Our conceptual focus is on the rise of ‘influencer culture’, a contemporary corporate strategy in which a brand symbiotically attaches itself to an existent consumer group. Marketing discourse presents this as a mutually beneficial relationship but we can’t help but see the darker, and parasitic ramifications of such attachment. Influencer culture emerges from rapid evolutions in media, commodity and technology. Politically, individual influencers and small groups can increasingly mobilize extremist sentiments to leverage themselves into power, as more saliently evidenced in the rise of Donald Trump. And such influence is mediated through often obscure assemblages of secret algorithms, government psychological operations, corporate lobbying and emotional engineering. The vague, but functionally endless concept of the influencer, seems a strategy of power perfectly aligned for an era of augmented reality, mediated through social media and the internet.
But our aim is not to produce a literal, sociological treatise but rather to explore the many facets of contemporary influence through metaphor. We want to use the genre tropes of science fiction and horror to map the surreal and baroque dimensions of influence. Our focus will be on the parasitic aspects of it, of a cognitive virus infecting, distorting and reassembling reality in perverse new ways. This approach is influenced by the tradition of politically engaged pulp films, from They Live to Get Out, in which monstrosity serves as grotesque commentary on an obscene reality. The setting will be Johannesburg, a postcolonial metropolis which embodies the extremes of late capitalism. Squalid slums are towered over by gleaming corporate headquarters, looming over the landscape like spaceships. Toxic mine dumps surround paranoid suburbs, their quiet streets fortified by military grade technology. But the city is also a centre for culture, the home of the latest mutations in sound and style. With the help of the production network we already have in the city, we will tap into this aesthetic to produce a story of influence run