Sometime between 2016 and 2017 – a distinct period, if you follow the rapid hot and colds of social media platforms – 16-year-old Austyn Tester filmed a video just for himself. Shirtless in front of a wall in his Kingsport, Tennessee, home, Tester flicks his hair with barely contained excitement. After months of live-streaming his middle American high school life on YouNow, cultivating a following of teenage girls who tuned into him lip-syncing, dancing, or just hanging out, Tester received interest from a talent manager. Clutching himself and spinning around, he tumbles through a series of revelations. “This is before I’m famous!” He leans into the selfie lens. “It is 10:06pm. I’m not famous right now. Hopefully I’ll be famous soon.”
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IPhone - Tip - Jar - Tester - Fan
An iPhone, propped up by a tip jar of Tester’s fan mail, plays this video midway through Jawline, a new documentary that takes an empathetic look at the vertigo of social media stardom, the always-on demands of late-2010s fame, and the newest generation of teenage fan. In the film, which won a special jury award at this year’s Sundance film festival, Tester offers a case study of this specific brand of fame, baffling to those not steeped in Vine, YouTube, YouNow, and TikTok. Sixteen years old, with a southern drawl that can’t decide whether to stretch “fudge” or “****” (result: “fuuudgeya”), Tester wants to be famous, if only to escape his small town. So he turns to livestreaming, in which he broadcasts daily updates of his life and chats with teenage girls eager to have a boy tell them, earnestly, to chase their dreams.
By the time the director Liza Mandelup’s cameras arrive in Tester’s home – dishes stacked in the sink, old driveway toys still piled outside –...
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