Under the influence?
Not of mind-altering substances, let’s hope, but the incalculable pizzazz of Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift or, for that matter, the Argentine soccer star Leo Messi.
Nope? Didn’t think so.
Could it be that you were unaware of “influencers” in the first place — showbiz big shots and sports stars and a slew of overachieving nobodies — who motivate others by way of social media?
Here’s the idea:
On one of your several electronic devices, you see that an influencer of serious repute — maybe Kim Kardashian, Kennedy Cymone or Oliver Proudlock, there are thousands — is wearing something, or eating something, or doing something superfun, and you think, gee, I will wear, eat or do the same thing.
Influencer-recommended activities may be more geared to another age demographic, but worth mentioning are just a few to gauge what the pre-AARP crowd finds inviting.
Friends, don’t we all want to dive off a 500-foot cliff in Utah (parachute required), or risk frozen nose hair while dog sledding in British Columbia, or travel to a posh resort in Nairobi where giraffes are apt to eat off your breakfast plates?
Even before the age of calcium deposits and creaky hips, I confess none of the above would have seemed reason enough to seek a second mortgage.
For me, Coney Island remains an adequately exotic destination, and my inner Evel Knievel does not allow much more than the Wonder Wheel in midsummer.
Once, as a teenager, I also rode the parachute jump, strapped in beside a beautiful girl from the youth group at St. John’s Lutheran, Prospect Avenue, Brooklyn. She was dizzy with excitement — look how far you can see! — while I worked to suppress an unseemly whimper.
The historic seaside structure remains but the parachute ride no longer operates — and a good thing. What if, on a family outing, grandkids pointed to the tower and implored, “Can we, Pop-Pop? Can we, please?” Prideless, I would flee to Nathan’s and the reassurance of crinkle-cut French fries.
Instagram — the networking service owned by Facebook that allows users to share photos and videos of themselves as they cliff-dive and dog-sled — is the key influence-peddling platform but, turns out, persuasion is a pretty fungible commodity and it circulates freely through the social media world.
And what a world, huh?
YouTube, WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, QQ, Tumblr, TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, Viber, Snapchat — how do the young folks keep it all together and still have time for Drake concerts and their favorite Fortnite video survival game?
No surprise, all this influence translates into money for the fortunate opinion-shapers and brands they peddle.
Business Insider says the “influencer marketing industry” could rack up maybe $15 billion in a couple of years and, with brands as varied as Dr Pepper, Calvin Klein, Red Bull, Hershey’s, Old Spice and the National Football League onboard, the sky’s the limit. If there is a sky in cyberspace, which doesn’t seem the case.
Sure, people have been trading on fame forever.
Arthur Godfrey sold Lipton Tea and Jack Benny cracked jokes for Lucky Strike cigarettes. Would I have gulped bowl after bowl of Cheerios if I didn’t think the Lone Ranger would maybe ask a lucky little boy to saddle up?
But the media universe was smaller then — tiny by comparison to ours — and you didn’t feel swamped when the old black-and-white DuMont flickered and Buick proudly brought you, “The Honeymooners.” They called ads “commercials” in those days — nothing more sophisticated than that.
Anyway, all this got me thinking about my own “influencers.”
Friends and family, sure, but also the high school social studies teacher who threw a piece of chalk at some knucklehead for mimicking a Nazi salute — “my brother fought in that war, you !@#$%*&,” the teacher roared unforgettably — and the hip Protestant pastor who introduced a bunch of unworldly working-class teens to the divine, grown-up pleasures of jazz and hats off, absolutely, to my first literary hero, J.D. Salinger, who wrote “The Catcher in the Rye” and converted a reluctant reader to the world of good books. Eternal thanks. Salinger’s lead character was Holden Caulfield, a precocious young fellow who had a special sense for spotting anything “phony” — whatever seemed trivial, arch and overdone.
“Goddam money,” Holden said at one point. “It always ends up making you blue as hell.”
Ten years ago, Salinger, whose fan base never faltered, died at 91 after a reclusive life in New Hampshire.
So far as we know he never ate breakfast with giraffes and didn’t expect anyone else to, either.