Juxtaposition at its weirdest.
In the current age of personality influence, the influencers can’t be ignored. Influencers are the swaths of 20-somethings with hundreds of thousands of devoted fans. But the influencers aren’t just the social media starlets – the creation of this new kind of shot-caller has added an extra layer to the already complicated existence of celebrities. Celebrities are now super-influencers on top of their usual fame and financial power. Influencers have become a powerful, driving force in marketing, advertising, public relations, all the consumer-facing fields.
But yet, it hasn’t cemented that same level until now.
The celebrity endorsement has long been a minor wrinkle in the political process. Rarely does a celebrity movement become a crucial subset to a political movement at large, without that movement being a direct response to something (like say, celebrity endorsements around the opposition of the Vietnam War.) Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont, experienced what might have been an unexpected groundswell from an unexpected assortment of supporters – who christened themselves the #HotGirlArmy on Twitter.
It’s hard to identify exactly when this all developed. The formation was created around the outspoken support of Sanders by celebrity actress/supermodel/super influencer Emily Ratajkowski, who serves as the perfect symbol for the convergence of sex symbolism and political activism in the modern social media age. Ratajkowski consistently winds up every time one of those uncomfortable “Hottest Woman of 20XX” appears on magazines that somehow still have subscribers, but has spent the 2010s as one of Planned Parenthood’s most outspoken celebrity supporters, while encouraging her fans to consume third-wave feminist works by authors like Dr. Naomi Wolf. Her endorsement of Bernie Sanders created this wave of “Hot Girl” influencers with large numbers of followers to do the same.
Before EmRat started the real movement, another, more famous celebrity laid the seeds in maybe a more impactful way: singer-songwriter Ariana Grande, who has developed a personal friendship with the elderly Senator.
If Ratajkowski is a super influencer, then Grande is the pinnacle of influence. Grande’s Twitter account would rank as the 14th most populous state in the U.S. The #HotGirlArmy hashtag may have even been used at this point, even if it didn’t become a full-on movement until Ratajkowski got to it. Grande took a real, physical, tangible approach to use female influencer power for political causes – registering millions of young voters that would follow her lead. Sanders does well with young voters – Grande does better.
The conclusion to be drawn from this story is not about selling sexuality, or even really about the power of influencers individually. what should be drawn out of this is the new development of decentralized movements, linked from platform to platform between influential individuals with varying levels of power. There is not a leader of this movement. The candidate has absolutely no role within the movement. There is no beginning, no leadership, very few powerful endorsements for 538 to track. Rather, what we see with the #HotGirlArmy trend is that individuals can create a web with which millions upon millions can be exposed to a particular political candidate through endorsements that may not carry universal power (beyond the few very high-level endorsers), but rather, carry tremendous weight from each individual user to their followers due to the highly specific nature of social media followings. The conclusion should be focused on the nature of endorsement as action itself. This is a sign that high-level Congressional endorsements are no longer the largest possible endorsements. Cultivating a massive movement of low-level users who have intimate relationships with their followers is the way to maximize positive exposure to key demographics. Importantly, it is worth noting that this was not planned by a campaign, but rather, came out of a totally non-scripted series of events. This is not something that can be weaponized (yet). Rather, the key to utilization is to ensure that a campaign is well represented within a particular cast of celebrity supporters that can spearhead this flash-movement across social platforms in a moment. In short: the #HotGirlArmy is indicative of a future of political vote-getting in which unplanned social media trends take root in the basic structure of political coalition-building.