A Bad Influence?

May 3rd, 2021

As everyone knows by now, Netflix is making a reality series based on the lives of “hot Instagrammers” in Byron Bay. Legions of locals have come out in protest but, unfortunately,  all that will do will give this production oodles of free publicity and more “must watch” notoriety.

Executive producer Julian Morgans came up with the idea while holidaying here with a friend “who’s in advertising”. The production’s press release stated it would be a “docu-soap following the feed of hot Instagrammers living their best lives, being their best selves, creating the best content, #nofilter guaranteed.” To be called “Byron Baes”. BAE being an acronym (contested) for Before Anyone Else.

Que Minh Luu, is the director of content for Netflix in Australia and New Zealand. She has said in an article in the New York Times (in which I am quoted) “our goal is to lift the curtain on influencer culture to understand the motivation, the desire and the pain behind this very human need to be loved.” If this is true, the thrust of the series will be on how the influencer phenomenon works and what drives it. Byron Bay will merely be the aesthetically pleasing backdrop. Yes, annoying if it is frivolous and trashy but unlikely to cause major damage to Byron’s community or culture. Other things may, but not this.

Who Gets to Say?

The protest included a paddle out of surfers at Main Beach and a number of businesses saying they would not allow the production to film in their cafes or restaurants. There seemed to a face-off between “Good Influencers”, those who respect and want to protect the Byron vibe, and “Bad Influencers”, those who want to rip it off and exploit the brand.

We all love Byron and want to protect it, but somehow delegating or approving one group of people the right to control who gets to speak for, or represent it, is inherently problematic. Maybe this would be a good time for the council or a delegation of the community to meet with the producers and state our case. If they listen and take that on board, great.  However, reality TV thrives on drama, conflict and trashy behaviour. That is what makes it rate. Most people know that and will accept that it’s not “our reality”.

This present media storm had a prelude when local influencer Courtney Adamo was featured in Vanity Fair.  I wrote a blog on it at the time. The world did not end. Yes, there were changes as Byron Bay was lifted another notch in profile and celebrity status. It will always keep changing, morphing, adapting and this is just another nudge in a direction that no one really has any control over. Even if we could control it – who would we appoint to be the controller or style councillor?

Selfie Free Zones

It was heartening to hear that some locals were asked to be included but declined. Local influencer Ruby Tuesday Mathews and cafe owner Ben Gordan were just two who have opted out and are opposed to the filming. Ben is the drummer of the uber-successful thrash band, Parkway Drive. His café, the Byron Bay General Store on Bangalow Road was hoped to be the main location.  It was here that Hollywood heartthrob, Zac Efron, met and wooed his girlfriend who was waiting tables. Obviously, an excellent location to hang out in and post a few selfies.

Mandy Nolan, our own beloved loudmouth, avid protector of the sane and good,  jumped in with her own pithy commentary. “I haven’t met one of these influencers. I’ve met the real famous people like Hoges [Paul Hogan] and Olivia [Newton-John], but those guys arrive and attempt to blend in and have done a good job at it. Our little home town has already been loved, do we really need more attention? Us true locals can soldier on, but I wish these others would bugger off.”

Just who has been selected to be the talent, Mr Morgans will not say. But does say, “These people are using their lifestyles on social media to sell different products and spruik different brands”. This is just an extension of the old Brand Ambassador model but is now on steroids with the social media platforms. We can bemoan it all we want and yes, it is empty and vacuous and shallow.  But this is what is happening and will be here until the next overnight sensation comes along.

To Influence or Not to Influence?

We will have a very agitated population if we react to every new influence or opinion that we don’t like. Byron Bay is no longer a sleepy little surfie/hippie town. Those first couple of months just after COVID hit, I also loved the peace and quiet. If there was a way to make everything stop and go back to how it was I would probably sign up. But that’s not going to happen. For whatever reason, the genie is out of the bottle and there is no going back. We have to somehow manage this new reality and keep as much of it as we can intact. A previous blog talks about that here.

Austin, Texas is a university town, very progressive and not typical of Texas. They have a Keep Austin Weird campaign. Portland Oregon also has a similar promotion. Unfortunately (please take note council) the IP of the popular “Keep Austin Weird” slogan was taken over by a commercial entity and is now just selling bumper stickers and T-shirts.

Beyond Our Control

The reality is that Byron is now beyond our ability to control it. There are many disparate voices saying they speak for Byron. No one group can speak for Byron and state categorically what it represents and nor should they. But, yes we do want to keep it more than just a branding opportunity and aesthetic backdrop for self-promotion. Banning the latest trivial rip off will not achieve that. Equally, trying to regulate and licence one section of the community to approve how Byron is represented in the media is impossible and foolhardy.

Also of media interest is the local TV series EDEN that was filmed here last year has now released its trailer, Release date yet to be announced.

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