The Village Idiot by Jim Mullen

The Influencers

She’s 18 and has half a zillion followers on Instagram. Her posts are full of great pearls of wisdom like, “Somedays I feel pretty and somedays I don’t.” That bit of knowledge should be good for a few million likes and a couple of thousand comments. No wonder advertisers pay her to mention them in her posts.

In her pictures, she looks like a model; in real life, she looks like a pretty teenager. If only you could walk around the mall with backlighting and a fan blowing your hair just so, the way you can in your bedroom. To be Instafamous means you can walk down the street unnoticed, but online, you’re a superstar.

As if anyone walks down the street anymore. Why are we wasting all that money on sidewalks?

Wait! I could have just posted that sentence on Instagram with a doctored picture of myself looking like a cross between Ryan Gosling and Chris Hemsworth, instead of what I really look like -- the long-lost love child of Lotte Lenya and Ed Sullivan. But even if I did that, I have no Instagram followers to see it. I could invite both of my friends to follow me on Instagram, but I have a strong feeling that if I did that, they would no longer be my friends.

Why is it that 18-year-olds don’t think that asking people to follow them is creepy, but people my age do? My friends would think, “Now what’s he trying to sell me?” Teenagers think, “Oh, wow, someone wants to be my friend! Finally!”

Is “influencers” the right word for people who are trying to sell you things, but pretend they are doing you a favor? The correct word for that is not “influencer” but “shill.” I get about six snail-mail letters a day that say things like “Very Important Message!” or “Time-sensitive!” on the envelope. They go right into the shredder, unopened and unread. If a letter says it’s very important, you know it isn’t important at all. It’s just some insurance company pretending they have lower rates, or someone telling you they can lower your electric bill, or some credit card telling you that it will save you more money than the 10 credit cards you already have. Something tells me they are the ones who will benefit if you respond to that piece of Time-sensitive Material, not you.

Silly as it sounds, you really do want to become an Instagram or YouTube star. Influencers with 50,000 followers can make several thousand dollars on ONE post that pitches a product that they have a deal with. If you have 1 million followers, you can make that $10,000 a post. Over a million followers, it could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single testimonial blurb about the right product. And you get to work at home in your spare time.

So why am I wasting my time writing this, when I should be out on the street, begging people to follow me on Instagram? I could be influencing people my age on which brand of adult diapers to buy, what kind of fiber they should take every day (Metamucil Sugar-Free -- ka-ching!), who has the best senior discounts in town -- did I say town? I mean the entire world.

Why should I let 18-year-olds who still have plenty of hair make all the money? By the way, the hair product I use is Just For Men. Trust me, no one will notice that one day you had salt-and-saltier hair, and now it’s luxuriant shoe-polish black. I hear it’s the same stuff Clark Kent uses, and look what it’s done for him. Not only will you look younger, you’ll feel younger, too. I’m definitely seeing a promotion in your future.

Did I say promotion? That probably means a trip to Men’s Wearhouse for a few new suits. As my tens of followers tell me, that’s the place to go for price and fit. Tell ‘em I sent you.

(Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com.)