Narcissistic, self-absorbed, indulgent or overly-dramatic are all phrases that may be used to describe the character of Michael The iii. The flamboyant beefcake of Instagram has been creating misleading perceptions for years now and has built so what of a cult following in the process.
The genius behind the character is Mike Rinaldi, a talented illustrator, who has no interest in the realistic representation of reality. He is far more interested in tapping into surrealism to reflect the often absorbed culture views of youth. It is slightly aluming that line between reality and surrealism seems to be very fine, but that is why Michael The iii is a brilliant portrayal of millennial culture. Our narcissistic tendencies, as a society, are boiled down to their core values in Rinaldi work. Then mirror back to his audience in a brutally honest manner, the awkwardness of the truth is softened by the hilarity of his overly camp aesthetic.
Noisin.com profiled Mike Rinaldi to understand how Michael The iii came to be and discuss the important meaning behind the artist vision... that it is really all about Michael The iii. We discovered that Michael The iii is an extension of Rinaldi, who using the self-indulgence of millennials as a medium to express sexual freedom while parodying the radicalness of selfie culture.
N: From your perspective, Can you explain who the character Michael the iii?
MTiii: Michael the III is sometimes a mystery even to myself. At the core, the character is performance art, a carefully curated online life that I use to both parody and playfully participate in modern social media culture. He is self-centred, petty, flippant, and often petulant, but at the heart of it he has deep emotions that I explore through long-form captions. He has also evolved over time. Sometimes I feel he should be more humour based, sometimes I get very serious. Overall, I see him as a litmus of Instagram-culture.
N: Can you tell us about the journey to creating Michale the iii?
MTiii: There was never a plan to create him. It happened very naturally. In early 2013 I started an account called "Naked Thursdays" with a group of friends. As the title suggests, each thursday we would drink wine, make dinner, take nudes of each other and then post them. It was as a joke at first but it quickly became popular with about 10K followers in a few months. The first time I posted a nude, I woke up the next morning a bit panicked thinking, "What have I done?!" That soon went away because the project was so fun for us. Eventually we decided to stop and I made my personal account public and changed the name to "Michael the III." I didn't do anything new with it until Beyoncé surprise released her Self-Titled album at the end of the year. That really impacted me. It made me realize things about presenting sexuality I hadn't thought before when I was doing Naked Thursdays and it empowered me to keep expressing myself. That's when "Michael the III" was really born.
N: How fine is the veil between Michael and Mike, and does Michael the iii represent a persona of your self?
MTiii: He is very much "me" but also not me at all. His tastes are all mine but not all of his personality traits. I write from my own experiences but change details for the innocent and embellish my experiences through the lens of Michael's character. There's always truth behind what I say, even if it seems extremely far-fetched. I think "Michael" and "Mike" are very different though. A lot of people expect me to be craving attention in real life or they automatically think I'll be an arrogant jerk. People always tell me this after we meet: they realize I'm actually rather shy, always smiling and am way more polite and friendly than I seem on Instagram. As an example, "Michael" would be the first one up at Karaoke. "Mike" would only participate when he's felt everyone already had a chance. I don't seek the spotlight by any means in real life, though I know what to do with it if it comes to me. I often say that Michael is who I would be if Instagram ate my soul. Or maybe it did.
N: Michael The iii is often over-sexualized, feeding this idea that his narcism ruling his identity. Do you present as sexually positive in your day to day life or play with over-sexualization of self?
MTiii: That is one part that is definitely not embellished at all. I think sexuality is stunning and I am as sex-positve in my personal life as I am online. My approach to open sexuality is best expressed in the way I've dated and interacted with others as a modern gay man. That being said I'm not as aggressive with it, it's more of a mindset than anything else. I'll dress up (or down) to go out, but by day I'm not really "out-there". I do believe in talking openly and unabashedly about sex.
N: Can you tell us a little more about Mike, what is a typical day in the life of Mike Rinaldi?
MTiii: Well I have a day job, which makes "Michael the III" my night job and I think that's incredibly well suited on a titular level. I'm the type of person who lingers in bed as long as possible. I can shower, change and be out the door in ten minutes if I need to. I go to work and have fun there with my amazing coworkers. My day job is in graphic design so in many ways it's very similar to my processes for Michael the III. I'll come home later and might start working on Michael the III projects or just take time to relax, which usually means watching Shirley Bassey performances.
N: What lead you to use self-portrait as your medium?
MTiii: I think it's just easier that way. When I was doing the Naked Thursdays Project with my friends, it was often me behind the camera for the other three and then giving the overall creative direction. I love making images and if I use myself, I can model how I want the image to look, I don't have to plan my work around other people's schedules and it's also fun to play with self-identity. I also find selfies fascinating. I did right from the start, even through the period when they were almost a bad word, seen as a distasteful representation of our generation, I loved the idea of them. I love that we are the first generation to widely self-document and I believe there is a lot of power in that. I always encourage others to take as many selfies as possible. It can reflect who you are, who you want to be, who you think you are, how you're feeling. They'd don't have to be sexy. They can say so much.
N: Have you always had an affinity with nudity or as an exposition, or did this interest develop with Michael the iii as a character?
