Markus Gull

Are you immune to the influencer virus?

For a few hours a week, public broadcaster Ö3, one of Austria's many format radio stations, reminds us a bit of its past, when it was still a format radio station. For example, for 25 years it has been broadcasting Breakfast with Me on Sunday mornings - conversations in which "personalities in person" can be experienced acoustically.


In the blogcast, I read this recent blog article to you. With emphasis, of course!

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There have already been heads of government as guests and bogeymen, Oscar® winners, Olympic champions and Robbie Williams too. It's understandable that after more than 25 years of running the breakfast business, the staffing level is pretty tight. In the meantime, personalities are also invited, for whom the term "personality" must be stretched at its lower edge of meaning to such an extent that one is tempted to speak of the fool's errand.

Two weeks ago on Sunday, an influencer from the beautiful Tyrolean region was a guest there, that is, a personal personality from that busy pack whose members are known primarily for being famous on social media. There is then dancing and laughing and crying, you also learn a lot about breakfast habits and vacation destinations. At the right time, people come out of the closet, admit to depression, present their bi- or multi-sexuality, and recently, more and more often, announce their ADHD diagnosis, because they owe it to their followers in the sense of an undisguised relationship - in the twilight of what they believe could be meant by authenticity. This misunderstanding is experienced in interchangeable poses, originally intended stereotypical figures of speech that take a run-up to greet you with "Hello, dear ones," then hop over sentences that often begin with "exactly" and then evaporate into the nothingness in which they were created in a "Leave a like here with pleasure." Austrian influencers have identified the very best authentic tone for themselves: hiding their accent of origin behind a Piefke sound they've picked up from film & TV, from their German role models, and from each other. Internationality from the Wurschtelprater, so to speak.

In terms of content, you can experience pretty much everything in this scene, what these personalities do personally, sometimes even with whom, because this and that drive the follower numbers up. And that's where they belong, because it's only when they reach a certain level that the influencers become interesting advertising media, i.e. usable valves for advertisers, with which everything can be extracted from others that benefits oneself. That's how it works, I think. That's how it's done and it's called a "business model" or "the system", the basis of which is the structural confusion of success with performance.

Do you like me?

The lady in question can't complain about a lack of success, with 390,000 followers on Instagram alone. In addition, Luisa Neubauer's 420,000 Instagram followers do not appear to be as large a group as one might think. On TikTok, the German "Fridays for Future" proponent has just under 20,000 followers, while the lucky girl from Tyrol shares her exciting experiences there with 2.2 million like-minded people. She shares not only her experiences there, but also her insights, which she has gained in abundance over the course of her 26 years of life. Over such a long time, as you can imagine, all sorts of things come together to enchant her community. Even more so when sharing many of these insights in a skimpy bikini and perhaps even acquiring some of them in it.

A considerable part of the knowledge imparted there has to do with hair, not exclusively with those who manage to finally get out of their heads and into the light, where they then quickly discover that hot air is also used for blow-drying. Yes, it may well be that some random guests on the social media platforms there get their hair mussed - and if so: How this can be tamed can be learned without media disruption right there and also in a book full of "hacks" on the same topic. On the other hand, 2.2 million people fly on it, and who am I to believe they could be wrong? Exactly.

So if these aren't all good reasons for an invitation to the public service breakfast at my place, then I don't know what is. So that's what happened on the last Sunday, the morning of which the social media star finally worked her way up to the breakfast table after 26 years from the Ötztal valley via Netflix's Too Hot to Handle and set the tone there, talking about her life as a star influencer.

Who influences whom and how?

Meanwhile, at many other breakfast tables across the country, there were female influencers who really are hard to get away from, at least not in analog. Female influencers with less click success, but greater achievements than their world-famous counterparts, and above all: of lasting significance. Some were celebrated (sort of anyway), because it was Mother's Day. I wondered what was being talked about at those breakfast tables. What was asked and said there?

And I wondered (I still wonder) what story we tell ourselves about role models as a whole, about the giants on whose shoulders we may or could stand in order to gain something like parts of our worldview from up there. Role model - what is that? Who are our giants?

What kind of role model do we set, each of us, but especially those of us from the 26+ generation, who serve as illustrative material for the coming generation? Who or what do today's young people see, i.e. those who are to experience, settle and urgently shape the future? Where do they look, what do they see past, what do they overlook when they fall in hordes to the influencers in the hollowed-out nothingness while the wallpaper burns all around?

Lead or seduce?

