A History of the Influencer, from Shakespeare to Instagram


Laurence Scott does the hard work on the history of influence, so we don't have to.

The idea of influence has come to feel more solid for the rest of us, as well. Scrolling through our feeds, we are certain that powerful people and corporations are trying to influence us. In response, we may be tempted to nurture a ferocious independence—a sensibility unswayed by external agendas. The trouble, though, is that resisting the influence of others so wholeheartedly can amount to a kind of totalitarianism of the spirit—a walling-in of the self. In Shakespeare, it’s the unpleasant characters, such as Parolles, who make fun of other people’s impressionability. In “King Lear,” the illegitimate son, Edmund, says that blaming bad behavior on planetary influences is “foppery.” He maintains that his own nature is inevitable and self-actualizing: “I should have been that I am,” he says, “had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.” There is vanity in this view of isolated self-determination—an intransigence that is a hallmark of our polarized political climate.


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