Magazine | January 28, 2019, Issue

The House of Memes

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Washington, D.C., January 3, 2019 (Joshua Roberts/REUTERS)

She’s a maniac, maniac, on the floor!
And she’s dancing like she’s never danced before!

I’m breaking my own rule in writing this column. Because as soon as everyone started referring to freshman New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by her initials “AOC,” I swore to myself I wouldn’t write about her.

Initials have become a thing with progressive lady icons. There’s the “Notorious R.B.G.,” a play on ’90s gangster-rap martyr Notorious B.I.G., whose persona (and person) stand at some mathematical maximum distance from Justice Ginsburg’s; and, more recently, House Democratic-caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries’s announcement as he rose to nominate “Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi” for speaker that “House Democrats are down with NDP.”

Itself a hip-hop homage to the Naughty by Nature song “Down with OPP,” this too is a headscratcher of an association. Be­cause the song isn’t, as you are surely thinking, a call to overthrow the Ontario Provincial Police, but a carnal appreciation of “Other People’s P***ies” (think the pink hats or the Access Hollywood tape).

But I digress. The point is, once the chattering class crowned Ocasio-Cortez as “AOC” before she was even sworn in — hell, before she even won — I knew that the mainstream coverage would only get more fawning, and the backlash from the Right even more virulent. And I knew the world didn’t need one more shmuck with a laptop weighing in.

So here’s 600 more words!

There’s a kind of uniquely digital-age vicious cycle at work. Ocasio-Cortez is young and attractive and charismatic, and of course “intersectional,” and her election flatters the self-conception of all the right people. So it’s natural that she’d get outsized attention, including for her dorm-room ideas on sundry policy topics. I joined many in finding this attention annoying, which in turn led, with some justice, to meta-coverage about how she drives the Right crazy! Which in turn I found more annoying still. Run this dynamic through umpteen iterations and you get way less justice and way more meta.

The situation reached its nadir with the surfacing, by an anonymous Twitter troll, of footage of a teenaged Ocasio-Cortez dancing the Molly Ringwald shuffle on a rooftop with her pals.

Said troll found the video — I don’t know what, exactly. Trifling, maybe? Unserious? It was certainly both those things, but it was also mildly diverting and sort of endearing and really not much of anything at all one way or another.

What followed wasn’t even the tail wagging the dog so much as it was the flea wagging the tail wagging the dog. The lone troll was used as a stand-in for the Right, who were outraged, outraged, by the dancing! How dare she dance?! It started with the usual hacks and partisans toiling in the Twitter mines, but it briefly became something like the conventional wisdom, the subject of several trend pieces, including one in the AP and another in yes-it-still-exists Newsweek.

The early efforts could cite only the troll, because he was the only one really outraged when the whole mess started. But their very existence acted as a sort of bad-take bilge pump, drawing out a meager spume and a few barnacles for the next frothy blog post. Which is all they required. If three anecdotes is a trend, then two tweets is an outrage mob.

None of this, on its own, would have been enough to make me write this column about Ocasio-Cortez. It’s that instead of ignoring it or, God forbid, denouncing it, she leaned into the fictive firestorm. She pretended it was real and her social-media team cut a video of her shaking a leg in front of her congressional offices, proof that she wasn’t going to stand for the Re­publicans’ proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw frolicking and revelry of any sort.

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is a half-baked cake. Nobody knows what she will be or what she will do with a House seat that could very well stay hermetically sealed from competition for the next 50 years. But in an early test of whether she intends to be a congresswoman from the Bronx or a congresswoman from the Internet, she failed.

There are other congressmen from the Internet, of course, and there will only be more elected in the years to come. The kind of Republicans who put out vaguely racist memes instead of position papers, who guest-host Hannity instead of holding town halls; and the kind of Democrats who speak in emojis, treat “motherf***er” like an Aristotelian syllogism, and frame every quotidian coffee-shop interaction as an empowering victory over the patriarchy.

As a notional Millennial watching their ascent, I feel as the Silent Generation must have felt the first time they smelled the patchouli and heard the bongo drums that heralded Bernie Sanders loafing onto the House floor from his hippie commune.

It’s our turn now, to watch our worst and weirdest take the reins of power.

Daniel Foster — Daniel Foster is a former news editor of National Review Online.

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