An Empathetic Look At Influencer Culture


At the risk of sounding like a boomer, or Gen X, which I am, I hate social media influencers. I absolutely don’t get it. These random tik tok videos will show up in my Instagram feed and it’ll be someone lipsynching some confusing nonsense, then I’ll go to their page and see 200k followers and they’ll be thanking their “fans”. What is this? Who are your fans and what does a human being get out of watching this garbage ?

So a film like Sweat, which completely deconstructs this weird phenomenon and shows the influencer as depressed and miserable, not only throws water on something that I imagine makes lots of people equally miserable and depressed through the envy of a facade of a life, but also gives empathy to someone who is viewed as a product and a cog in a vapid industry.

Sylwia is an influencer and fitness aficionado. She has 600,000 followers, which is repeated often, like it’s her only qualification. An older lonely pathetic man starts stalking her. He masturbates as he watches her, which she sees, and then later sends creepy apology videos to her. Her handlers treat her like a queen, but only because she is a product, and their disposition towards her changes when opportunity strikes. It is an ugly system and she is stuck in the middle of it.

But if film is an empathy machine, then Sweat is succeeding to the highest degree. Thanks to Magdalena Kolésnik’s great performance, we feel for her every time her videos stop and she reveals the real her through expression. And even though depression can hit anyone, regardless of your looks or privilege, a part of me thought it is a little easy to feel so much empathy for a beautiful person like Sylwia who wants to be just like us. Where this movie goes into greatness is when it asks the viewer to sympathize with everyone, up to and including her stalker. 

Social media puts people in boxes, creates haves and have nots and has been scientifically proven to cause depression. People will tell you to unplug and reconnect with the world. “Protect your mental health”, and other buzz terms that usually come from influencers with thousands of followers. But film has that special ability to make the words into real feelings. The damage social media does to everyone is immeasurable, from the viewer to the ones who have trouble connecting to reality to the influencer who becomes simply a product. And Sweat fairly views the widespread damage to an amazing degree.