After spending eight years in prison in the United States, Gypsy Rose Blanchard was released on parole on December 28, 2023. Three weeks later, Blanchard has 9.8 million followers on TikTok and 8.3 million followers on Instagram.
Gypsy Rose’s mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, was suspected by doctors of having a condition termed “factitious disorder imposed on another”. Once known as Munchausen Syndrome by proxy, the disorder involves someone imposing symptoms of severe illness on another person. Dee Dee claimed Gypsy Rose suffered from illnesses including muscular dystrophy and leukaemia, and this lead to unnecessary medical interventions given to Gypsy Rose, including use of a wheelchair and a feeding tube, unnecessary medications – leading to the removal of her teeth and salivary glands – and multiple surgeries.
The case led to a media frenzy. Many documentaries and films were made about Gypsy Rose and her mother, including the mini-series The Act (2019) and documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017). There are countless podcasts released over the years detailing the case, including The Generation Why and the RedHanded Podcast.
With this fame, even before she was released from prison, many young people fully embraced Blanchard into “stan” culture, or obsessive fandoms. There were countdowns to her prison release and videos glorifying her.
After she began her social media presence, comments under her TikTok videos read “WE LOVE YOU GYPSY ROSE”, “My favourite influencer” and “QUEEN”.
The price of fame
Fan culture is complex. Fans are often dedicated to a person and invested in how that person acts. Marketing experts Alison Joubert and Jack Coffin explore how fandom is:
deeply rooted in identity and value, and fans are likely to “cancel” people who violate norms of justice and moral responsibility.
Blanchard’s jail sentence and admission of her role in her mother’s murder is at odds with the norms of moral responsibility, yet many people online are showing their support.
Popular podcast Do We Know Them called the stan culture around Blanchard’s rise to fame “disturbing, dystopian, and strange”.
“It’s not that I don’t think she deserves support, it’s that this is a really weird energy to have around this horrible situation,” says co-host Jessi Smiles.
TikTok creator Veronica Skaia posted a video looking at Blanchard and the “influencer pipeline”, saying “we want her to perform for us”. She predicts once Blanchard gains “too much” fame and popularity online and starts receiving brand deals, people will turn on her, wanting her to be “humbled”.
Others are sharing what they hope for Blanchard and many hope she stays off social media and takes the time she needs to reacquaint herself in the world.
Authentic and curated posts
At the time of writing, Blanchard has 17 videos on her TikTok account, with over 510 million views. The first four videos are highly produced promotional videos for her forthcoming book and television special, The Prison Confessions of Gypsy Rose Blanchard.
Other videos on her page follow very common social media tropes. Blanchard has posted a get ready with me (#GRWM) video, an outfit of the day (#OOTD) and vlog-style videos showing her first days out of prison. These videos are posted with the accompanying hashtags and captions of someone who is aware of social media trends, including the consistent use of #ThePrisonConfessionsOfGypsyRoseBlanchard.
In the GRWM video, with over 35 million views, you can hear Blanchard asking someone off-screen, “How does the get ready with me work? Do they watch the whole hour video?”. The person responds no, and asks her if she has heard of Alix Earle, a TikToker famous for her GRWM videos. The person off-screen then shows Blanchard a video of Earle.
This video is uncanny. We are watching a woman who was famously infantalised by her mother for years. She has now emerged from prison, an articulate 32-year-old, who seemingly shows limited understanding of social media, despite her massive audience.
Online success, particularly for influencers and brands, hinges upon their ability to appear authentic and to be trusted. We want to know what we can expect from an influencer. A consistent authorial voice and gradually revealing information makes us feel like we are listening to a friend.
Considering Blanchard through this lens is complex. The videos on her page are a combination of highly curated media promotion and very raw vlog-style footage. It is often apparent Blanchard is a social media novice.
This contrast is uncommon for someone with such a large online following.
Blanchard’s authenticity has previously been called into question. Many speculate about her role in the death of her mother, and how much she knew about her mother’s false health claims and the resulting fraud in accepting the charity of their community.
It is strange to see someone occupy a position of trust and influence on a social media platform after years of speculation about the truth in their life. Away from the documentaries and the mini-series for the first time, we are going to hear Blanchard’s story from the source.
In a video posted January 17, Blanchard explores “the point” of her social media presence. She explains her aim is to spread awareness about Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. She defines the illness and discusses symptoms to look out for. She ends the video with a call to action, asking her views to post in the comments what they think needs to change in the healthcare system to protect children from medical abuse.
The media stories around Blanchard have presented a curated version of her life. Her story, now being shared online, demonstrates a different level of curation. For now, the storytelling is in the hands of the subject and we get to experience the story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard through her own voice – and the lens of TikTok.
The post “Gypsy Rose Blanchard went to prison for murder – and is now a social media star” by Edith Jennifer Hill, Associate Lecturer, Flinders University was published on 01/17/2024 by theconversation.com