This article originally appeared on VICE CA.
So a private jet means you're going places, an infinity pool means you're straight chillin, and an orange box means you were paid $250K to pretend you were going to a festival that didn't exist. Ultimately, there’s a lot you can say about yourself on Instagram, none of which needs to be true. The power of Instagram is in the soulless witchcraft that is fabricating something out of literally nothing. If Fyre Festival has taught us anything, it’s that Evian water is fit for blow jobbing and that a thing doesn't really need to exist anymore for people to want it.
Jump to an exceptionally bright Saturday when my editor set me the task of finding rich assholes at Vancouver’s International Boat Show. Where, instead of assholes, I got a totally unexpected iPhone-shaped window into the Instagram racket that is self-augmented reality.
Initially my mission was simple; go see some boats, and find the inevitable douchebags who hang around said boats. I was imagining some sort of moth-to-flame type scenario, and I was excited. We’re talking $2.2 million, 66-foot toys with enough big deck energy to choke the Burrard Inlet. I was expecting to be able to get my fill of asshole for the rest of the year in one gluttonous single sitting. But turns out, through some irritating probing on my behalf, that there were no rich assholes. Just a whole bunch of people pretending to be rich assholes, and I’m not sure what’s worse.
The boat day (yes that is the technical term) featured a plethora of giant money pits aka enormous yachts for sale; from the Princess, a $2.2 mil lavish nightmare, to the Sunseeker, an equally lavish nightmare costing the sum of a small country. Luckily for me I got to tiptoe around the boats in my socks whilst experiencing some serious eyeballing from the sales reps. They immediately knew I was just there for the (stationary) ride. It’s safe to assume my three-year-old Vans don't scream yacht owner, and my financial embarrassment was sniffed out immediately by one on-board rep who created the same kind of ambience as a bitchy cat; they just stared at me until I left.
So what does someone who is about to drop $2+ mil on a boat look like? Is it the guy taking a selfie next to the top deck bbq? What about the woman pretending to lather herself up in the tub of the master suite? Is the eight-year-old at the helm singing “boats and hoes” having a try before he buys? “You buying a boat today?” I asked a couple after I took their photo. “God, no” they answered in unison. Cool so, is anyone?
Now I'm not saying if you go to a boat show you have to drop $2.2 million on a yacht, but it was interesting that not one person I spoke to had any interest in buying a boat. In fact I saw more iPhones in faces than I saw people actually pretending to be interested in the boat specs. The sales people were left inside catty and lonely, silently judging each person who tiptoed in their socks on the unnecessarily shiny floors into the helm of a ship the size of my apartment, just to take a selfie at the wheel.
Despite no one being here to actually buy anything, we were all playing some weird game of cat and mouse. Like swilling wine around in your mouth, the whole charade was pointless. Yet here we were in a joust of sorts all pretending we were here to talk about the boat rather than take photos of it.
“You have experience with boats?” one zingy seller asked me as we chatted on the bed of the master bedroom. “Absolutely, Howard,” I replied, doing my best to exert all the big boat energy I could. Then I nodded along as he explained to me something about joysticks or engines or something to do with how to make this monstrous money pit move. I wasn't listening, instead I was attempting to manifest a real life where I could afford a room this size on land, let alone one on board a multi-million dollar ship—shit, sorry—boat.
Howard then took me upstairs to play with a couple of knobs. “Isn’t that smooth?” he asked. I wiggled it around a bit as he smiled encouragingly. Howard wasn’t wrong, it was exceptionally smooth, but I wasn't really sure what we were doing here. I think when I described the stick as “fun” that was the final nail in the coffin in terms of our little roleplay. Howard excused himself and moved on to begin the charade with someone else. “So, you have experience with boats?” I heard him muse to another women in the stern. Howard, you dirty dog.
After I’d seen the first boat I’d seen them all, really. They of course all had a variety of distinguishing features but my boating knowledge barely goes any further than ‘they were big and they were shiny’ so I can’t tell you what they were. “What do you like about this boat?” I asked a man happy snapping his wife in the boat shower. “This shower is bigger than the one in our house!” he exclaimed. That’s great, John, it really is. “You gonna buy it?” I asked, attempting to match his excitement for the on board facilities. “The shower?” he replied incredulously. He’d missed the point but I continued regardless. “Sure!” I offered. “No way!” he replied, side-eyeing me like I was crazy. Then John, his wife and I had to squeeze nose to nose down the gangway together in silence. It was a big boat so this took some time.
Despite my gangway disasters I continued to probe the visitors, but my questions seemed to irritate them, especially when I would inevitably ask if they were buying, at which point they would immediately say no, like they were offended I would even say such a thing. Surely it’s not rude to ask people if they were buying a boat at an international boat show? Maybe it was a little too personal—it’s like asking someone how much money they earn. My reminding them they couldn't afford the boats was clearly ruining the facade they were plastering all over their Instagram.
Has the insatiable quest of ‘doing it for the ‘gram lead us here, to galavant in our socks on beds that say “please don’t touch”?! Self augmented reality is now just as inextricable from the Instagram experience as stalking your ex’s ex’s dog’s profile. We are all constantly curating and rose tinting our own brands to such an extent that a picture on a yacht has more value now than just being about the time you were there, it’s become a way to fabricate a life for yourself that you want other people to see. A company in Russia is even monetising the insatiable need in everyone to self augment on social media, and charges people to sit in a parked private jet to get content for their gram. Unbeknownst to the seafaring boat organisers of this International Boat show, they had almost created the same thing.
But stationary yachts and jets aren’t just about the gram, they also appease our morbid curiosity to experience how the super rich live. Wealth porn has become our fascination. We follow people on Instagram just because they're rich and do cool stuff. Of course, perving over extravagant wealth isn't a new phenomena, it’s just a lot easier to do now with social media becoming the ultimate facilitator for this less than humble bragging; it’s the perfect vehicle for green insidious envy.
But as wealth disparity grows, so does the distance all us regular Joes have to the action, so much so that we choose to spend our Saturdays playing on giant unmoving super yachts just to feel close to it. In 2019 according to a report by Oxfam, there are more billionaires than there ever have been, the sheer amount of wealth on our Instagram is unavoidable. We are perpetually fascinated by the upper echelons of society because it’s become our version of escapism. Instagram is now so enhanced we can view it as fantasy, like it’s happening in a galaxy far far away. So on this sunny day in Vancouver, with these boats that weren't moving, all of us were just escaping whatever our daily mundanity looks like, to self augment, however fictitiously.
I had spent all day looking for assholes, and as I looked around the boats full of people practically glowing with the thrill of thinking their followers might think this boat was theirs, I realized maybe I was the asshole. I was the asshole who was disturbing their big deck dreams and interrupting their photoshoots with questions like “would you ever actually be able to afford something like this though?” No! Of course not, no one can, but equally no one needs to be reminded of that.
I did hear a rumour one of the $2.2 mil yachts had been sold that day but really that didn't matter, the day had revealed far more to me than whether or not there were people there rich enough to buy boats. I couldn't locate a single asshole, unless you count the person who was breaking the Instagram fourth wall for everyone else. It had just been a group of grownups taking a couple of hours out of their Saturday to play with big boats and get some fodder for their social media profiles.
So what did I learn? I learned that socks and extortionately waxed hardwood floors are a dangerous combo, and I learned that you don't need to buy a boat to look like you have one on your Instagram—you just need to pay $15 to go stand on one.
And disclaimer: if you go to a boat show and can’t locate a single asshole it means (shocker) the asshole is probably you.
Follow Laura on Twitter.