Jamie Genevieve wasn't a name on my radar until, randomly sampling the new BBC Scotland channel last week, I tuned into an hour-long documentary devoted to her. Is she worth that exposure? What makes her important? A million followers on Instagram and three-quarters of that on YouTube suggest a phenomenon. Filmed at a gathering of hundreds of her adoring fans in Glasgow, mainly teenage girls and young women, with a sprinkling of starry-eyed males, she demonstrated this social media presence in action. They buy her products, want to be photographed with her, want to look like her, want to be
her. Their beauty goddess and guru.
It's a saturated market, but she, along with her ex-bricklayer partner, Jack, both sporting tattoos that transform their bodies into Gothic tapestries, earns a substantial living as a social media 'influencer'. Initially sceptical, I found myself fascinated by how this 25-year-old, born Jamie Grant in Tillicoultry in central Scotland, functions. Wanting to study art, she found her way into the beauty business where she quickly developed a high profile.
The brains of the partnership, she is astutely aware of the fickleness of fame and is mildly embarrassed by the 40,000-plus selfies on her smartphone. But she's delighted to be so successful at what she does. It also enables her to help her family. Jack, with his own social media following, hovers discreetly in the background – lover, assistant and ubiquitous factotum. He snaps her Grecian nymph beach poses on his phone as ocean waves purl in over the sand. Only a few make the cut.
Her 'influence' is global. They hobnob with wealthy Americans in the Hamptons, holiday in Sri Lanka and are planning their wedding in Tuscany. Companies queue to send her their products to promote. She works hard. Keeping fit, socialising, meeting and greeting fans, networking, blogging. The couple present as agreeable, self-aware, and mutually devoted, still faintly bemused by their current fame and fortune.
So far, so benign. Just that word 'iInfluencer', which Jamie herself would prefer to distance herself from. Nothing bad about trying to look good, as far as your bone structure and bank balance allow, but a high profile lures sharks and the bottom line is money. Jamie claims to be ethical and selective in what she promotes. One hopes that's so, but the temptations lurk. On present showing I wish her well.
The life and reflections of a make-up artist is not my usual televisual fare. In fact I groaned when I saw the pre-launch trailer for the new Scottish channel. To make matters worse, my beloved BBC 4 was being moved to the outer reaches of Channel 82 to make room for it.
I can cope. What bothered me more was the nature of the audience the new channel seems to be targeting, and what impression of Scottish culture it might give to outsiders looking in. On the one hand, from 'Mini Disco Divas', featuring pert, sulky pre-teens, attired like Cleopatra handmaidens, to the resident seniors of 'Still Game' trying to pass themselves off as potential glamour idols, it might seem to be pitching to all age groups. But what does this showcase about ourselves? If this is to be a fledgling flagship channel for an eventual independent Scotland, surely we can do better? Or should I simply lighten up?
I understand that a national channel has to appeal to a variety of tastes. The brisk dismissal of four high-quality presenters at the launch of Channel 4's 'Breakfast Time' programme back last century was salutary. If you cannot draw in a large enough audience you won't survive. It's basic economics. I would just love a smidgeon of an acknowledgement that here in Scotland there are intelligent, well-educated people who would be interested in programmes dealing with the wealth of culture we do have and see precious little of on existing channels.
I was reflecting on this while listening to an interview Professor Cairns Craig of Aberdeen University gave about his book, 'The Wealth of the Nation', published last year by Edinburgh University Press. It's a complex work, which draws on his readings in Scottish history, philosophy and literature to interpret how we have got to where we are now – a relatively wealthy country with a rich culture, but still suffering from the 'Scottish cringe'. This describes the feeling of embarrassment at being the product of a nation that is perceived to be economically and culturally bankrupt. Professor Craig attributes this to the decline of the British empire, in which Scots were heavily invested, and the fallout from two world wars.
Although the 1960s ushered in efforts at cultural renewal, these have never engaged the whole nation. There are still deep social and geographical divisions affecting what interests and entertains us. Professor Craig laments the SNP's narrow economic focus. Thatcherism applauded Adam Smith's endorsement of free market capitalism, but ignored his concern for the health and wellbeing of a nation. Its imagination and its culture matter too.
Laughing at two old codgers competing for the attentions of a stray cat is all very well. Maybe competing mini disco divas or a documentary on Jamie Genevieve will lure teenagers away from their smartphones. But we need to acquire confidence and authority in how we present ourselves. Simply clinking glasses in a folksy 'Here's tae us, Wha's like us' kind of way won't be enough.