For all that they are, and all that they’re seemingly not, influencers aren’t the perfect characters they have been conditioned to portray. Back in 2014, when the rise of British Youtubers was a thing, the OG influencer culture thrived upon the concept of “ordinary humans having a following.” Celebrities showcased a lifestyle that the average human wanted, yet couldn’t achieve. Then came the middle ground. The humble influencer. The one with the ordinary part time job and a YouTube career on the side. The relatable individual with a fan-base they preferred to refer to as friends.
If Capitalism was a person, then influencers would be their muse.
Since the term “influencer” was coined, added to the Dictionary, and placed into wide circulation, the social media career was born. The once ordinary individual with a following became a celebrity, and eventually the celebrities became influencers, and before we knew it it was hard to distinguish one from the other. The platforms that had once been a means to connect with irl friends and family became a marketing means to an end. And the ones unable to adapt got forgotten, or archived, or went under the name of Facebook.
Just as the patriarchy taught us to pit women against women, it became easy to divide influencers and their target audience into “them” and “us.” Authenticity was lost to brand deals and affiliate links. Every other post became an ad. And future generations began telling teachers that they wanted to be a YouTuber when they grew up. But with that divide came the permission to scrutinise the influencers like we once had the celebrities that came before them. Thus, the vicious cycle began…
In all honesty, I don’t think everyone has the potential to become an influencer, but I do think it benefits more Western, capitalistic societies to tell us that we can, and therefore we should. We consume content and buy products in the hope of forging a life that reflects the social media ideal. And when we don’t achieve it, we’re conditioned to blame the individual who sold us the modern dream. But what if it was never a case of “them” and “us”? What if the influencer was still an ordinary person with a following? Would this cultural phenomenon have become so toxic and complex, or would we still be celebrating the achievements of the strangers who were marketed as online friends?