Go Sit in Your Armchair and Think About Who You Are

Words :

Annika Karody 

Photo :

Cami Pawlak

At the cusp of modern culture, individuality reigns supreme. Hardly anyone in our generation subscribes to “one size fits all” ideologies; whether in regards to entertainment, marketing, or party loyalism, all signs point to authenticity. Social media has provided the ideal platform for individualism to thrive, carving out a space for the nuanced integration of art, music, mixed media and, especially, politics. Like any form of youth-driven political participation, social media-driven politics often comes under fire. Terms like “slacktivism,” and “armchair activism” cast this form of participation in a condescending light, comparable to the trope of the lazy, image-driven millennial. Granted, social media is performative, but this performance, done well, requires incisive thinking and decided curation. “Armchair activism” is, in essence, an exercise in thinking critically about oneself and oneself in relation to others, essentially mirroring the individualized political access that was formerly only allowed by grassroots activism.

Anyone who has spent more than two minutes on a social network can attest to its way of forcing an encounter with the self. “Who am I in all this?” drones that old voice as one scrolls past another selfie indexing an old friend’s glo’-up. This question, uncomfortable as it is, confronts the average social media user constantly and forces her to search for or construct the identity she wishes to convey. It is a process observable in the progression of almost any user’s profile: the original posts tend to be unfiltered, more banal and less poignant. As time progresses and the user gauges the different niches of the social media ecosystem, they begin to brand themselves, creating an identity through markedly appealing, unappealing, witty or otherwise engaging posts. This transition is, essentially, the process of social media “branding.” Beauty gurus, travel bloggers and foodies separate themselves from those who purposefully explore the underbelly of this world through unfiltered aesthetics that serve as an answer to the polished feeds of the lifestyle bloggers. These personae, though different, serve the same function: curating brands and followings.

This form of branding extends from online social identity to online political identity. A branded social media presence is one that requires critical thinking to crystallize facets of oneself into an identity and synthesize content that expresses and adheres to this identity. The “woke,” liberal millennial, the dissatisfied and bigoted twitter-egg and the lukewarm, apolitical familyman have all become staples of the political social media world. The political branding process progresses in a similar fashion to the social one. Sites such as Twitter and Tumblr present a constant outlet for opinion thus becoming havens for identity politics. Over time, one’s online presence becomes politicized and influenced by this deluge. This mode of engaging with political issues has preserved identity politics’ place at the forefront of discourse.The individualization of political messages through social media branding has encroached on grassroots organizations’ middleman role between issues and identity. Organizations’ grip on this role is slackening, leaving vacancies for individual personalities to thrive. The people behind these personalities are the ultimate brand and content curators; their identities exist separately from their organizational affiliations, and yet,

they attract as much, if not more of a following than the organizations themselves. Deray McKesson and Shaun King, who rose to prominence as anecdotal voices of the Black Lives Matter movement, both have double the Twitter followers that BLM does. Their individual platforms, crafted around a strong brand and message, afford them the freedom and flexibility necessary to integrate content into an authentic Internet presence. Followers in the hundreds of thousands turn to their social media accounts as integrative sources of information tailored to their personal beliefs and messages. Activists’ essential goal is for their message to oscillate in phase with other individuals’ brands, thereby amplifying the current moment as the moment amplifies their voice.

The curated identities of activists and their followers are constantly interfacing: evolving and adapting one another’s discourse at the current moment. This is not the ineffectual congregation of dissatisfied youth that it is made out to be by old media. Interaction amongst these activists forces each to remain current and acute. It is a form of political participation that enables inclusivity and demands accountability from its serious participants. These two requirements, adhered to in tandem, have created a movement that is anything but trivial.