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Everyone Deserves Their Own Live Audience

Everyone Deserves Their Own Live Audience

  • Culture
  • Life

It’s 7am on a Sunday morning, and pretty much everyone is still asleep.

Sarah isn’t doing much. In a tiny oval at the top left-hand corner of the live feed, the number 93 shows how many people are watching her. Someone sends a heart. Another asks an inane question, “What are you doing?”

“I’m just .. Waiting to go home,” she whines, eyes heavy with want for sleep.

93 climbs to 128. Still she isn’t doing much. A customer comes in to pay for some milk. At 8 am, she ends her shift and goes home. Or so she tells us, before she logs off an app called Bigo Live.

Other lives, however mundane, captivate us when offered up for our viewing pleasure.

On Bigo Live, you are often admist a faceless, hyper-masculine crowd; the sort that would hound a tattooed girl (a Bigo “star”) in a towel to take that towel off. This is despite the fact that she is Thai and understands no word of English.

“Stars” of this sort hail from Singapore to Indonesia to Vietnam. They’re usually heavily made up and spend their time entertaining compliments (You’re so pretty!!) or fending off minor forms of sexual harassment (Show us your bobs!—nope, not our typo).

But dig a little deeper, and you find that Bigo is home to more than just pretty faces. There is a chubby 9 year old ranting about the challenges of daily life. What is he going to have for dinner? Why is life so boring? On another live feed, an Indian teenager sits by a kerb smoking a cigarette. He mutters into the camera, “My friends are fucking stupid and lame.”

Each of them had over 200 viewers tuning in. Anyone, it seems, can be an object of fascination.

Bigo suggests that our voyeuristic tendencies go beyond sexual depravity or the need for companionship.

the desire to witness the intimate details of other people’s lives comes naturally to us

In truth, Bigo is more Rear Window than it is web cam modelling. It recalls the Korean bloggers who’ve made a name for themselves eating full meals on live video, seemingly to accompany lonely singles dining alone at home.

While the traditionally pretty Korean celebrities are amongst the most popular, less attractive bloggers have found equal success. This seems to suggest that our voyeuristic tendencies go beyond sexual depravity or a need for companionship.

After all, the desire to witness the intimate details of other people’s lives comes naturally to us. We enjoy examining the insides of friends’ houses. We make mental notes about how they live (“What, no bookcase?”). When a commotion erupts in public, we ache for facts. What happened? Who said what? Was it his fault or hers?

Other lives, however mundane, captivate us when offered up for our viewing pleasure.

Right now, Instagram offers curated, edited images. Snapchat documents spontaneous, unplanned moments. Bigo Live, in its special way, offers a live feed of the prosaic in-betweens. It is social media that glorifies the sum total of our boring lives, telling us that even your weekend nights spent alone at home should be exhibited for consumption.

On Bigo Live, diamonds and beans are currency. To ask questions, you need to purchase diamonds with cash. If you like a particular Bigo “star,” you can gift him or her with beans which can be traded in for cash once they’ve accumulated more than 6700. This means that there’s plenty of incentive for “stars” to be deliberate about the entertainment they provide.

User gniliew, spends her time prank-calling strangers. On a Monday evening, user rchlrq spent the best part of an hour entertaining queries about her surname. As users came closer to extracting more and more intimate details of her life, even more users tuned in.

every individual, regardless of who they are or how they look, can claim the right to be watched

As such, Bigo isn’t free of the pretensions that plague social media. It too demands a kind of performance, except that “stars” like the above mentioned can now actually be stalked with greater satisfaction (if that’s your thing). They, in return, enjoy the opportunity to make some money.

Nerve, a recent film starring the ever immaculate Emma Roberts, depicts a world in which audiences can pressure a video “celebrity” to perform certain acts on live video. They range from the innocent to the lurid, from singing along to karaoke to running naked in the streets. In return, these “celebrities” win actual money.

While Bigo anticipates the world of Nerve, its prominently displayed user advisory cautions against any depiction of “overtly sexual” behaviour, ensuring all live feeds remain modest, banal, yet irresistible.

Perhaps this is the future of social media—a world where every individual, regardless of who they are or how they look, can claim the right to be watched and find that there is always an audience ready to participate in that willing spectacle. It won’t have to be titillating or exceptionally amusing. They can just be themselves.

For now, it seems like South East Asia’s budding sensations are leading this shift.

 

Author

Wong Jia Wei