For a brief moment in 2017, Bow Wow spent a day as one of the netizens secondary characters. From an airport in Georgia, the rapper shared an Instagram photo of a private jet. “Day of the trip” read the caption. “Let’s go gooo.” A few minutes later, a seatmate posted a picture of him in economy class on a scheduled flight. The photo of the jet, it turned out, was a stock image stolen from an Ft. Lauderdale private limousine company. Twitter filled with photos of the # BowWowChallenge – luxury traps, but obviously rigged. “I have to indulge myself every now and then,” wrote one user, alongside an awkward Rolex drawn on construction paper.
The #BowWowChallenge experienced something akin to a reboot recently, when word broke that Los Angeles photo studios were renting fake private jets. “Nahhhhh, I just heard that the girls in LA ig are using studios that look like private jets for their Instagram photos,” @maisonmelissa wrote on Twitter. When the blogs got wind, they collected photos of the culprits posing in front of the same white leather seats, mahogany panels and small round windows. “TikTok and Instagram influencers exposed for rental of fake private jet-sets,” Dexerto’s headline read. Even Lil Nas X – famous ex-Tweet enthusiast – weighed in, photoshopping herself on the familiar white padding. “It’s crazy that anything you watch can be wrong,” @maisonmelissa said. “The decor, the clothes, the body… idk that shakes up my reality a bit lol.
But like the photos, the story wasn’t exactly what it seemed. For one thing, research only revealed a few images, only a fraction of which came from actual influencer accounts. On the other hand, they weren’t from a range of studios, but from a single location in Los Angeles called FD Photo Studio, which considers its fake plane to be the first and only of its kind in the city. For a third, only a small part of their clientele comes from personal shoots. Most customers use the set for the same reasons they use any other in Los Angeles: the entertainment industry. “Hip-hop music videos are our bread and butter,” said an FD Photo Studio employee. This confirms: watch the jet in the music video for “What I Like” by Famous Dex.
FD Photo Studio is owned by a middle-aged blond man named Sergey Kostikov, who immigrated from Russia to California in the 2000s. At the time, Kostikov was in the moonlight as a professional photographer, but struggled to find places to take pictures. “All I saw, you had to pay $ 500 for the whole day minimum,” he said, “and that was before the equipment, insurance and lighting. In 2012, he rented a small, well-lit space in Los Angeles’ Fashion District – hence the initials, FD – and made some simple decorations by hand: a black wall, a white wall, a brick background. He let friends book the place to cover the rent. Mostly, he said, it was his hobby.
It wasn’t until 2017 that the studios became a business and they stayed on a very low budget. Kostikov made most of the assemblies from scrap parts, using a single contractor for the more complicated steps. Nicknamed “Olympic 4” for extremely simple reasons – it was the fourth shoot at the Olympic Boulevard studio – the fake jet is rented for just $ 64 an hour. If Kostikov could have salvaged a broken jet hull, it might have been cheaper. “The problem with airplane cemeteries is that they only sell parts that can be used,” Kostikov said. “If they can be used, they are expensive.” He and the contractor built it out of wood.
The set itself is pretty stripped down – just a short white tunnel lined with gray carpet for the airport. There are two chairs, a table and a sofa, although Kostikov plans to add more accessories. One side of the tunnel ends in a paneled wall; the other side opens into the crowded warehouse where it is stored. Elsewhere on the property, there is an all-white room with a rotating floor for cars, a hollowed-out industrial garage, an LED tunnel, a boxing ring, and a dark room with a platform for fake rain.
Americans love few things more than finding out someone has less money than they claim – that Trump’s taxes don’t match his ostentatious deal, that Kylie Jenner isn’t a billionaire. This is a normal response to a culture which places such a premium on wealth, which allows those who own it to move largely unchecked. There is a satisfaction in drawing the curtain, in reveling in the little that is happening there.
Discovering illusions in social media offers a similar schadenfreude. But the surprise of online deception has been obsolete for some time. There is now a suspicion ingrained in any online experience that everything, most, or one aspect or another has been artificially inflated or altered. A New York magazine article titled “How Much of the Internet is Wrong?” Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually ”- published almost two years ago – described the“ falsity ”of the current internet as“ less of a calculable lie and more of a particular quality of experience – the odd feeling that what you come across online is not “real”, but neither is it “wrong”, and can indeed be both at the same time, or in succession, when you flip it over in your head. What I’m saying is there are a lot of fake jets out there.
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