More than 17 million people are interested in the YouTube videos on the life of the ACE family - a family that lives in Los Angeles and vlogs about their daily life on YouTube. The name "ACE family" comes from the first letters of the members' names: Austin, Catherine, and Elle, the father, mother and eldest daughter of the family respectively (although since starting their YouTube channel, Austin and Catherine have had another daughter, Alaïa).
Social media are all about being specific about who you are. But most people know that electronic apps affect people’s self-presentation. You can be whoever you want to be online in a world of filters and editing software. Here, we will look closely at the self-presentation of the ACE family asking: why are they trying to appear so perfect showing almost every aspect of their lives?
Ubuesque attention seeking
The ACE family vlog channel is one of the most popular of its kind. Family vloggers are active on YouTube and/or Instagram and have the potential to become real influencers. Their appeal is simple: young children are adorable and say cute things; if you combine them with their perfect handsome parents, you have potential influencers right there. The ACE Family posts family-friendly daily content, including challenges, behind-the-scenes content for events, and vlogs of their daily adventures. Besides that, they have Instagram accounts for every member of the family with millions of followers.
So, even though they are not doing anything special per se, they are influencers. Other people might follow them based on what they like. This does not have anything to do with their intrinsic qualities. They themselves do not have anything special or out of the ordinary that might make them this famous; yet, they are. The ACE Family is thus ubuesque in the sense described by Foucault (2003): they have a kind of authority that their intrinsic qualities should disqualify them from having. The ACE Family seems to like attention and influence. They thus create perfect content, including high-quality pictures, with a high cuteness factor. The family has millions of fans who can perceive them as perfect because that is what the family’s content tells them.
Rules of behavior
When you enter the ACE family's YouTube channel, the banner immediately attracts your attention. It screams one thing: this channel is all about the life of the ACE family – no other topics matter here.
Firstly, they have linked the names of Austin’s and Catherine’s Instagram in huge letters so you cannot miss them, just as you cannot possible miss the ACE logo. The logo is centered, which means that the focus should be on that. Next to it, you see an illustration of the family, portrayed as cool and focused, looking in the direction of the family's logo. They are special, but also the parents of a family. The audience may feel more connected to them because it makes people feel that besides being "extraordinary" and famous, they are just like them.
They are important because they are influencers.
If we connect this analysis to the earlier point about being ubuesque, there is an important connection to be made. Earlier, we established that the ACE family have a kind of authority because of their being influencers. But “authority generally includes much more, such as systems of social status, implicit and explicit rules of behavior, and the entire set of ideas and institutions that guide social interaction” (Suk-Young Chwe, 2001). In the case of the ACE family, their system of social status is also established; they are important because they are influencers.
Living in designer onesies
An Important aspect of influencers' lives is the way they dress. They never wear an outfit twice, but in their vlogs, you can see them wearing the same outfit for almost the whole day. When they are at home, you see them wearing onesies, and when they go out, they dress up for the occasion. They meticulously change their appearance and how they present themselves to the outside world. The effect this has is enhanced by their tendency to wear expensive brands, like Louis Vuitton or Gucci. This only strengthens our arguments made above, because wearing simple clothing like a onesie makes people relate to them, while they are also displaying their status as being at the top society by wearing designer brands.
The readability of the body enables us to learn something from the ACE family's morphing bodies. The way we show our bodies to people is always a moral way. Everyone has a different sense of morality. For the ACE family, wearing expensive designer onesies is something completely normal, they don't worry about it being too much or appearing braggy - although many people would think about it that way. Below, we can see different moments in the life of Austin, the father. He is constantly changing his outfits, from a comfortable style (seen on the left) where he wears his designer tracksuits to a more elegant one (right) where he wears blouses for important occasions, such as a photoshoot (above) and his second proposal to Catherine (below).
Followers recognize very quickly that the ACE family shows every aspect of their lives on YouTube: their child's first day of school, trips to Coachella, their daily routine and their proposal. People can follow their entire life. Before the start of every video, they insert an introduction where they show a short clip of every family member with their names on it, with added music meant to have an emotional effect. The audience feels like they are going to watch a video of people they know and may even feel an emotional connection to their videos.
