This is wrong. Reid assumes we care for reasons of race and youth, but the deeper, darker reality is whether we care at all. Do we really care about a woman — this one or any other — who we know is lying to us about the life she’s supposedly (but not really) living? Scratch the surface of the parasocial relationship between Gabby Petito and her audience, and there’s not a scrap of true feeling to be found.
As much as we praise influencers for being authentic, for inviting us into their lives, we understand intuitively that what we’re seeing is just a performance: one perfectly calibrated to feel real without ever being too much. Social media celebrities become simultaneously more and less than human, and we treat them accordingly, like TV characters rather than people. The fact that this show sometimes breaks the fourth wall, in the form of a reply or a like, doesn’t change a thing. The acknowledgment doesn’t make the person on screen more human; it just makes the viewer feel seen.
Hence our nationwide obsession with Gabby Petito. It’s not about missing white women, and it’s not about the cult of the influencer, either. It’s about how a life becomes a narrative. It’s about how a narrative craves a conclusion. And it’s about how we, the engagement-driving audience, will always secretly yearn for the dark and delicious drama of an unhappy ending to the fairytale. The only thing more enticing than a beautifully curated Instagram feed is the satisfaction of knowing that it was all a facade, that the perfect-looking life you craved was not just unattainable but actually bullshit. After all, just look at what happened.