The nuclear family as Instagram's hermeneutic of home
The part about affective scripts really stood out to me. Especially "There is no gram-ready affective script for the mom who shares the work of raising kids with five other people, who is in fact not exhausted, who leaves the family for periods of work or rest without feeling guilty. What kinds of memes does this mom share with her group chat? I have no idea."
So, I'm not raising kids with 5 other people, but I do have a lot of help from my family, and although I have a full time job, my work and family life actually feel pretty balanced and don't feel burnt out. I realize that I'm incredibly privileged and lucky to be in this situation, and I'm certainly not complaining, but it does feel alienating when every "script" I see on mom Instagram is about how burnt out and tired I am supposed to be feeling - but also that I am "doing it all!" and "doing the jobs of 5 different people!"
Two thoughts came to mind as I was reading this today (okay, way more than two; two that I'm curious to hear your thoughts on):
1. We have a soon-to-be neighbor whose job is "content creator"...she has 1 million followers on Tik Tok, and 250k on Instagram, and she's a new mom. I'm now sitting here thinking through how she presents herself on these two platforms, and I know there's a difference, but I've never put my finger on it...maybe this is it?
2. I'd be super curious to read your thoughts on @cottonstem. I'll admit that my curiosity is somewhat personally motivated because I went to college with her and had mutual friends, although I would not say that WE were friends. It's been fascinating to watch her build her "brand" over the years only to shut it down completely. Is this a new thing? Is she an outlier? I don't know that this is a question specific to this essay. I often think of her when I read anything you've written.
I am not a parent, but I look forward to each one of these newsletters. I find them SO intellectually invigorating, and they also help define and interpret some of the thing that gnaw at me when I observe the social media of some of my family and friends who are mothers. This is brilliant.
“The rictus-grinning nuclear family straining under the burden of their isolation.” Thank you for once again giving me a framework and language for how to interpret what I’m seeing and feeling when it comes to IG nukefam content.
I don't know any momfluencers/content creators personally, but I know that some live in the same large metropolis I do, so the unseen non-nuclear people have always interested me as a concept. Do you think any of it is privacy? I think if I had a neighbor or babysat for an influencer, I would not want them posting me or my kids on their social media. On the flip side, I've seen monfluencer "crossover" posts where two content creators meet up and there are photos and discussions of playdates etc.
Coincidentally, I have recently discovered nanny Instagram and it's really interesting! Here are women engaged in care work, but because they are nannies the financial remuneration aspect seems less taboo/hidden. They're also coming from outside the nuclear family, at least in relation to the kids. I wonder if it's possible to have a momfluencer and a nanny influencer coming from the same household, or if the nanny influencer would disrupt too many scripts.
This give me so much to think about- the affective script in particular! I'm also wondering if part of the IG representation also has to do with the influencer maybe not feeling like it's her place to include all the other characters- she'd have to ask permission for example to post their picture... then followers might want to know more about a certain character.... compensation might be due... it could get complicated and fast! It also just makes me feel lonely- all these blonde white ladies with their gaggle of kids and the big house and all the products they consume and post ads for. And for what? What's really at stake? Like it seems in the beginning it could feed your ego, do it for fun, but quickly can become out of hand- like Grendel in Beowulf- this insatiable monster.
Always so good.
Wowowowow. Everything I’ve been feeling articulated. Thank you.
I love this post - and I am so glad you tackled this topic! I've spent a LOT of time thinking about the nuclear gender issue - both how to construct one's own nuclear family and how our greater community needs to address social norms to support all nuclear families. (More the latter.) I think about this all the time because I have a book coming out about this exact subject. Would love to chat sometime if you're interested.
Great article. Thank you.
It's interesting, my experience with the term "black box" in science is not a concept that's already understood, but the opposite. To me, a "black box" is a process or phenomenon we don't really understand, but have to account for somehow in a model or theory. When I Googled, the definition given by Investopedia (lol) is "In science, computing, and engineering, a black box is a device, system, or object which can be viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs, without any knowledge of its internal workings." I think this is similarly applicable to the nuclear family/family unit on Instagram, though. We see the inputs (mom + dad + kids) and the outputs (momfluencer content), but we have no idea of the family mechanics going on inside. (And as you discussed, often, those mechanics are less nuclear than we're led to believe!)