To Be or Not To Be, Influenced?
Notes on our influential nomad artists dying for attention.
There is no mystery greater than this: Being in reality we seek to gain reality. We think there is something hiding our reality and it must be destroyed before the reality is gained. A day will dawn when you will laugh at your past efforts, that which will be on the day you laugh is also here and now. - Ramana Maharshi
All around us the world is changing quickly. Historically, fast changes like we’re witnessing have resulted in profound shifts in art and culture, new questions about how we live and why, and even existential contemplations about wrong timelines and a nostalgia for the not so distant past. Yet nobody likes to revisit the past and sulk in regret, and people yearn for the positive and optimistic pieces of information that may help guide their choices for the future. Amen to that. Nothing in our world is more positive and full of optimism than our great digital performers, our super selfie wonders, the digital nomad philosophers of our time who roam this great earth in search of the perfect vlog setting to elicit the jealously and envy of their millions of disciples.
In ancient Greece philosophers were revered, they were celebrated for their clarity of reason and logos, their objectivity and wisdom and had tremendous influence over the population. Today we celebrate our own philosophers, visionaries and mavericks who also have tremendous influence over the population. Instead of deep insights into one’s character or morals or concepts like justice and democracy, they offer us so much more than those philosophers of Ancient Greece.
Watching one of them pull a bikini strap from her hip while tilting her head back into the sunlight, or swing from a rock cliff for the perfect magic hour shot to influence others and gain clout is something as a society we just can’t put a value on. That’s something for marketing companies and talent agents to do. As mere mortals we are left to observe with awe and wonder at all their spectacular talents and abilities and simply click that like button to show just how much we love their digital performance.
But it is not enough anymore to simply click that like button to “show some love”. The beautiful bastards, or “followers” of one digital cult or another must “smash that like button” to show their admiration for the spectacle of digital magnificence that will be on display even if they are yet to witness it. They are so certain it will be terrific because they are a dedicated follower who “activates those notification bells” to be alerted each time a new performance is transmitted. The activation a Pavlovian trigger for the follower to reflexively obey in their desire to be influenced.
The influencer is neither human nor chimera. These digital Gods levitate above us mere mortals with their performances. They can snap their fingers and change wardrobes instantly while singing an eighties pop tune they just heard for the first time ten minutes before they began to choreograph their routine. They can make objects move before the camera, alter their physical appearances instantly removing any unwanted natural blemishes and socially inconvenient birth defects. They are chameleon magicians capable of inspiring millions of strangers around the world who after smashing that like button are left to contemplate the single greatest question people have to contemplate today: To be or not to be, influenced?
It is dangerous to refuse to be influenced. This is a reckless and isolating choice one must not make lightly without first considering the ramifications. Choosing not to be influenced means choosing to devote attention to those who are not chameleon magicians with millions of followers. This will result in fear of missing out on their performances, pop culture staples worthy of being emulated if not simply watched over and over again for the sheer beauty and wonder of the creation. This choice not to be influenced will result in social isolation and will result in strange looks from the masses of the influenced who cannot ponder any of the reasons why one would refuse such a state of euphoria in the presence of digital greatness.
Not all performances are feats of physical transformation and wonderous spectacle. Some require the subtlety of simply writing a script to be read to the audience as a voice over. These are usually profound contemplations of a journey in life and the present state of the world as only the eyes of an influencer can see it.
Take the young Canadian couple who perform under the moniker “Boho Beautiful” on YouTube and risked it all years ago to transmit yoga routines and bohemian travel adventures to their audience of millions. This was most definitely not an opportunity to exploit the figure of the female half of the duo by squeezing her svelte figure into revealing bikinis and sports bras to contort her body into yogic poses to send their armies of reddit coomers into a frenzy of orgasmic release.
She is so much more than her body. When she’s not tanned and sweaty flashing her artificially enhanced breasts or thrusting her camel-toed mons pubis to the sky she is busy saving the world with her cameraman boyfriend because both are devout vegans and if there’s one thing we know about vegans besides how they’re saving the world, it’s that they really really care that you know about them being vegans.
But pity the fool who thinks their limitations stop there.
When they’re not busy eating all the correct foods to impress upon their millennial and zoomer audiences, they’re posing alongside poor Peruvians to exploit for their performances, stopping at the edge of town for a brief cross legged meditation pose.
It is here in Cusco (probably) that they are both bothered by some tremendous forces in the world that require their deep insights and reflections. They let it be known they are nomads on a journey and this is a journey that portends profound changes and philosophical ponderings to share with their envious western cult of followers.
How much of the thousands of dollars these beautiful bohemians made in advertising their performance on YouTube or tens of thousands they received from their generous patrons that month did they offer to the poor children dressed in traditional colorful flare or weathered old Peruvian ladies they jammed their $5,000 cameras in the faces of? It is Starbucks and Hilton who choose to do commerce in Cusco that these two are troubled by because western companies are polluting their experience. The message is of course, predatory global capitalism destroys the small coffee vendor and hotelier in Cusco. And who do you suppose these two voted for in the last Canadian elections? The greater message is how do you cloak your self-aggrandizing tremendous virtue as a ‘conscious consumer’ of ‘localized sustainability’ in a performative travel vlog to impress upon your viewers?
