The Ballad Of Jeremy Renner’s App And The Glory Of Failed Social Engineering

It’s hard to beat the story from this past week about Jeremy Renner having to shut down his official app because Stefan Heck decided to write “porno” on it. You can appreciate it on a shallow level — “Jeremy Renner,” “official Jeremy Renner app,” and “porno,” are all funny on their own and even better together — but also on a slightly deeper level, as a failed attempt at a social engineering project gone gloriously right. It says a lot about this weird cultural moment, as they say.

The natural response to the Jeremy Renner app story, other than laughter, is probably first to wonder “wait, Jeremy Renner has an app?” Followed quickly by pondering the questions of why Jeremy Renner has an app, and what a Jeremy Renner app could possibly do.

Wired delved into this very question recently, discovering that the app comes from a company called EscapeX, a business that aims to create “self-contained social networks for the stars.”

EscapeX counts Amber Rose, Paris Hilton, and actor Chris D’Elia among its clients, providing what CEO Sephi Shapira describes as a “toolbox,” a variety of app functions and features that an influencer can choose from as they strike out on their own.

“If you’re on Instagram or on Facebook, you have an account on these platforms, but you don’t own the content,” says Shapira. “Once you post, the content belongs to Instagram or Facebook, and they can also shut down your account for any reason, and they can decide how much access you have to your audience.”

Essentially, they’re attempting to create a private social media network for celebs where that celeb can only be praised. And perhaps even charge people for the opportunity.

The Renner app, for instance, gave fans the option to purchase “stars,” which vaulted users to the top of some sort of leaderboard of Rennheads. (In his statement announcing the shuttering of his app, Renner declared a refund for anyone who had purchased a star in the last 90 days.)

Now, you might wonder, why would the world need such a thing? I mean, clearly it doesn’t, but why would some app grifter be able to convince a celeb that the world needs such a thing?

It all goes back to the early days of social media. It’s a little hard to remember now how crazy those first few years of Twitter were, but it really felt like something new. You could ask a question to a celebrity, or praise their movie, or call them a fuckwad, and they might actually respond to you. Or even wilder, you could do a post so good that someone you knew from the TV might retweet it. Actually, the thrill of that one still hasn’t quite worn off.

The story that best illustrates those optimistic early years is the one where someone tweeted that they were in the same restaurant as Shaq, Shaq saw it in his feed, and then invited them over and bought them lunch. It’s crazy to think back to those days not too long ago when the internet, and social media, seemed to promise this new world of greater connection, and that that greater connection might be a good thing. Now it seems to promise simultaneously the potential to be doxxed and an abiding loneliness.

That radical new freedom and ability to connect was initially liberating, but soon after allowed us to discover just how many people couldn’t be trusted with that freedom. For every wide-eyed fan happy just to share a lunch it seemed there were two others who considered it their civic duty to call you a fuckwad if you were in a bad movie. It’s easy to think of politeness as instinctual, a kind of common sense, but all it takes is a new technology to really drive home how much etiquette is a learned behavior.

The phenomenon also goes the other way. Famous people now often seek out criticism of themselves and then treat it like vandalism when they find it, like someone tracked mud on their nice carpet. Recent example: Lana Del Rey seeking out an NPR critic over a mixed-positive review of Del Rey’s new album. She apparently didn’t like the review and tweeted at the reviewer “…don’t call yourself a fan like you did in the article and don’t count your editor one either… my gift is the warmth I live my life with and the self reflection I share generously.”