Our time lacks the exemplary leaders, the statesmen and -women, the leaders in civil society and in companies, the inspiring world shapers of a better tomorrow, who understand that winning is only good if nobody loses in the process, before we even talk about content. Isn't it logical, if there are no exemplary leaders, that the seducers will push into this vacuum and ultimately hardly anyone will lead - namely, no longer lead their own lives, but only adjust and align themselves via the signals of others?

What has become of our enlightened society if, in view of the planet being inflamed at all corners, the coming generation could obviously learn all too little from the incumbent one? Is this the Kantian backflip, the return of man "into his self-inflicted immaturity"? An aphorism by the giant Erich Kästner comes to mind: "You must never sink so low as to drink of the cocoa through which you are dragged." Not even for breakfast.

At this point, the official sentence "I am not a cultural pessimist" should come, however, I am not at all sure whether this is true. In any case, it is true that I am a cultural realist, that I see the possible paradise, but also the snake in it. Above all, however, I am a cultural possibilist. That's why the thought of Khalil Gibran comes to mind, who told us, "If you want to draw a straight furrow, hang your plow on a star." For this to succeed, we should not confuse stars with stars and perhaps even invite Luisa Neubauer to breakfast once in a while. There you could experience that in 26 years of life all kinds of power-giving knowledge can pile up. For example, this one (Erich Kästner again): "There is nothing good unless you do it." Doing is the best - indeed, the only - remedy for powerlessness. And what else helps, first of all, is good conversation across generations, as Luisa Neubauer and her grandmother, Dagmar Reemtsma, foster and describe in their joint book Gegen die Ohnmacht in their joint book Gegen die Ohnmacht (Against Powerlessness). For that reason alone, it's fair to call this a real success story that makes for worthwhile breakfast reading and is well worth sharing.

Are you taming your inner fluencer?

The sneakiest influencer, however, isn't sitting in his Instagram-compliant location with his smartphone posting his bubble goulash. The most insidious influencer sits within ourselves and tells us the fatal story of our self-realization. His name: Ego. He leads us in our yearning search for meaning behind the light of the public spotlight and broad-shoulderedly obscures our view of the eternal glow within ourselves. This light shines in our personal lighthouse. It shows us the way that leads beyond our self-realization - towards a task that we can fulfill, for which we are there, each and every one of us. This is our story, our inner story. It can be very private, it can be huge - it's there, you have to see it. Or hear it. Look and listen.

The dull eyes that look at you with alarmingly increasing frequency from the sullen expressions of so many people are, in truth, sending longing glances of unlived life. Our unlived inner stories numb and poison us. To this end, I've memorized a phrase from Maya Angelou: "There is no greater agony than carrying an untold story." Believe me, I know damn well what I'm talking about here.

Inwardly resigned people grope for salvation on the outside, as if Henry David Thoreau had not lived 150 years ago, but had described his observation about last Monday at 8:00 a.m. at the next best subway stop: "The mass of people lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed despair. From the despairing city one goes to the despairing country and must console oneself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is hidden even behind the so-called games and amusements of mankind. In them there is no play, for that comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things."

If we take this opportunity to climb right up on the shoulders of the giantess Marie-Louise von Franz, we gain a psychotherapeutic clarity of vision: "One of the most malignant destructive forces, psychologically speaking, is unused creative power ... If someone has a creative gift and does not use it because of laziness or for some other reason, the psychic energy turns into pure poison. That's why we often diagnose neuroses and psychotic illnesses as higher possibilities not being lived."

Today's mentors are tomorrow's influencers.

Our world truly does not need the dazzle of influencers, but mentors who share a New Story. This is the story of the positive renewal of our society, carried by heroines who do not point exclusively to themselves and their poses, but understand that it is not about the growth of follower numbers, clicks and likes, but about growing beyond themselves. It's about those who describe renewal for a livable future not by postulating abandonment, loss, and despair, but by sharing the story of liberation from too much. Those who tell of all that we would gain by doing so, each of us individually and all of us together - who paint us the picture of a world in which we are no longer obsessed with the things we are obsessed with owning and exhibiting.

I know these loving innovators, healers and storytellers are in our midst, in all generations. They need platforms, visibility and stages so that they can share their stories, bring movement to people and people to movement. Wouldn't public broadcasting be exactly that stage on which the indispensability of this institution then also becomes visible, even tangible, in the big show?

No doubt then my grandmother, old Story Dudette, her sign influencer with my unqualified like, would personally exclaim at my next breakfast, "New Story. New Glory!"

PS: Again and again I hear that my newsletter and my blog inspire many people powerfully. Do you think so too? Then please share it with people you want to do something good for. I'm sure they'll be happy - and so will I. Thanks in advance!

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