Perhaps the most surprising thing about Chasing Cameron isn’t the pranks or the crazy fan encounters, but how utterly undone the show’s star Cameron Dallas becomes by the end of his European Magcon tour.
The series, available now on Netflix, is a reality show with teeth. It touches many questions I’ve had about the consequences social media celebrities face when their brand is entirely based on their relationship with the fans. Who becomes more damaged? The boys who become therapists for their teenage fans, or the teenage girls who hold onto delusional relationships with boys they follow on Instagram? It’s a complex, layered issue that Chasing Cameron only barely touches. But when it does, the show becomes utterly disturbing and compelling.
Chasing Cameron starts out innocently enough. Much like every other propaganda film before it (see: Justin Bieber’s Believe or Katy Perry’s Part of Me), the show seems destined to put Cameron on a pedestal. He’s the boy of your teen dreams, the opening five minutes seem to shout. Until he starts to fall apart.
It’s been three years since Dallas signed on to Magcon (short for “Meet and greet convention”). The first tour ended in disaster when nearly half of the talent accused the tour’s creator Bart Bordelon of withholding money from them. Harsh words were exchanged. Friendships were ruined. And then… In 2016, Dallas, Bordelon and fellow “Social media influencer” (as the show sadly calls them) Taylor Caniff made amends and bought the name Magcon. With this, Dallas is now the boss. Bordelon is CEO. This leaves Caniff somewhere in between, and frankly, I don’t think he even knows what his role is. It doesn’t take a casual observer to know how terribly this tour will go, but that doesn’t stop the men from assuming it will be a home run.
And so, as you can imagine, the tour quickly turns to insanity. Per diems aren’t paid causing Caniff to fly into a fit of rage multiple times. The boys are involved in a nightclub brawl, leaving two of them in the hospital with bloodied faces. Midway through their European expedition, the entire crew quits leaving Bart with 25 Americans and no guide for where to go next. Eventually Dallas succumbs to the pressure and suffers from multiple anxiety attacks. The most troubling moment occurs at a meet and greet where, fifty girls in, Dallas walks out and begins sobbing. “I don’t want to be here anymore,” he chokes in between tears. “I want to go home.”
“It is overwhelming meeting 400 girls a day,” Caniff later explains in a YouNow livestream. “Like, I think I need therapy or something. I can’t do this.”
Little by little, viewers see the cracks start to form.
“The girls here don’t see you as a real person,” Dallas says in one confessional moment. “They see me as a rag doll.”
It’s a slow buildup from the excitement and gleam of the first few episodes to the dark, turbulent scenes in the final episodes. What was once so appealing about the tour – meeting all of the fans, the travel, the money – eventually is what traps the boys. “He’s feeling like a caged animal,” Bordelon comments about Dallas in one scene.
But the show must go on. One of the harshest lessons of Chasing Cameron is that the demands of fans and the quest for money wait for no one. When it becomes apparent that something is seriously wrong with Dallas, Bordelon brushes off the implication’s from the tour’s COO. “He doesn’t have anxiety,” he scoffs over the phone. “He just needs to rest.”
I had to wonder while watching the show, though: Is anyone made for this kind of life? Can anyone handle being the boyfriend, therapist, and best friend to millions of girls they’ve never met? Most puzzling is that most of the talent brought on tour have no prior experience in the industry. Many of the boys being brought to Magcon were plucked straight out of high school. Some even look at Dallas’s life with a bit of fear – this could be them too.
Throughout the series, the idea that these boys can change a girl’s life is disturbingly brought home daily by the tour’s Christian videographer. With his iced tip hair and a style that is far too young for him, he leads the boys in daily prayers asking God to give them the ability to “help” the young girls they will be meeting. It’s an insulting concept to buy into, and yet most of the talent do – wholeheartedly. Dallas, meanwhile, shuts down.
The relationship and dynamics between all of the main players in Chasing Cameron is fascinating to watch unfold.
As the tour self-implodes, blame is shifted and transferred. Bordelon proves to be the most challenging “character” to read – he frames himself as a Christian family man who wants to be a father figure to the boys. It’s clear from the start that he’s in over his head, though. Bordelon never fully seems to register just how popular Dallas’s star has become, nor does he understand how complex Dallas’s feelings of isolation are as a result of it. And yet, both he and Dallas are unafraid to include footage that is damning to them both. When asked how Dallas’s relationship is with him, Dallas seems genuinely irritated. “I don’t know,” he mumbles. “He likes to think he’s a father figure to me because I never had one growing up, but…” His voice trails off. He looks off-camera. The boy looks tired, sullen and depressed.
Chasing Cameron reveals nothing we don’t already know about fame. The medium of fame may be different, but the consequences are still just as bitter. Underneath the sleek show’s exterior, there is a real pulse to it. Dallas is brave allowing viewer’s in deeper than most celebrities would. In the age of hyper-control and image branding, Dallas’s show succeeds by letting you see the ugliest sides of the social media star. In Chasing Cameron, Dallas is ready to show you what celebrity is really like – warts, loneliness and all.