In 2012, the Internet started spitting out think pieces about the end of journalism and the rise of a new beast, The Blogger, who was obliterating a sacred art form right before our eyes.
To be clear, a blogger is anyone who writes for the Internet. This person could have a Ph.D. He could be a tenured professor, she could have been allotted the MacArthur genius grant. If your writing appears on the Internet and no where else, you are, by definition, a blogger. And circulation on the global Internet is a hell of a lot more impressive than limited print circulation, so what’s the problem, really?
I mean, I know the problem.
From 2010 to 2012, so many fashion bloggers sprouted that the term became synonymous with us. If you called yourself a blogger, the assumption was that you were a full-time wearer of sequins, constantly posing ahead of a sunset. Old-guard editors and storied writers compiled takedowns heard ’round the world. They made the term feel so dirty. But just as soon as it stormed in, it disappeared from our lexicons, utterly eclipsed by a new word: the influencer. Which is equally, if not more, dirty.
In my opinion, though, the term seems honest. Influencers don’t necessarily have to display writing prowess. They don’t have to be photographers, they don’t even need to have a passion outside of developing a social following large enough to monetize their existence. It’s a tale as old as time. In 2002, we called the influencer a reality TV star. In 2008, he or she was a socialite. At some point, they became tastemakers — and here we are now, on Instagram and Snapchat or whatever, with legitimate data that proves a single person can be a publisher.
My personal Instagram account commands around 453,000 followers who, I am sure, come there not to read what I have written or to learn how to build a small media business, but because I am either an easy target (sometimes I really do look crazy, but enjoy making fun of myself) or because they like how I dress. Sometimes, I get paid to post things. It doesn’t happen particularly frequently, but I am eager when it happens, which I suppose means that I am an influencer. I do struggle with the term. This annoys me because I want to own what I am — to call a spade a spade, to be explicitly honest with myself and the Internet. The best replacement that I can muster is “person with large social following.” Too many syllables.
I keep coming back to the question of why? Why the negative connotation? Why does it feel so dirty? Almost every person I know who is considered an influencer cringes when they are called one. There’s an air of inexperience, of feeling like you’re a kid at camp among a group of bunkmates. Getting paid to do something prescriptive, something completely unnatural to what you are. You don’t always know if the people who are willing to pay you actually “get” you, or if you’re simply a tick they can check off their to-do list.
Most influencers, upon being called influencers, will say that they do so much more. That they are so much more. Perhaps this means we want to prove ourselves before being relegated to 2017’s equivalent of a reality star. This is where I find myself at an emotional crossroads. Even if you don’t do more, even if you are just a person with a large social following who has demonstrated an ability to both grow and sustain circulation — isn’t that extremely powerful in its own right? Why can’t that be celebrated?
For as offended as the Internet gets when Kim Kardashian (the ultimate influencer) does anything, it is remarkable that she is as famous and monetized as she is. It can’t be easy, either. I’ve seen her interact with fans, gracefully and with aplomb, never undermining her celebrity or their obscurity. So I’m not exactly sure what I’m getting at here. Do I want to take back the term? To better understand why people have such a problem with it?
Or, do I want you to ask me questions that might lead me down a spiral of answers that lend itself to a newly navigated sense of identity?
So please, deposit your two cents.
Images and GIFs by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.