Irish writer (and queer great-grandpapa) Oscar Wilde was a noteworthy speaker of anti-mimesis: the idea that life imitates art.
In a dialogue from The Decay of Lying (1889), the main character representing Wilde’s opinion states, “the energy of life, as Aristotle would call itis simply the desire for expression, and Art is always presenting various forms through which this expression can be attained.”
And so, according to Wilde, the Ken doll figurines of Kyle, Diego, and company featured in “The LA Basics” 40K+ Instagram account are not in fact imitating the “basic” gay men of Los Angeles, New York, or Sydney. Rather, through a series of posts, it would appear that the L.A.-based founders of the account are expressing their own desire for recognition through a series of posts featuring burn book “reads” and ostentatious doll house aesthetics.
In a telephone interview (that was later rescinded) the two founders of the account (who preferred to be unnamed and referred to each other as business partners) stressed with the utmost importance “(that) the main mission of the LA Basics is to create comedic, captivating and relatable content for the LGBTQ community.”
Many of their posts feature Kyle, a cliche archetype of a West Hollywood “basic” in doll form. The founders post Kyle in a variety of well-known Instagram locations from the hot pink backdrop of the Paul Smith wall to the sprinkle pits of the Los Angeles’ Ice Cream Museum. The posts also feature popular locations like New York City’s expansive Sheep Meadow and the backyard pools of Palm Springs.
But the account goes beyond cliche haunts, taking us into the never-never of selfie land, impromptu self-timer nude kitchen photo shoots, and of course to Equinox for #transformationtuesday. Though, it is most baleful when it specifically “parodies” a small category of social media personalities by directly posting caricatures of their content.
The most noticeable thus far has been the striking similarity of what appears to be an imitation of photographer Kyle Kreiger that features Kyle (the LA Basics doll) in a bed with a white sheet wrapped around his plastic face with a caption reading “Morning ya’ll! I don’t just wake up, I create art #trendsetter #artsyAF#5moreminutes.”
Many Instagram users immediately began tagging Krieger to get his attention to the post. Krieger later acknowledged the account and commented on the post saying “Drag meeeeee, sis.” INTO reached out to Kreiger for comment but did not hear back by the time of publication.
“I gather that wasn’t something that made that person feel very good because what he is doing with social media is absolutely something he’s earned and deserved,” stylist, interior designer, and popular Instagram personality himself, Cheyenne Parker says to me in his backyard in the heights of the hills, late one Sunday afternoon. There is a lawn ringed by well-kept shrubs and a fountain trickles behind us as he speaks. He wears a casual 1950s stable: faded jeans and a rolled white tee.
“Where do you draw the line with being harmful?” Parker asks, “They don’t know this person. They don’t know any of us.”
Parker says he too is tagged and dragged frequently by friends and strangers in the comment sections of many of the LA Basics’ posts. “I think the page is hilarious. I obviously fall under the category of someone who is guilty of posting things that are somewhat similar and I will not lie,” he tells me laughing, “there is always an underlying realization that I have: Am I just one of these people who is absolutely ridiculous constantly? Am I not providing the support and motivation that I thought I was to my followers?”
“It made me recognize that when I first got my Instagram account, that oh my god, I was a total “LA Basic” because I was so much younger than I am now, ” he continued.
A reader response comment from the LA Basics Queerty feature, user “Donston” says on the LA Basics, “This is almost pointless because most of those guys became parodies of themselves years ago. But this is still entertaining nonetheless.”
Another user “Ummmm Yeah” has a different opinion, “It’s even sadder that anyone spends this amount of time worried about what someone else is doing. Clearly, someone is doing a lot of Facebook stalking.”
There are three types of responses viewers of The LA Basics Instagram page.
The first is a “haha” or a flurry of laughing-so-hard-you-cry face emojis. The second is followers who tag their friends to grab their attention by saying “Yasssss!” or “the shade just turned up an octave lol,” creating more conversation and viewership.
The third is much more confrontational, where a user will tag a friend or acquaintance and call them out for eliciting the exact same behavior on their own feeds. Sometimes the replies demonstrate self-awareness and humor with the tagged user (like Krieger or Parker) admitting *guilty* but others are taken less jovially.
