Under the influencer

I recently turned down a job paying R10 000.

Saying no to the equivalent of fifty cases of beer made me so ill that I couldn’t get out of bed for three days. I need not even have spent it all on beer. I could have been clever and bought 25 cases, a hundred chicken burgers and an AK-47 from Temba at the garage. It would have been the best weekend of my life.

Ten grand is a not insubstantial sum of money for someone with very little chance of ever making it onto the Gupta’s list of preferred supplicants and liars.

I expect you’re thinking it must have been a pretty horrendous job for me to turn it down. After all, everyone knows my standards are lower than the prospects of Jacob Zuma ever standing trial. Right? That’s what I thought, too. Until this job came up, I believed there was nothing I wouldn’t do for money. The fact that I have very little of it today is only because my spirit animal is a sloth.

If I wanted this money, I would have had to agree to become something called an influencer. You might have heard of them. They walk among us. An influencer is someone who the marketing industry thinks has enough social media clout to influence consumers to buy specific products or brands.

Durban resident Makhosini is one of them. He has 25 000 followers on Instagram and is apparently a popular influencer in the field of fashion. His mom says he likes to have a say in his look for the day. Fair enough. You’d expect nothing less if you were also 18 months old.

The job is timed to coincide with Christmas, an apocalyptic festival of compulsive buying and selling culminating in ceremonial stabbings and traditional divorces. My responsibility would be to encourage people to show their appreciation for one another with poorly wrapped gifts they neither need nor deserve. It’s what Jesus would want, even though he never really got much in the way of birthday presents himself. Paul gave him a new pair of sandals for his 21st, Peter got him a rabbit for his 30th – it was one of those joke gifts that require a miracle to stop them from multiplying – and his mother gave him hell for disappearing for 18 years. Judas gave him a kiss when he turned 32 and that was that.

From the moment we are born as beautiful, hideous tabulae rasae waiting to be ripened and ruined by nature and nurture, we begin to be influenced. One of my biggest influences has been beer. Thank you, beer. You changed my life. However, for me to agree to be an influencer in the diabolical world of commerce, I would first have to sign up to the world’s most powerful religion, Capitalism. We’re all members, of course. I just don’t visit that church very much these days. Call me lapsed. If you’re selling something, don’t call me at all.

Capitalism will always be with us, thanks to the rabid zealotry of the madams, pimps, whores and johns who work tirelessly to keep those grubby wheels grinding. The madams – almost entirely male – own the shops and the means of production. The pimps are the distributors. They make sure the shit gets out there. The whores are the marketers and the advertisers. Influencers have now joined their squalid ranks. The johns, mostly female, are the customers. I’m not being sexist. Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases. Go into any department store and see for yourself. There will be two men for every ten women. One will be mumbling, “It looks lovely. You should take it.” The other will be inside a changing booth with his head in his hands. Muffled sounds of weeping are not uncommon.

When I was offered the job of influencer, I asked if I could sleep on it before giving my answer. It was a typical whore move. When there’s money involved, you sleep on it. Or with it, at any rate. I really wanted the money. But I also really didn’t want to have to “share the joy of technology” with strangers whose soft, vulnerable brains I’d be expected to wash. Besides, I’m rubbish at technology and even worse at sharing. I’ve tried sharing my life with women – not necessarily all at the same time – and it has always ended in tears. Through no fault of my own, obviously.

Returning to the maladroit metaphor of capitalism as a brothel, this particular one sells mostly electronics and appliances. My job would be to try out one of their products every week over the festive season and write about it on Facebook, Twitter or any other network that ravenously devours what little time I have left on this planet, then link back to the store to encourage my “followers” and “friends” to get one for themselves. The kind of people who follow me on social media are cheap, fickle swine who’d sooner come around to my place and use my gizmo than buy their own.

I would also have to take part in a photo shoot so that my image could be shared in-store as part of the campaign. A life-sized cardboard cutout of me resembling the demented love-child of Darth Vader and Voldemort standing on a Segway (only R85 000!) brandishing a cherry red Nutribullet in one hand and a Smeg blender in the other might be out of keeping with the Christmas spirit. It would terrify the kiddies and all the moms would want me and not the merchandise for sure.

Lastly, I’d have to write a product review or column for the in-house magazine. I’d end up getting sued and have to use my R10 000 fee to hire the worst lawyer in the country. And even then he might not even be able to take time off from advising the president.

So that’s my dilemma. I have done things in my life of which I haven’t been terribly proud, but never for money. Hardly ever for money. Okay, there was a career in journalism, but in my defence it was the only one where drinking on the job was encouraged.

This, however, was different. This I had slept on. It wasn’t even a one-night stand. I had slept on it for nearly a week. There could be no excuses down the line. Once Christmas was over and the money had been squandered, my hard-earned reputation as a man who couldn’t be bought would lie in tatters. Someone would paint a scarlet letter on my door late one night. Tattered people, destitute after failing to resist the dark magic of the influencers, would hiss “whore!” and spit at me as I passed by.

On the other hand, I might be overestimating the value of integrity in these corrupt times. All I know is that when I see a journalist endorsing a product, I don’t believe anything he or she says after that. This doesn’t really apply to my situation, though. I gave up hard news – the hardest drug peddled by the profession – a few years ago. Kicked the habit cold. Never looked back. Apart from at the end of every month when a salary failed to arrive.

Given what I do now, plausibility is superfluous to requirements. In fact, it’s more of a hindrance than anything. I should’ve taken the money. I was a damn fool.

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5 thoughts on “Under the influencer

  1. I don’t know if your decision is good o bad. But I respect it! Being able to recognise how and why something is unfair, or might become morally wrong.

    You do have almost 46K followers and anyone would like to cash that in! Still, we live with our decisions, and yours must be perfect for now.

  2. There is no doubt in my mind that you could sell moonshine to the Amish and cheap hallucinogenics to my grandmother. However whether or not you could flog food processors to to my upmarket sister-in-law from the flash side of Brakpan…….

  3. Congrats Ben on following and acting on what you believe. Besides R10,000 is peanuts! In our growing, ‘anti bank & establishment industry you can turn a mere R2200 into R7200 in 6 months. Passively!! Then take R2800 out so you have your money back and some profit, and put ‘their’ R4, 400 back for 6 months and get R13, 200 out. All paid to you in equal parts monthly, and in Bitcoin!! There is more and we’re doing it. Happy to meet and show you the how,, if you are in or around Durban? If not, then will invoke plan B! Enjoy.

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