The Brief: Jawline is a 2019 documentary directed by Liza Mandelup that explores the thrills and pitfalls of social media stardom for teenage boys.
Jawline follows the life of then 16-year-old Austyn Tester in his journey towards social media stardom. Named after the sharp jawlines that young male influencers are known for, the film focuses on young men who aspire to be famous and successful from social media. Jawline exposes how social media fame can be fleeting, unpredictable, and inaccessible to the many young people chasing this new American Dream.
At the time the documentary was filmed, Austyn Tester was a teenage boy living in a small town in Tennessee with a few thousand followers on YouNow. Jawline showcases how Austyn worked to build his audience, balancing his bourgeoning career with typical teenage activities like doing chores and hanging out with friends. Although Austyn’s clout may have been significantly less than some of his sharp-jawline-possessing contemporaries, he entertained a community of devoted fans who would watch his videos, live streams, and even drove hours to meet him in-person.
In his live streams, Austyn spouts motivational quotes and preaches relentless positivity. Fans are attracted to this happy outlook and people find solace in the inspirational attitudes of social media figures like Austyn. These influencers can be a source of hope for people who feel alienated and lonely in their lives offline. Austyn’s social media feeds, including his interactive YouNow streams serve as a way to make people feel less alone in the world and with Austyn as an encouraging virtual friend.
When Austyn goes on tour with twinfluencers Julian and Jovani Jara, they affect the lives of real people, mostly young girls who often pay hundreds of dollars and may travel hundreds of miles for a chance to hug and take a selfie with their favorite social media heartthrobs.
Influencers and kidfluencers would be nothing without their followers, fans, and stans. This film focuses on boys whose fan-base is largely made up of teenage and preteen girls. Multiple fans interviewed in the documentary spoke about how following these stars makes them “feel less alone” giving them a sense of family, friendship, love, and hope. At times, the fangirls in the film scream, cry, and run towards their internet idols. Unlike fans in a pre-social media era, these fans have access to a unique form of intimacy with celebrities in which they may feel that they have close personal connections with people whom they’ve never met.
Interviews with then influencer manager Michael Weist provide insight into who makes money and how from the lucrative social media celebrity industry. At the time of filming, Weiss was managing Bryce Hall and Mikey Barone, who are also featured in the film.
“Influencers and social media always come and go and the businesses stay the same…no longevity behind it.” -Michael Weist
Weist called the contemporary moment a “social media gold rush,” explaining that “the nature of this social media business is making as much money as quick as you can because everything has an expiration date and a time limit.” Weist is well-aware of the ups and downs of fickle and ever-changing social media celebrity market. Weist says “Influencers and social media always come and go and the businesses stay the same” and that there’s “no longevity behind it.” Tied into this is a sense that individual influencers are dispensable.
The film touches on the toll that social media can take on mental health, especially when it’s the source of one’s success and income. While Austyn initially seems confident in his belief that he’s “guaranteed fame” if he works hard enough, later in the film, after his manager drops him as a client and refuses to pay him, Austyn seems less sure of how his positive outlook and strong work ethic alone will achieve his dreams. At one point, while Mikey Barone is refusing to film a video, his fellow content creator Bryce tells him: “That’s what social media is. You have to put a smile on your face and act like you’re happy.” The dissonance between the image that these influencers present and the feelings they’re experiencing IRL is a reminder that social media is based-on illusions and highly-curated presentations of one’s lifestyle.
Jawline goes in-depth into what ‘real-life’ looks like for a few young social media stars. Austyn’s struggles to keep up his fan base and to find reliable management convey how a successful career as a social media star is often difficult and inaccessible, no matter how hard someone works or how positive their outlook is.