Wednesday 20th January, President Biden’s Inauguration Day, will be marked in the history books as one of extreme importance for a plethora of reasons. The day marked the end of a Republican term and the dawn of a new Democratic one, with Joe Biden appointed as the 46th President of the United States.
Highlights of the ceremony included Lady Gaga performing a rendition of the American national anthem, but the real star was born when Amanda Gorman took to the plinth to recite the Inaugural poem.
Before the ceremony, it may have been forgivable if the name Amanda Gorman was not on your radar – fast forward one week and the young Poet Laureate’s name and her prose has had over 2 million Google searches in the US alone.
Gorman isn’t just paving the path, but rather tending to the blooms and writing out the road markings, for a young generation of trailblazing ambitious minds before her.
The Cambridge dictionary describes an influencer as ‘a person or group that has the ability to influence the behaviour or opinion of others.’ And Gorman does just that. In a time of global fragility and American political tremors, Gorman epitomizes the American Dream and everything American citizens hold dear.
The last ten years has seen a dramatic rise in the use and implementation of social media as a profession. Terms such as ‘influencer’ and ‘vlogger’ as career trajectories simply didn’t exist until recently, yet are now regularly used and understood as viable careers in the public sphere.
Hard work, determination and talent on their own are extraordinary qualities, of which Gorman possesses in abundance. What the ever-changing modern world shows us however, and what is most interesting, is that these qualities combined with global access and outreach via social media, make Amanda Gorman one of the most influential young people in the world right now.
Pre-Inauguration Day, Amanda Gorman held a following of just over 400,000. Within 24 hours of the Inauguration, this rocketed to 2.4 million. At the time of writing, she boasts an impressive 3.3 million Instagram followers.
To understand just how remarkable this is requires an understanding of influencer culture itself. These statistics set Gorman in the top 0.32% of Instagram’s users globally. For a young poet and activist, this is an extraordinary position to be in and augments her work and her message instantly. Gorman’s platform provides her with a precious opportunity to help shape American culture and politics for the better in years to come.
In recent years, platforms such as Twitter have undoubtedly been used with damaging consequences in American politics. A large proportion of such damage was wrought by former President Trump himself, who continually weaponized the platform to bully his opponents.
So, what is it that sets Gorman apart in the ruthlessly competitive social media universe? After all, poetry as activism is not a new concept, yet is often not one adopted by the millennial generation, nor executed with such eloquence and grace. As Gorman openly speaks of herself, she is of African American descent and from a single-parent family. She has also overcome auditory and speech impediments, which only makes her public speaking abilities that much more admirable. Such obstacles could have held the young poet back, but rather she has embraced them and challenged them head on to become a part of the Amanda Gorman story.
Gorman’s art and activism focuses on issues surrounding race, gender, oppression, feminism and marginalisation. None of these topics are easy to tackle, nor do they have simple solutions.
As is often the case with influencer culture, the author’s debut titles; Change Sings, aimed at arming young children with the belief in the power of their words and voices to shape the world around them, and The Hill We Climb, based around the ideas of hope and healing, shot to the top of the charts within 24 hours of the Inauguration Day speech, illuminating the power of social media when interwoven with activism.
Last week, it was announced that Gorman would be the first poet in history to perform at the Super Bowl. In 2020, the event reeled in an astounding viewership of 99.9 million American’s – dwarfing the 33.8 million viewers on Inauguration Day. This provides the Youth Poet Laureate with an immense platform to project her entrancing activist poetry into the households of many more millions of Americans.
Although a remarkable achievement, the Inauguration Day performance is only a stepping-stone for Gorman. She will doubtless continue to bloom into a bright and prominent figure of political activism, a shining inspiration to young poets everywhere, and a voice for the marginalized in American society.
The shift in influencer culture is also happening away from our screens. Multi-conglomerate businesses are gradually shifting from purely high fashion and catalogue models towards the likes of Ms. Gorman. Indeed, IMG models, which represent the likes of Gigi and Bella Hadid, signed Gorman in the wake of her breathtaking performance.
There is a growing consensus that issues such as sustainability, diversity, and respect for the workers in the fashion industry are at the forefront of the up-and-coming generations minds. The likes of Prada and Nike have already taken Gorman on and made her a prominent face of the brands. In years gone by, the Poet Laurette may have been considered somewhat of an outsider in this field, but these fashion powerhouses now realize that an endorsement of a brand by a proven individual of influence such as Gorman is the way forward in aligning with their custom base.
Would it be too bold to one day imagine a Mrs. President Amanda Gorman? “In this truth, in this faith, we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.” A particularly poignant line from The Hill We Climb, given that the future certainly has its eyes on Gorman herself.
The Hill We Climb, by Amanda Gorman, can be viewed here.