On Tuesday evening, noted gamer and congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez streamed hit game Among Us to over 430,000 viewers — almost 1,000,000 if we bear in mind the streams from her Twitch, YouTube, and Fb gaming co-stars, comparable to Pokimane and Valkyrae. AOC’s Amongst Us stream now holds the excellence of getting the third-highest variety of concurrent viewers ever on a single particular person’s Twitch stream.
To place it in context, an unlimited Bernie Sanders rally in New York Metropolis in 2019 drew a crowd of 26,000 people. Such attendance charges, together with a palpable enthusiasm on-line with younger voters, made the current Sanders marketing campaign really feel like a motion.
And a single off-the-cuff on-line occasion with AOC encouraging folks to vote blew these rally numbers out of the water. That is what is feasible when a contemporary, tech-savvy politician attracts not simply supporters, however fandom. Followers who clip her expertly executed government proceedings on C-SPAN. Followers who lip-sync AOC’s firebrand speeches on TikTok, turning it into a challenge enjoyed and attempted by millions of people. Followers who take AOC’s finest Twitch stream moments and switch them right into a “fancam” spotlight reel.
Cult of character has all the time been part of politics — arguably, Donald Trump’s success was predicated on his supporters’ means to show him right into a meme, and on the title recognition that got here along with his actuality TV present. Earlier than Trump, superstar helped folks like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono, Clint Eastwood, and Ronald Reagan crack into politics. Fandom is hardly a brand new phenomenon in politics.
What’s totally different in 2020 is that fandom doesn’t simply prop folks up. Fandom organizes.
Okay-pop followers got here collectively this previous summer season to tank Trump’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally by pretending to RSVP to the occasion in droves. Fandom additionally controls the equipment of the web by means of uncooked numbers — if sufficient followers fake that Tom Holland has been canceled for doing completely nothing, the related hashtag will show up on your social media page, even when it’s not actual. Lots of the yr’s largest protests began as calls to motion on social media as properly.
Fandom, in different phrases, has energy — and lots of followers know the right way to wield it. Mix that with an genuine politician who is aware of the right way to communicate candidly together with her constituents, and also you’ve bought a potent mixture of visibility and enthusiasm.
What does a political panorama appear like when it mixes with parasocial relationships which are wanting to deal with public servants as our greatest buddies? Many smart commentators have expressed concern that these sycophantic dynamics would possibly make it tougher to carry politicians accountable. Nonetheless, we is probably not giving the AOC fandom sufficient credit score.
The younger folks making AOC memes grew up in an Obama presidency. They noticed how that win made Democrats comfy sufficient to miss Obama’s shockingly conservative history while in office. They paid consideration when the same man critiqued protesters this year and when he reportedly ended the NBA strike by gamers lobbying for justice for folks killed by the police.
The motion that each Bernie Sanders and AOC signify solely exists as a result of persons are fed up with hope as a manufactured model, and are as an alternative all for seeing actual, concrete change. The instability of the USA proper now’s a direct results of the blind optimism that noticed a Trump presidency as an impossibility, and thought that purchasing a pink hat was the identical factor as activism. “Stanning” AOC doesn’t erase the truth that the 31-year-old Bronx native is placing within the work, and she or he’s doing it the place everybody can see and critique it.
The way forward for politics isn’t simply younger, tech-savvy, and meme-literate. It’s accessible. Ocasio-Cortez talks to on a regular basis folks on Twitter and Instagram Reside, and even visits constituents in Animal Crossing. These sustained efforts enable her current Twitch stream to appear much less like a political stunt and extra like one other real try to succeed in folks the place they stay. “Pokémon Go to the polls” this isn’t.
The flip aspect of accessibility, after all, is that everybody is paying consideration. Ocasio-Cortez commonly goes viral for holding politicians’ toes to the fireplace, a phenomenon that would simply be turned in opposition to her by the identical followers who make her in style. Ought to Ocasio-Cortez ever fail her folks, they would be the first to let her know.