SPIEGEL: Mr. Nymoen, Mr. Schmitt, you have a book about Influencer wrote – these are the people who photograph themselves pregnant in the bathtub for an Instagram post to advertise bath salts, right?
Ole Nymoen: There are also influencers who lie down in a bathtub full of Nutella or put an iPhone in the blender. It cannot be emphasized enough: it really is the purest idiocy of the people.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, more and more companies are investing their advertising budget in influencers. In your book you explain the success of these advertising stars with the Tamagotchi. How so?
Nymoen: The Tamagotchi wanted to be constantly fed, its physical needs had to be met digitally. Even the influencer only revolves around his body and invites digital interaction: Many of them constantly ask their followers what to wear or what to eat. A pseudo-democratic selection that suggests that their physical wellbeing could be influenced. This fakes a dependency that is algorithmically smart because more interaction leads to better visibility. We see a certain closeness to the Tamagotchi, of course a bit fun.
SPIEGEL: But you don’t mean your book just for fun. They even warn that influencers are a danger.
Wolfgang M. Schmitt: Yes, we see it as a threat to democracy. Together with the influencers, we are moving back into a pre-Enlightenment age when the sovereign said to the bishop: Keep her stupid, I’ll keep her poor. Influencers are now doing both in personal union. They serve consumer capitalism and are not interested in mature followers, because you do business with those who follow blindly, i.e. like and buy.
SPIEGEL: What exactly do you find reprehensible about consumer capitalism?
Nymoen: That it promises you can buy a happy life and even an identity. Those who can afford more are happier. That creates economic and social pressure. And with it dissatisfaction.
Schmitt: It is a system that primarily produces losers, while it constantly suggests that you can make it if you just post the right photos, give a lot of likes and collect them.
SPIEGEL: Why are these frustrating long-term commercials so successful?
Nymoen: There is a great lack of orientation, which is also shown by the boom in advice literature. Old authorities – church, family and state – have lost their importance, the void is filled by influencers. In doing so, they venture much further into the private and intimate than the church used to do. From breakfast to sex toys, there is always “help”. The users love this supervised life.
SPIEGEL: You write that influencers are the symptomatic figure of our time.
Schmitt: We are dealing with people who are retelling the ascension story even though we are living in a time when we no longer expect that we will be better off than our parents. We notice that advancement through education or performance is often no longer possible. The conclusion of the influencers is: Still you have to try. All alone, everyone fights for themselves to get attention and thus money, on the shoulders of those who have stayed below. Because somebody has to click on all the discount codes.
SPIEGEL: So are influencers the personification of neoliberalism and unsolidarity?
Schmitt: Yes, because the neoliberal subject should be entrepreneurs of themselves. That sounds emancipatory, but there is only competition and self-interest in the market: The influencers like to speak of »supporting«, but in truth there is only social coldness and calculation in the pink Instagram world.
SPIEGEL: But there are also some who show stacks of books by hip feminists on their Instagram accounts.
Schmitt: Influencer with woken Topics from feminism to flight shame are opening up new markets, such as new cooperation partners such as parties or foundations. It is about emotionalising topics and presenting oneself as particularly virtuous, enlightened or morally on the right side, only to then be able to advertise any product for sustainability.
SPIEGEL: But can’t influencers still be role models, for example for self-employed women? Keyword #FemaleEmpowerment.
Nymoen: Influencers represent old role stereotypes. They emancipate themselves by showing their followers how they have to submit to the man, i.e. the male gaze. The rise of the few influencers who can also emancipate themselves economically from men can only succeed at the expense of the many young women who continue to have to submit to these rigid beauty standards. Influencers are only successful as long as their followers do not emancipate themselves. You shouldn’t allow yourself to be empowered by such people.