Instagram Husband is a new viral video that satirizes the lives of married men who aren’t equal partners in their relationships. Instead, they are personal photographers, doomed to capture the daily activities of their spouse, with painstaking attention to flattering angles and perfect photo filters.
All of this is for the consumption of friends and strangers on Instagram.
The video, the brainchild of Missouri talk show host Jeff Houghton, portrays a handful of begrudgingly obedient men fulfilling their wives’ every photographic wish.
One sad sap — a character played by Houghton himself — attempts to take a sip of his latte at a coffee shop before his wife admonishes him. “God, you can’t do that,” she says. “I haven’t taken a shot of that yet.”
Instagram husbands, we are told, used to eat their food. Now, they only take pictures of it.
You might think this is well-trodden territory: It’s not shocking that people are addicted to their smartphones in 2015. But Instagram Husband is different from the usual tech-addiction commentary that clogs up our newsfeeds. Houghton’s focus isn’t, predictably, on the addicts of social media in romantic relationships, but on the enablers.
We know that technology dependence can mimic drug addiction and turn otherwise considerate people into raging narcissists.
What we don’t know very much about are the enablers of this behaviour: the people who, if left to their own devices (or without any devices), would gladly abstain from social media, yet are roped back online by smartphone-addicted spouses.
Houghton’s critics have accused him of sexism for singling out women as uniquely prone to this behaviour. But research shows that women are more active on Instagram than men, while men are more active on Reddit and similar forums.
Which suggests that while women are outdoing each other with public displays of narcissism, men are probably responsible for a large chunk of private, anonymous social media activity — and, yes, vitriol.
Neither gender, then, is exempt from obsessive online behaviour. But when it comes to Instagram addiction, women may, to Houghton’s point, take the cake. The question then becomes: what can their enablers do about it?
I propose a quota system: My fiancée, Ella, and I booked a vacation recently to the Caribbean and, when we reach our destination, I plan to institute a cap of only four photos a day. Ella isn’t an Instagram addict of the sort depicted in Houghton’s video. She is, rather, a selective addict (the social media equivalent of someone who says “I only smoke when drinking.”)
When we go on vacation, Ella likes to document everything. In Costa Rica, she photographed every sloth at the sloth sanctuary; in Israel, every Orthodox Jewish man praying at the Wailing Wall.
Despite my inferior photography skills, when abroad, I am instructed to take snapshots of her in front of every backdrop or statue (the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was a very busy day for me).
Come to think of it, there is little chance Ella will abide by my four-photo rule — in fact, I know she won’t — but I can take comfort in the fact her Instagram addiction only manifests itself for a few days each year, usually when we’re sightseeing.
The same cannot be said for the real-world husbands of Instagram, nor for the couples we all see dining out together but seldom looking up from their phones, except to pour over an Instagram post.
For these poor souls, I doubt very much a photo quota or any measure of compromise would succeed in curbing the compulsion.
Which begs the question: Is forcing your partner to take countless photos of you and your dinner on Instagram really the product of addiction, or is it just an elaborate avoidance tactic?
Could it be that these couples simply can’t stand each other, but are too afraid to admit it? Leaving a long-term relationship or a marriage is an extremely hard thing to do, but if there’s a phone between you and your partner, it is much easier to feign normalcy and happiness?
You can communicate to the world that you ate a fantastic meal at a romantic restaurant, without ever having to actually talk to one another. You can walk down the street taking goofy snapshots for Instagram, without ever holding hands.
This doesn’t sound to me like the behaviour of tech addicts and their henpecked enablers, but of people who would rather live a lie than be alone.