Social media, Cory Booker and the changing landscape of celebrity politics

By Paul Ziek

In June 2016, Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ) ran an article detailing the day that New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker hosted Hillary Clinton in his adopted hometown of Newark. The article describes how Booker was “working it” as he posted Twitter videos of himself and the presumptive Democratic nominee dancing, having coffee and engaging New Jerseyans in discussion (see Silverberg, 2016). The point of the article was to acknowledge that the public sees Booker’s desire to be the vice presidential candidate. The interesting part though is that the article appeared in GQ and not the New York Times, The New Yorker or on CNN or MSNBC.

GQ is by its own account “the definitive men’s magazine, with style advice and tips, women, entertainment and culture news.” Although the publication dabbles in politics, it is known more for its coverage of lifestyle. The appearance of the article points more to Booker’s celebrity status than a break in the magazine’s editorial policy.

Even though the 2016 American presidential election, and ensuing years, has been dominated by Donald Trump, in all actuality, the emergence of Booker is what truly speaks to the changing landscape of celebrity politics. While the intersection between politics and celebrity is nothing new, the advent and rise of social media has created variants to the celebrity politician. Indeed it is at this turn where Booker’s story becomes central to the academy. Booker uses social media, particularly Twitter, as both a tool for broadcasting his political platform but also as a way of fostering interpersonal interactions. Therefore instead of following the track of studying celebrity politicians under the prism of image management and marketing (e.g., Blumler & Kavanagh, 1999; Drake & Higgins, 2006; Inthorn & Street, 2011), this forum piece will take an alternative approach and look at the ways the properties of social media can be used to create a new form of celebrity politician.

Cory Booker, the Celebrity Politician

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