On Tuesday evening, famous gamer and congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez streamed hit sport Amongst Us to over 430,000 viewers — almost 1,000,000 if we take note of the streams from her Twitch, YouTube, and Fb gaming co-stars, reminiscent of 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 folks. Such attendance charges, together with a palpable enthusiasm on-line with younger voters, made the latest 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 authorities proceedings on C-SPAN. Followers who lip-sync AOC’s firebrand speeches on TikTok, turning it right into a problem loved and tried by thousands and thousands of individuals. Followers who take AOC’s greatest 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’ potential to show him right into a meme, and on the title recognition that got here together with his actuality TV present. Earlier than Trump, movie star 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 way of uncooked numbers — if sufficient followers faux that Tom Holland has been canceled for doing completely nothing, the related hashtag will present up in your social media web page, even when it’s not actual. Lots of the 12 months’s greatest protests began as calls to motion on social media as properly.
Fandom, in different phrases, has energy — and plenty 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 along with her constituents, and also you’ve obtained a potent mixture of visibility and enthusiasm.
What does a political panorama appear like when it mixes with parasocial relationships which can be desperate to deal with public servants as our greatest associates? Many sensible commentators have expressed concern that these sycophantic dynamics may make it tougher to carry politicians accountable. Nonetheless, we will not be 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 historical past whereas in workplace. They paid consideration when the identical man critiqued protesters this 12 months 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 symbolize solely exists as a result of individuals are fed up with hope as a manufactured model, and are as a substitute involved in seeing actual, concrete change. The instability of the USA proper now could be 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 Stay, and even visits constituents in Animal Crossing. These sustained efforts permit her latest Twitch stream to appear much less like a political stunt and extra like one other real try to achieve folks the place they stay. “Pokémon Go to the polls” this isn’t.
The flip facet of accessibility, in fact, is that everybody is paying consideration. Ocasio-Cortez usually goes viral for holding politicians’ toes to the fireplace, a phenomenon that would simply be turned towards 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.