Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Harmon Keller/Alicia Polawski: Internet Famous

Jordan is extraordinarily lucky that my current rotation does not take me to LAX until July at the earliest, because I would be sorely tempted to murder her and then escape to Maine, allowing whoever winds up as Alicia next to deal with the fallout.  For all that being this absurd parody of womanhood has been a constant series of humiliations, this past week has been the most ridiculous.

As you may recall, I stepped in to assist Jordan last year when she required assistance in finishing her student film after her star quit, though I did not truly replace her, but rather played all of the duplicate robots that she would have played.  They were more or less mindless automata, so my work was mainly a matter of standing around in tight clothing and heels well taller than necessary to make up the height deficit with the average man or to appear tastefully fashionable, enough times that Jordan could combine the images.

It was technically impressive work, I suppose, although as somebody who knows all too well that her inspiration for a film in which a man's brain is placed inside a robot shaped like an anatomically-correct woman was not, as many would presume, about an ex-boyfriend who needed to learn a lesson, I cannot much disagree with her professors who apparently found it slight and somewhat juvenile.  It has not been picked up by any but the smallest film festivals, and not getting the best position in those.  This was something of a relief for me as I decided to remain Alicia for another year, and I soon paid it no mind.

Then, yesterday, as I arrived back at the "crash pad" after a flight from Dallas that had been delayed for hours (a delay for which the attendants are not paid!), I heard howling coming from the living room, and with the intent of telling the flatmates to keep it down, I poked my head in, only to see in horror that they were watching "I, Fembot".

I try to back away to write a furious email to Jordan, but I'm seen.  "Guys, she's here!"  Someone hits pause and then all four cluster around me.  "Why didn't you tell us you had a side hustle?  This what you were doing during your leave of absence? "

I took a careful half-step back.  "No, I was just..."  How to explain talking with other people who had lost their identities thanks to a cursed hotel?  "I was using the director's spare room - one of those services - and she had a panic attack about the other girl storming off the set, saying she'd step in herself but she would need far too much padding.  Well, stepping in to help was the only decent thing, although if I'd seen the costumes..."

"But that's the best part!  You look so hot in the outfits and it's so you to just go making guys horny without giving a shit!  Because even if they're programmed to respond, you know the sex-bot doesn't actually care."

"I hardly think that's an accurate--"

"Oh, c'mon, look at you on Insta!  Racking up the followers with all the selfies but never following back, barely responding unless someone comments on the museum or whatever you're in."

I groaned.  "I've told you, I don't take those pictures for 'followers'."

They arched their eyebrows and gave me variations on "sure you don't", but it happens d to be e true.  The only follower, or fan, that actually matters the slightest bit is Daryl, who finds it useful for me to have a social media presence when somebody asks "Magda" about her daughter.  Other than that, it's simply a convenient way for me to have some record of my time as Alicia after I finish it.  I cannot see myself becoming sentimental about this anatomy, but I cannot deny that the opportunity to travel has offset the job which requires it somewhat.  With this application already on Alicia's phone, and sharing the default, it should be a simple matter to extract that which I wished to keep.

Obviously, there was no point of explain that to the gaggle, so I just repeated that my photography was for myself and what others thought of it was irrelevant.  Then I said the shower was mine, ignoring the shouted question of whether a brain in one of those robots would have PMS or cramps simulated the way arousal was, because they wouldn't stick their boyfriends in one otherwise.

The shower was useful; though the Inn has made my body more resilient than it had been for some time, I had been on my feet for some time and just an hour in Texas can make you sweat in a way that sticks even under the perfume and deodorant.  Washing my flatmates' crude comments away was a pleasant enough side benefit.

Afterward, as I say wrapped in a towel, brushing my hair, Alicia's phone buzzed with some notification, and it reminded me that I had set Instagram notifications off, as I did not intend to interact on the platform (and, indeed, most of the messages it notified me of were just men saying how life-changing intercourse would be for the pair of us).  Out of idle curiosity, I brought the program up and looked at my statistics.

I had 20,000 followers.

They came in waves, it appears - some when Jordan "at-ed" me as he put his short online, but I apparently got put on lists as well, from the obvious ("flight attendants of Instagram") to the bizarrely, specifically hostile ("bitches who think they're too good to follow back but ain't all that").  It's more people than I've had students, quite possibly on a par with the number of people who have read my books or attended my presentations at conferences.  For doing little more than taking photographs of myself.

I looked in the mirror and wondered what a picture undressed would do to all that.  It almost seemed to be worth the experiment, just to see, especially since any reputation that came as a result would fall upon someone else in a few months.  If a younger person becomes the new Alicia, she might even find an account with thousands of followers a positive.

As an economist, I find the idea intriguing, creating something of admittedly illusory value from nothing.  The other side, though, is that it could wind up like Jordan's film - harmless enough at the time, but something I shall have to live with until I no longer have Alicia's face.

-Harmon Keller

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