MTiii: I've always found sex appeal attractive, naturally, but not necessarily because of sexual interest. I have a history of idolizing female sex symbols: Rita Hayworth, Sophia Loren, Beyoncé. I just find them fascinating, probably because they all have had some form of agency whether intrinsic or developed. As a child I was always drawing "sexy" female figures. I had a fascination with cleavage. In regards to nudity, hundreds of years of art history agree with my interest in it. For Michael, there's that backstory, plus the inherent parody of gay instagram-culture. I still love the humour of it all. I don't think it exposes you, but love paying with that notion.
I think I use the self-indulgence of our generation as a medium for expressing a point of view or an artistic vision.
N: On the surface, it may seem as if the character you create is simply a dramatic representation of narcissistic youth culture. However, I believe you're examining our cultural connection to self-indulgent behaviour and exploring the concept with humour and artist integrity. Is their a master plan behind Michael the iii, or a message you are sending to the world?
MTiii: There is no master plan, but there are certainly many messages I wish to send out. They usually happen as they occur to me or in reaction to the world at large. The main one would be freedoms and expression and sexuality. I think I use the self-indulgence of our generation as a medium for expressing a point of view or an artistic vision. In many ways I think the more you understand your own feelings towards yourself, the more you can feel for others. That is of course, if you are not an actual narcissist. And I've been called that many times. But drawing a connection between selfies and narcissism is too tidy for me. So. I love making fun of it. There are a lot of ridiculous things about selfie-culture, namely the many ways people try to validate them when could just be posted. It's a selfie. We get it. Things like generic inspirational quotes under an image merely selected because the selfie-taker looked good, for example, is boring. It makes me laugh though. I suppose I am a connoisseur of bad taste, I love watching terrible films. It's inspiring.
N: Your concepts are a perfect blend of beefcake identity that is overly feminized with components of pop culture. How do you craft this fine balance to create the finished product?
MTiii: I love hearing you describe it like that. I don't consciously try and do it, it's just what I like and how I want to express myself. I think I look masculine but I know I also don't act it. And so on one hand I've gotten rude comments from people not expecting my voice to express so much femininity. On the other hand, I've also had people say to me "You're the only femme person here" because I'm wearing something as simple as make-up. They did mean it as a compliment and I took it as one, but at the same time I can't help but think, "Really? Me? I am the most femme one here? If that's true, there is not a great amount of diversity at the party." To me it's just natural. I would say that something like masculinity and femininity are two colours of my palette that I blend together to achieve a certain harmony I want. I want one to flow into the other, or the two to mix so you can't really identify which stereotypical bucket you're looking at. I love to include femininity even though I can tell others don't enjoy those posts as much. But they'll just have to deal with it.
I would say that something like masculinity and femininity are two colours of my palette that I blend together to achieve a certain harmony I want.
N: We can't discuss your art without touching on captions that accompany the images. Do you craft these brilliant stories once you have a finished image or do you work on the captions separately?
MTiii: It can go either way. Lately I've been thinking of stories before the photos, but often it's the other way around. In production they are always done separately though. I almost always start with the image first, and then wait to write the caption once I nail down the mood of the image.
N: Do you post every concept you create? and if you don't post a concept what is the reasons?
MTiii: I'd say about 30% of my concepts get put in the "Michael the III Vault." If I just can't solve the final composition, or I think it's redundant, or I just don't like it, it ends up there. By now there must be hundreds. Often I revisit them and find the solution I missed before.
N: Do you find the process humorous at times? or has it just become about of your day to day life?
MTiii: I actually haven't found the process humorous in a long while. It's very much a production for me now, since I do absolutely everything myself. But I would never change that. It's important for me to have complete control because it's my story and my likeness. I've turned down many offers to collaborate because if I'm not also "behind" the camera, I don't want to do it. That's not why I'm doing this. I don't wish to let other people create how I'm perceived. Before I grew more accustomed to my process though, I would sometimes have an out-of-body experience. I'd see myself slouched in my office chair, eating something in the dark, editing a nude picture of myself in some outlandish, grandiose setting and it all seemed absolutely absurd. I love that.
N: In past interviews you relived on your want to direct a porno, can you talk us through the concept of the porn movie you would direct if given the opportunity?
MTiii: Yes, and I hope someone reading this will help me get that opportunity because it's still something I would love to do. I have no doubt it would be an amazing film. I think my style would be way more surreal than most porn films. And though you may expect me to make it really humorous or a parody of the genre, I think I would make it a lot more touching (no pun intended) and sensual. I wouldn't mind making a film noir porn, I think porn films lack interest in the scenes when no one is being fucked, so I would really focus on those, making them as rewarding and tantalizing as the rest. Like, sure you just want to see what's under his pants but you also want to know if that's where he's hidden the stolen jewels too. I'm also really into teasing and the art of waiting, so I may not even have any real sex until the halfway mark. I'd want the film to still be very explicit though. Full-on XXX. Someone hire me!
N: Beyond Michael The iii and other projects are you involved in?
MTiii: Well there was a time I also did a lot of homo-erotic illustration which is still available for purchase on my site. I sometimes get jobs to do new stuff, but now I'm mostly focused on this. It's a lot of work.
N: What is next for Mike Rinaldi?
MTiii: Well, I hope to continue doing what I do, but for other people. I'm very open to being commissioned as just a photographer or just a writer. I don't always have to be the centre of attention.