"I WORE A SCANDALOUS OUTFIT TO SEE HOW MY HUSBAND WOULD REACT!!!"
Another aspect that stands out in the overview of their content on YouTube is the titles: they are all in capital letters, which makes them stand out, and they include such information that people might click on them because they are interested in what might happen in that video. Examples include "I WORE A SCANDALOUS OUTFIT TO SEE HOW MY HUSBAND WOULD REACT!!!" and "WHO DOES OUR BABY LOVE MORE?!?! **YOU WOULD NEVER GUESS**". In the end, it's all about how many people will watch a video, so the titles are extremely important.
In short, the ACE Family gives two messages to viewers: we are special, but you can relate to us. Even though we are so famous and rich, you can recognize parts of your life in ours. This is very important to attract an audience. Imagine that the viewers and subscribers are the general public in this case, judging the content and trying to identify with it. This is an example of the "demotic turn", a term coined by Graeme Turner to describe the increasing visibility of the "ordinary person" in the media today.
Taking a pregnancy test is pretty "normal" when you are trying to have a baby, but filming how you take a pregnancy test and putting it on YouTube where 8.5 million people watch it, is not something every person who takes a pregnancy test does. Raising one's kids in a big mansion with an infinity pool, a gym, different living areas and a basketball field is not a relatable living situation for everybody, but having a night-time routine for one's children is. The ACE family are, in a way, identifiable for the subscribers. At the same time, they are living the "American dream", with their big house, cute children, extreme cars; they are living a life some people can only dream about. They are at the top, they are influencers but still trying to fit in by showing daily practices people can relate to. This connection between being at the top or special and fitting in with the normal is a practice that plays out in all their content and it consitutes, as Foucault (2003) put it,“[a] constant examination of a field of regularity within which each individual is constantly assessed”.
Balancing between perfection and enoughness
The identity of the ACE Family is clearly a matter of enoughness: “identities are constructed out of a particular portion ("enough") of emblematic identity features” (Blommaert & Varis, 2011). The ACE Family is a perfect example of this: they communicate their "authentic self" to others, which is a delicate balance between content that might be presenting "too much" and other that might be perceived as "too little". Figure 3 presents something that some followers in the comments labeled as "too much"; while too little information might also lead them to be labelled different or unrelatable.
In Figure 3, we see the family's daughter Elle. The parents have created an Instagram account for their two-year-old child. They do not seem concerned about how this might affect their child's life in the future. It is all about their seemingly perfect identity: presenting a cute daughter with photogenic looks.
Is it a matter of normativity?
The difficult balance in finding enoughness is something the ACE Family often does not strike; their content shows a luxurious and over-the-top lifestyle. In the vlogs, they show their perfect life: they are fit, healthy, have a big house, expensive cars and beautiful children; they laugh together and there seems that nothing might be going wrong. They do not only want to portray enoughness; they want to seem perfect.
Although they mention in their documentary The truth about the ACE family that they are not perfect and they do fight with each other, they do not seem to show that in their daily vlogs. They only show the perfect things. Psychologists explain how "usually we strive toward being perfect to compensate for a sense of inadequacy. … So, they decided that only by being perfect would they be beyond reproach" (Schwartz, 2008). Besides the ACE family's apparent perfection, their authority and position as influencers along with their struggle between enoughness and being too much define them as a revealing case of how social media influencers' identities can be constructed.
Blommaert, J. & Varis, P. (2011). Enough is enough: The heuristics of authenticity in superdiversity. In J. Duarte, & I. Gogolin (Eds.), Linguistic superdiversity in urban areas: Research approaches (pp. 143-158). (Hamburg Studies on Linguistic Diversity; No. 2). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Foucault, M. (2003). Abnormal; lectures at the Collège de France 1974-1975. London: Verso.
Paiz, C. & McBroom, A. [The ACE Family] (2019, February 23). THE REAL LIFE OF THE ACE FAMILY – “WELCOME TO OUR LIFE” [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMsSd7AUNFs.
Schwartz, M. (2008, November 30). The Problem with Perfection. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/shift-mind/200811/the-problem-....
Suk-Young Chwe, M. (2001). Relational ritual: Culture, coordination, and common knowledge. Princeton University Press.