AOC Has Mastered the Substanceless Celeb Interview
She's GQ's new covergirl
House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the cover star of GQ’s October issue — an honor that came with the requisite dignity-chic photoshoot and a 7,000-word profile in which she “opens up about the battle over abortion, her own shot at the presidency, and why it's critical that men step up now.”
Much like gay cop Harry Styles, AOC has been been “opening up” for a while. She can’t stop opening. But the phrase suggests some degree of disclosure. And her latest attempt, despite its length and the best efforts of writer Wesley Lowery, discloses basically nothing. There are few mentions of policy — when legislation does come up, it is Lowery’s addition — and not much in the way of particulars. Neither does she delve too much into her personal life, aside from a brief discussion of her past sexual assault. Mostly, the congresswoman chooses instead to speak in the broad generalities endemic to infographics.
Here, one might learn that “or almost every woman that has gotten an abortion, there’s a man who has either been affected or liberated by that abortion too;” or that “men suffer from being under patriarchy [and] there’s a stigma around men being vulnerable;” or perhaps most vaguely: “there are amazing men in this world, and not men as a final product.”
There are a lot of quotes about guys specifically — at one point, she claims to have “won the men lottery in her life,” before name checking her father, cousins, boyfriend, chief of staff, and notably not her brother — but that’s neither here nor there. This is Gentleman’s Quarterly jurisdiction, after all. The piece’s primary disclosure is only inadvertent; it’s that AOC has effectively mastered the substance-less celebrity interview.
To clarify: I think AOC is about as good a politician as one can find in the current Congressional spread. She is one of only a few actual progressives in office; she has helped push proposals on climate change, health care, and debt into the Democratic mainstream; she has done so often against her colleagues’ will and at the expense of their rapport. I have complaints about her approach. “For better or worse,” as John Ganz wrote in Gawker last year, “AOC has always acted in total earnest” — making saccharine videos on Instagram or tweeting sincerely about the personal struggle of being powerful.
Her corny affect and apparent embrace of cultural clout has alienated a portion of the online left, a view I find sympathetic only when that affect comes at a clear cost to her legislative agenda. Unlike the vast majority of her party, however, AOC does have a grasp on good messaging, evidenced by the fact that her supporter base extends far beyond the 14th Congressional district. “It’s really important for people to feel like their elected officials give a shit about them,” she told Lowery. “Not from on high, but from the same level.”
There are many ways to communicate giving a shit — including through actual protest, which AOC has always prioritized, and which she was directly referencing in that quote. But protests have a clear message. They have at least the aspiration of political impact. Celebrity interviews do not. They are an exercise in messagelessness. The endgame of the celebrity interview is to convey as little as possible, to disclose only what a media trainer has condoned. It’s a fine art to master if you have a movie or new branded tequila to promote, less so when you are trying to reassure women who have just lost their reproductive rights.