With the victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the US Presidential election, the storming of the US Capitol last week as well as the controversial suspension and now, reinstatement, of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour Party here in the UK, the last couple of months have been a rollercoaster in politics.
The internet has been in an ongoing frenzy and with several major events a week. I have been left endlessly scrolling and checking my phone to see the latest updates, only to be met with mostly memes, Donald Trump’s adult baby twitter meltdowns, and think pieces condensed to a 280 character limit. Amidst all this madness, what’s really captured my attention is the overwhelming idolisation of politicians – articles about Kamala Harris’s wardrobe, brightly coloured infographics with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) on them, and ‘fancams’ of Harris and Biden as if they’re members of your favourite K-pop group. This worrying intersection between politics and stan culture, albeit quite amusing at times, is too much for my cabin-fevered brain.
This isn’t the first time stan culture has been connected with politics, and it certainly won’t be the last. Gen Z and stans have proved to be very politically aware and motivated, utilising social media to support Black Lives Matter by flooding the #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag with K-pop videos to overwhelm white supremacist posts, as well as pull elaborate pranks such as booking up the seats in Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma last year, leaving the stadium virtually empty. Stans hold so much power; with their strength in numbers and dedication to their favourites, it is clear that they are able to make differences, not just with the amount of views and streams they can give, but with banding together to fight for social justice issues.
AOC even took to Twitter to praise ‘zoomers’ and ‘KPop allies’ in their contributions to the fight for justice, not surprisingly as she is one of Gen Z’s favourite politicians. AOC’s self-described socialism and her being the youngest woman ever to be elected to the US Congress are just a few of the reasons why she is so popular with Gen Z – and it isn’t all about her views too. Being a charismatic young woman of colour, AOC has been an inspiring and refreshing voice in politics. Being the representation that other young women of colour needed in the sea of white males. While I respect AOC dearly, it’s somewhat unsettling to see edits of her with Nicki Minaj playing in the background like she was a popstar, or Vogue ‘get-ready-with-me’ videos telling us how we too can sport her signature red lippy. I’m torn. After all, it seemed like a good thing to see AOC as not just a politician, but just as a woman going about her day, doing her makeup like the rest of us.
What is so bad about idolising politicians?
Well, for me, it’s the very slippery slope that comes along with it. At first, it seems quite endearing and innocent to see Corbyn and AOC’s smiling faces all over my timeline with Twitter users banding together to come to their defense, like during Corbyn’s suspension. It’s clear that stan culture crossing over with politics is not inherently bad. However, it’s worrying to think about how people can glorify politicians like Kamala Harris, who was a prosecutor before she was a senator, when a mere few months ago we were together shouting ‘ACAB’. There’s even a whole TikTok page dedicated to her, which makes light of Harris’s problematic record.
The vice-president-elect is a self-proclaimed ‘progressive reformer’, and she does have a list of contributions that could attest to this. In 2005, while she was the District Attorney for San Francisco, she launched her successful “Back on Track” program. This program helped first-time drug offenders and dealers get their high school diploma and employment, instead of serving prison time. However, this is massively contradicted as she’s also overseen more than 1,900 marijuana convictions when she has said she’s dabbled in smoking weed herself. Not to mention how she fought to keep people who were proven innocent incarcerated for longer – even after the US Supreme Court stated that California prisons were so overcrowded that it amounted to ‘unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.’
Harris also endangers the LGBTQ+ community, as she defended the states decision to deny giving Michelle Norsworthy, a trans woman incarcerated in a men’s prison a gender-affirming surgery. Yet, I saw the same people who were reposting ‘Protect Trans Women’ repost the vice-president-elect all over their Instagram stories, clearly oblivious to the irony of their performance.
I see the triumph in Biden and Harris’s victory. It is monumental to see that the first woman who will become VP is also a woman of Black and South-Asian descent. She is breaking barriers and it’s a victory that will go down in history; but she’s not a good example of representation for me.
Representation is not merely skin deep – it’s not enough for me to see someone who I can see parts of myself in, my celebration can only go so far when she has made decisions and committed actions that go directly against, not just my political views but my moral values.
Idolising politicians is dangerous, Trump supporters are like a cult. The sheer devotion and loyalty of these people to one man spouting racism and endorsing hateful behaviour has direct parallels to the Hitler’s Nazi regime. In the same way we see teens fighting for free health care or abolishing tuition fees all over social media, we also see white supremacists bombarding our screens with hate, slurs, and spreading incorrect and harmful information
We should not be idolising politicians, even if they are socialists, even if they do say what we want to hear. Being inspired by a politician and drawing hope from them is a rarity nowadays, and it is fantastic to see barriers being broken by so many amazing politicians, as it shows that things are changing, slowly but surely. Celebrate the wins, but by no means should we allow shallow steps towards equality and justice to cloud our headspace.