At CelebYouth, we’re excited about Jeremy Corbyn’s rapid rise to position of runaway front runner in the UK Labour Party Leadership election. Our research on youth aspirations has documented the impact of austerity on young people’s lives and Corbyn offers the promise of a mainstream challenge to that. However, we’ve also been interested in the transformation of Jeremy into a celebrity and the fandom that’s circulating about him. In this post Heather highlights some examples of this and discusses why it matters.
Why it’s good that Jeremy Corbyn has become a political celebrity
We started our research in 2012 by asking groups of young people across England to tell us about celebrities they really like or really don’t like. Very few politicians came up. A Tory politician – whose name I’ve forgotten – was at the time appearing in the Reality Television programme I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here so merited a few mentions, Winston Churchill came up in one of the rural schools, and there were a couple of passing dismissals of Prime Minister David Cameron and politicians more generally. The only two politicians who featured a little more, both wholly positively, were US President Barack Obama and London Mayor Boris Johnson. Young people seemed attracted by their sense of humour and ‘down-to-earth’ public images. As Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign gathers momentum, particularly among young people, I can’t help wondering how he’d feature in discussions if we were to repeat the research. He possesses the authenticity, humility and determination that young people valued more than anything else in their celebrities including in political figures.
It may not be something that Jeremy Corbyn and his campaign team welcome but he has become a celebrity. A couple of weeks ago, Corbyn addressed four packed-out rooms in North London. Young people scaled walls and scrambled in through windows to get inside. Afterwards, Corbyn spoke to the crowds assembled outside the venue from atop a fire engine. Emily Ashton at Buzzfeed declared this the night Jeremy Corbyn became a political superstar. I do feel there are problems with Corbyn’s celebrification, particularly the way it moves the focus from the collective political movement that has coalesced around Corbyn to him as an individual. But overall I view this positively.
Culturally, celebrity is part of how we relate to the world and to each other. This means that celebrity talk is never just talk about celebrities, it is also a way that we discuss our values and our political ideas. For example, we found that singer Beyoncé and entrepreneur Katie Price offer a way for young people to engage with feminist ideas; these figures animate debates that might otherwise feel abstract or irrelevant. This is why it’s important that Corbyn has become part of this. The huge fandom that in just a few weeks has come to circulate in and through him is a signal of the vitality of what he’s saying and provides a way of making those ideas accessible to people – especially those who may have felt themselves and their lives unrepresented by mainstream politicians.
In the rest of this post I celebrate five examples of Corbyn fandom.
1. Corbyn fanfiction
Fanfiction is defined by the Urban Dictionary as “when someone takes either the story or characters (or both) of a certain piece of work, whether it be a novel, tv show, movie, etc, and create their own story based on it”. However, this omits an important strand of fanfiction that takes real people and creates fictions about them. Through the CelebYouth research I found people posting online tales of their married life with diver Tom Daley and of a fabricated relationship between actress Emma Watson and her Harry Potter co-star Tom Felton (Feltson). Jeremy Corbyn fanfiction is currently thin on the ground. But I think it’s worth celebrating a couple of examples – both thankfully more political and with less adult content than Cameron fanfictions. First, on 7 July, Alan Simpson published Frothing At Corbyn’s ‘Cappuccino Coup’ in socialist daily The Morning Star. In it he imagines what then seemed unlikely and now is almost certain: the day on which the Labour left’s ‘unelectable’ hero is declared Labour leader. More recently Chris Mullin has rewritten his political drama about a left-wing Prime Minister A Very British Coup for the BBC, imagining the days after a Corbyn general election victory.
2. Corbyn photo-shopped images
The principle here is simple – superimpose Jeremy’s head on James Bond’s body or David Beckham’s or anyone else who’s considerably younger and more toned than the 66 year old. Stuart Heritage has already collated some of the best of these so I’m not going to dwell on them. I find them oddly disconcerting. Even the image at the top of this post, of his head replacing Barack Obama’s in the classic ‘Hope’ poster, reminds me of how Obama betrayed the hope and optimism he generated once elected. However, there is one that I love – JC as Superman. Superman’s orientation towards peace fits Jeremy. I also love how the video below, showing JC as our ‘Man of Steel’, intentionally looks ridiculous and has a great disclaimer “Jeremy Corbyn is not superman. I in no way advocate the snapping of Liz Kendall’s neck in any circumstances”.
3. Corbyn spoof Twitter accounts
Corbyn is big on social media – Channel 4 have compiled some handy graphs to show this. But true celebrity status comes from having spoof Twitter accounts. My favourite is Corbyn Warnings. A great mix of political satire, bad puns and pop culture:
Corbyn Practises ‘The Old Magic’, Warns MP
Estimated 100% Of People Who Vote For Corbyn Will Die Within A Century, Warn Scientists
Corbyn’s Policies Would Lead To Higher Interest Rates In Politics, Warns MP
The most famous spoof account is probably @corbynjokes. It’s opening gag has been retweeted nearly 600 times: Why did the chicken cross the road? Neoliberalism. The jokes simultaneously parody Corbyn’s earnestness and suggest that he’s got a sound political case. Although it takes as its starting point that “Jeremy hasn’t heard or told a joke since 1964″, the campaign seems to have revived his sense of humour, and you can see an authentic Corbyn joke in the video below.
4. Corbyn YouTube mashups
If you’re tired of having to sit through scaremongering about entryism or other Corbyn warnings before hearing an interview with JC on television, then you can check out one of the many edited collections of his interviews and speeches on YouTube. You can also see videos of his standing ovations, the queues of people waiting to see him and people posting their personal views on him. The most fandom-y YouTubes in my view set images of JC to inspiring backing music – Thunderclap’s ‘There’s Something in the Air’, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ from Rocky, ‘Do you Hear the People Sing’ from Les Mis, etc.
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