What is the end game of aspiring influencers?

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by #influencerstyle

by Caroline Skoog

There is no experience comparable to being 14 years old and on Vine during its infancy. Nothing will ever be as candid or funny. I imagine Vine to Millennials and Gen Z is like what Hands Across America was to Gen X and Baby Boomers. 

With a stipulation of six seconds or less, Vine ultimately became the most quotable platform, launching “look at all those chickens” and “welcome to Chili’s” into the monoculture. The initial beauty of the service was its execution of the digital egalitarian interface. By allocating the same terms (six seconds) and same real-time editing software to each user, there were no overt indicators at first that one video would go more viral than another. As the platform grew, certain accounts gained social, and subsequently commercial, traction, in effect expanding their internet notoriety across a plethora of social media sites. We know them as content creators, influencers, human pop-up ads.

Since its discontinuation in 2016, the pedestals for vine stars have been repurposed as YouTubers, Instagram influencers, Twitter, and more recently TikTok personalities. This is not to say that influencers didn’t exist prior to Vine, but Vine expanded the veneer of ‘celebrity’ to any competent teenager with an iPhone. Which is great, of course. Free exchange of ideas, all voices can be heard, whatever Mark Zuckerberg said that one time. (kidding)

But internet celebrities’ personal relationships to brands and their audiences has produced a sort of fame stock market. With each account attempting to amass more followers within the attention economy, internet content has become a commodity that is more about performing a specific lifestyle than it is about the content itself. There is such a high supply of aspiring content creators and a demanding, profitable audience that wants to see the daily activities of internet celebrities– content is hurled at the world without much thought of what goes into content. 

It’s weird that the epitome of internet success is being able to #ad. That is the both the route to and trophy of microcelebrity. As a result, aspiring influencers typically pose as an aesthetically pleasing canvas for brands to paint and perform. After all, that’s where the money is. More than money, however, these figures have our attention. When a profile collects millions of views daily, it’s by all intents and purposes a site of cultural production. 

Post-grassroots social media, now blended with sponsored accounts and branded profiles, has left us with more content than we know what to do with. Influencers and creators excrete content out of their microscopic pores at this point. I know grouping creators and influencers together might aggravate some, but they both create and influence the overall social media landscape.

Despite online figures’ narrative of empowerment and individual entrepreneurship, I think the influencer vision has stagnated the flow of creative material on what could’ve been a revolutionary device for artistic expression. Concepts are packaged and marketed before the content itself gets made. Content creators prioritize relationships with their fans above all because that is the most valuable trait to prospective company collaborators. 

Maybe I’m a glass half-empty type, but I can’t imagine fostering parasocial relationships in order to push Sugarbear hair gummies to feel empowering. Sure, the trip to the bank might feel nice, but if you’re carving out an audience for the purpose of just that… why? What is the end game of internet fame? Videos like GIRLFRIEND DOES MY MAKE UP [MUST WATCH] [I FREAK OUT] [REAL].

Granted, we all need to do what we need to do to pay bills. However, the lifestyle of an influencer doesn’t teeter on the side of “making ends meet.” It’s a glamorous privilege… to sell out. 

There is very cool stuff in various corners of the internet. It just doesn’t harness the same traction. Younger markets are more profitable, which is why it’s dangerous to conveniently pave out a career path based on the gullibility of children, or the insecurity of young women (with products like detox teas).