One Washington, D.C.-based user, Ben, tagged a friend in an LA Basics post and commented- “you literally posted a picture identical to this but with a (whale emoji) covering your dick. The only difference is you’re an officer in the army and this profile is a bunch of ken dolls. Which one is more unbecoming? Maybe it’s time to reevaluate what we value.”
The response from the shower-photo-taking individual came in the form of a paragraph which concluded by saying “there’s an unfollow button boo I am not forcing you to follow me…silly boy I will survive with or without followers lmao #dead #af #basicwhenIneedtobe.”
Over a phone interview with Ben, a 29-year-old former Navy Officer said he chose to call out his friend because “he’s lashed out against people who were posting photos like the LA Basics but he was claiming that he did it for a different reason.”
A clear lack of self-awareness seems to exist in many queer men’s social media postings and is the clear target of The LA Basics. Either way, men are justifying their photos by setting up different levels of “basic” so that there are always others serving even more extra than them. It doesn’t seem the community will ever be able to pick one understanding of exactly what level of “basic” is excusable.
But the anger and resentment seem to rise from the narcissism, privilege, and body flaunting prevalent in representations of mainstream gay culture. What does that say about our own character if we are unable to distinguish highlight reels from reality? When will we lend a hand to get our brothers on their feet instead of dragging them by the nape?
In a Huffington Post story, the founders of the LA Basics talked as Kyle the Ken doll to reporter Edward Yaeger. Kyle says, “As far as membership, that’s easy, the moment you posted a falsely demure and almost-naked selfie featuring an inspirational quote (just to add a touch of humility), you gained full rights and a lifetime membership. Welcome to Team Basic. We love you!”
The founders seem to approve of the “basic” when the “basic” is realized. Kyle continues to the Huffington Post, “Just don’t be shady and act like your thirst trap ain’t a thirst trap. It’s a thirst trap. That’s the whole point.”
But Ben does not subscribe to Kyle’s message nor to his friend’s posting tendencies, “we don’t get to pick who we are online vs who we are in real life. Who you represent yourself online as is how people see you in real life, and vice versa.”
And there, strutting down the Marco Marco catwalk is the most ironic aspect of the account: is Kyle a parody as many see him? Or, is the entire account a nightmare of augmented reality?
Before our telephone interview, the founders of the account had once proudly shared every single major article the LA Basics had garnered on blogs and news sites to their own personal social medias, which were both public and surprisingly easy for any Insta-sleuth to discover. Yet, after our interview, one of the founders deleted all of the articles they had posted as photos on their Instagram. The other’s remain shared at the time this article was written.
Parker reached out to the LA Basics before knowing about taking part in this article. In a direct message conversation, he asked the personality to lunch and was delighted when they replied with a “bitchy,” in character reply of “You got that coin? I need to pay my rent.” Parker also says the personality “sent me the link to the Huff Post which I thought was funny. They make fun of a lot of people and they sure are proud of it!”
He pauses and a big smile emerges on his face, “It’s like me going and getting more recognition and getting more followers. They are actually trying and succeeding at this because they want to do exactly what we are all doing.”
At first glance, the account seemed like a funny, lighthearted poke at narcissism and a simple reminder to “check yourself before you wreck yourself” and it is accomplishing making us more self-aware about how we use social media as queer men.
But after reading into the reads and noticing the negative culture the comments created, the similarities of a more stylized and time consuming WeHo Confidential became realized. The gossip site owned by Lucas John Junkin was once notorious for its “How does this person pay their rent?” weekly feature and other vicious draggings of local queer men. The early stages of the LA Basics account also recall the early days of Perez Hilton who made fun of the very people he ended up becoming.
After talking with Parker, I descended from the heights of his hilltop home into the gradient slopes of West Hollywood. As I drove home, I passed a group of sweaty men leaving a Barry’s Bootcamp class. Two of them, arms over shoulder, snapped a quick photo by the logo. They were hard bodied and easy targets for the LA Basics.
“You can call us all LA Basics,” Parker echoes in my head from our conversation, “but they fucking love it. We are the reason why they are going to be able to monetize their account and get recognition, we are their material.
“It all comes back and goes full circle.”