Cornell’s Crash Course for Creators


There’s this perfect line from Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things” that I’d love to turn into Passionfruit’s tagline if we can afford the copyrights to the quote. The movie stars Emma Stone as a female Frankenstein named Bella Baxter, whose rapidly evolving intellect has her rejecting her “bride of” label in favor of a world-trotting adventure with a sleazy lover, a resplendently foppish lawyer that is perhaps Mark Ruffalo’s finest (only?) comedic turn to date. When he discovers that his former monosyllabic, childlike fiancé has outgrown him — finding her own voice, views, and vocation as a Parisian prostitute — he sputters outrage over her whoreishness. To which Bella blithely corrects him over her shoulder as she walks away, “We are our own means of production.”

Like if that isn’t the rallying cry for content creators in 2023, I don’t know what is. Shout-out to the OF community, but also to like…anyone trying to make a buck out there in the wild and ravenous world of YouTube algorithm and Patreon subscriber-based monetization policies. Mama Cass’ “Make Your Own Kind of Music?” (Maybe it’s global warming, but between “The Curse,” “SNL,” and her latest film, this Christmas is officially the Summer of Stone.)

And if we’re talking theoretical utopian socialism, you know the creator economy has entered its collegiate era, something backed up by Lon Harris’ article today about the increasing legitimacy of “Influencer Colleges,” a previously online-only phenomenon that’s now coming to an IRL campus near you! (If you live in China, Italy, Ireland, or obviously, SoCal.) To say nothing of the accredited e-courses on offered by no less prestigious institutions than Duke, Harvard, MIT, University of California San Diego, and University of North Dakota (go Fighting Hawks!)

Scratch the surface veneer of academic legitimacy, though, and these college courses costing thousands of dollars are basically indistinguishable in their offerings from the ones peddled by the thousands of online Influencer programs that preceded them. At its core, we’re talking online marketing on steroids, to the point of exclusion of anything that might help round out a humanities bachelor’s degree. With tunnel vision that belies any promise of “focusing on the future,” students spend on painfully remedial concepts like “social marketing,”  “Media (sic) Entrepreneurship” and “writing helpful alt art to describe images” (that’s from Hah-vahd, how do you like dem apples?)


Residents of Los Angeles and Brooklyn will soon have even more options with the introduction of The Lighthouse, physical locations that offer classes and production studios, a novel concept that comes only two years after Google shuttered YouTube Spaces, which in all fairness, was only a thing for like…*checks watch* NINE YEARS

Founded by the (a?) “influencer marketing and management” company Whalar, The Lighthouse is practically Warholian in paradoxical vision: a factory of creative expression, updated for the TikTok generation and costing $5,700 a year.

What’s sad is that there is one place that’s doing it right: a little college in scenic Ithica, New York, known as eCornell (ever heard of it?). Offerings are both online and in-person, Cornell’s School of Continuing Education has two tracks for study: $2625 a semester or $675 a month for a social media. Not cheap, mind you, but there are scholarship programs, many classes are two week intensives, and most importantly, the classes are more than just the sum of SEO knowledge your Gen Alpha niece absorbed in the womb.

You can start with the basics: Introduction to Algorithms, Branding and Brand Management, or the boomer requirement: Essential Desktop Applications. That’s already more useful than 90% of these “Hack the algo to gain 500,000 followers!” classes that sound like every DM slide in post-Elon Twitter. But it’s really the advanced programs that make Cornell stand out from the pack: Ethics in New Media, Technology, and Communication to Critical Thinking. There’s an entire School of Industrial Labor Relations where you can earn a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree while studying remotely on Social Influence and Persuasion, or how to cost out a contract.

I’m just saying: maybe there is a case to be made for a college for Influencers. It just happens to be the same one where Andy Bernard discovered his acapella group*.

*IRL, he went to Oberlin. 


Do Influencers Need Their Own School?

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