jenny Mollen’s brilliant new book City of Likes. Combine Mollen’s sense of humor and sharp-as-a-blade wit with the bizarre world of social media influencers and you have the recipe for a bestseller.
City of Likes is the story of Meg Chernoff, a copywriter trying to find work so that her family stays afloat after moving to New York City. A chance encounter with an Instagram superstar changes her entire worldview. It all seems so simple at first; people send you stuff, you take a picture and post it and voila.
Like a gateway drug the thirst for more pushes Meg into uncharted territory. She descends into the influencer madness as her loving husband watches from the sidelines. Under the influence of influencer Daphne, Meg starts to lose sight of herself.
The amazing thing about City of Likes is that while it’s wildly entertaining and written in Mollen’s trademark over the top style, it’s also startlingly true to life.
I have a very distinct memory of standing in line for the Autopia at Disneyland less than 10 years ago. A woman and her young teenage daughter were ahead of me and her daughter was scrolling madly through Instagram when she suddenly exclaimed that a very popular Disney influencer “noticed” her. “He noticed me!” she cried, giddy with excitement. (The mother sought clarification and it turns out “noticing her” meant he liked her post) I remember that moment because it was terrifying to think that her whole day at Disneyland was defined by being “noticed” by an influencer.
Influencer culture is a strange thing. Suddenly people who manage to break through the algorithms are brand ambassadors, spokespeople for companies without any real training or qualification other than having a high follower count. I often wonder what will happen to them after their 15 minutes are up. With so many high school YouTube and TikTok stars opting to focus on content creation instead of pursuing any kind of career or education, it makes me think that when the bubble bursts there’s going to be a problem.
Jenny Mollen brings these concerns of mine to life in City of Likes. Meg is a very intelligent woman who went to college and has a career, and when she gets roped into the high-flying life of an influencer her whole worldview shifts. It’s fascinating to see, and what’s more is that while Meg’s might be fiction, her story isn’t.
So many people want to become influencers and YouTube stars these days that it’s no longer uncommon to see people dancing in the middle of the sidewalk on a busy city street because they’re creating content. The next thing Meg knows, she’s posting from the toilet because she doesn’t want her husband to know she’s on her phone again after promising that she’s put her phone away.
You really won’t want to miss City of Likes. It’s a great summer book, perfect for an afternoon in the backyard, at the beach or by the pool. Take it on vacation, or use it as a mental vacation. Mollen will have you laughing out loud while pondering social media and influencer life in ways you can’t begin to imagine.