To be or not to be, performatively virtuous?
Perhaps the selfish employees of the Cusco Patagonia or Starbucks or Hilton Hotel will be willing to go on unemployment benefits to enhance these boho wanderers’ experience by quitting their jobs and demanding their filthy western employers leave town immediately. Their Peruvian corporate offices in the Capital of Lima should shut down too. Those thousands of jobs can be replaced easily by these two influencer nomads who will need their narcissistic egos transported the rest of their journey. That’s some heavy lifting.
When you shove a camera into your own face for hours a day and every step, every facial twitch becomes a performance, the world is merely a background, a quaint stage prop from which to paint your inspiring canvases for your cult of followers. Every decision from which to view the world is refracted through a lens by the influencer, for the benefit of the influencer and nobody else.
It is the disciple of the nomad philosopher who sees this young couple, experienced in all manner of camera handling and maneuvering to capture themselves in just the perfect light so as to maximize their influencing, who sees in the influencer a daring soul. They say, “This is someone I can admire. They are out in this world doing something I too wish to be doing, but there is simply far too much holding me back, beside myself. The next best thing is to watch these people drink tea, walk around in a city, pretend to play with poor children, ride taxis and mope around in five star hotel rooms while philosophizing about the most important questions of our time: when to ask the viewer to ‘smash the like button’ and ‘hit that subscribe button’.”
The options for digital attention influencing are endless. The number of podcasts and vlogs alone to consume would require half the earth’s existence. The diversity of choices are numerous. There are no hobbies or activities that one cannot consume on one platform or another. One must be discerning in where they aim their focus. As in one who sees a man on a sailboat and says, “I must devote the next ten hours of my life to watch this man do things on a sailboat.” Now, granted if that person’s dream was to one day own a sailboat, or even just simply go sailing, then it might be a wise choice to learn some fundamentals of rope tying or sea faring. However if said person was never going near a sailboat it would be a questionable use of their time and yet that is our great dilemma. How do we select what we focus our attention on in today’s world of one giant interconnected (for now) digital influencer bazaar? How does one decide who is worthy of their attention and seeks to be influenced by their performances?
The answers are not for us mortals to determine. Such questions are answered for us with artificial intelligence and algorithms that know our digital consumptive desires better than we do.
For the zoomer it is decided for them by the herd. To whichever meadows the herd run, the zoomer will follow. If its a teenage TikTok star who moves her facial muscles around and jump cuts her way to bikini haul stardom then that is where their attention will go. If its an Instagram Thot who presses her breasts together beside a beach in Bali with a coconut drink beside a never opened hardcover copy of A Brief History of Time, than that Thot will be the influencer of that moment. If it’s a power lifter flexing his biceps before blowing kisses to the iphone lens, than that is what she will consume with shaking legs.
There are now entire houses dedicated to influencers where they gather in one place to live and perform their influential routines. They are called influencer houses or TikTok houses but with so many powerful forces of attention-extraction brilliance gathered in one place we might as well call them Influencer Monasteries or TikTok Taj Mahals. They gather in these sacred places to choreograph attention extracting performances where creative genius requires accepting that nothing is ever off limits.
There’s a Charles Bukowski short story with the greatest title in the history of short story titles: “My Beer Drunk Soul Is Sadder Than All The Dead Christmas Trees of the World.”
Today Bukowski would look at society and change it to: “My Beer Drunk Soul Is Sadder Than All the Full TikTok Houses of the World.”
Perhaps I have it all wrong Good Citizens. Perhaps when choosing to be influenced we are choosing to witness greatness. Are these digital performers the da Vincis and Michaelangelos of our time? Will history remember the guy on his skateboard drinking a Slurpee, cruising down the off ramp while lip synching Fleetwood Mac and put that performance in a museum where future generations will gather around it like throngs of tourists do with Degas’ ballet dancers in the Musée d'Orsay?
Not all art appears in its chosen time. Van Gogh could not give away his paintings while alive. Some great art through history was considered grotesque and heretical before being celebrated as genius later.
Is it possible that a downward dog pose on Instagram on the beaches of Tulum or a women snorting Oreo cookies are the great artistic creations of our Epoch numérique and we should marvel at them with wonder and awe devoting hours of our time and attention to these digital artifacts?
I do not have the answers Good Citizens but if I still have your attention please smash that heart button to show how much you loved this digital performance. And don’t forget to smash that subscribe button too, the next performance may be me in a bikini tilting my head back in the Cabo sunlight showing my new thigh tattoo of ancient Sanskrit wisdom, and you wouldn’t want to miss that either.
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