Clout Culture - Talent VS. Followers on Social Media

Illustration by Karolina Varvarovska

Clout, a word recently resonating around London’s creative scene as another product of our social media age. The word is ambiguous yet heard all too often: phrases like “what would you do for clout?”, “they’re only in it for the clout” and “make sure you’re not a clout-chaser" becoming natural expressions to many. Although common in certain circles, it is hard to understand the true meaning of the word and its impact on today’s Gen-Z.

Over centuries, the meaning of the word has shifted significantly, beginning with its Old English origins meaning ‘a lump of something’ to today’s colloquialism for influence or power. This stark differentiation makes it hard to gauge a clear definition of the term. The notion of ‘political clout’ first appeared in the 20th century, defined in 1973 in the Chicago Daily News Column as “political influence, as exercised through patronage, fixing, money, favors, and other traditional City Hall methods”. Due to this, it should be noted that “clout is used to circumvent the law, not enforce it”, thus bending the rules. This is certainly reflective of the clout culture we see today.

In today’s culture, those who have clout can be seen to get away with a variety of actions. From entry into exclusive events or receiving products for free, clout can be an equivalent to capital in some spaces. What is even more interesting is the lengths millennials will go to obtain this coveted phenomenon. Clout has become a mainly digital currency, being used in exchange for influence and to gain respect from others, particularly in the realm of social media. As we exist in the age of technology, this ‘digital clout’ seems to hold the most value. Our social media profile has come to represent an integral part of our own identity. It is more than simply a username and a collection of photographs, now we must consider who we follow, who follows us, who interacts with our profile through comments and likes and what content we present. We are even able to gain a certain degree of clout with just one follow from the right individual. Additionally, the appearance of a blue tick next to one’s name may demonstrate a type of digital validation that did not exist before.

London boasts a rich and vibrant culture, full of upcoming creatives in all fields of the arts. Of course, with any over-saturated pool it is a fight for survival. Individuals must compete to have their work and talent noticed, but unfortunately attributes beside creative skill deem an individual worthy to reach the top of the professional and social ladder. What is the capital that makes it possible to parachute to the very top of a company’s professional hierarchy? Clout. The digital currency that makes it possible for an artist to reach a million views overnight? Clout. The influence that allows only press-savvy artist to have their work exhibited at a top prestigious museum? Clout.

The integration of commercial deals into these cultural practices has led to the birth of one of the most controversial types of individual today - the influencer. Forget about the Marie Curie’s, Emily Pankhurst’s and Martin Luther King’s of this world and behold the likes of the Kardashians, Love Island contestants and Tiktok stars who instead hold the publics attention. The media has claimed and exploited this term, whilst simultaneously creating a billion-dollar industry and revolutionizing the world of advertising. This culture of clout and influencers has made it possible for those from every corner of the world to gain millions of followers from their bedroom with little question of skill. We are now able to achieve fame and clout for pretty much everything, and ironically we are ourselves to blame. We are the culture: the ones who like the pictures, share the content and continually follow these social media stars.

Yet, we mustn't forget to consider these supposedly ‘powerful’ individuals without their social media. An influencer with over 100,000 followers may boast an audience, yet an audience does not always culminate in tangible money or assets. It is very much possible - and surprisingly common - for these elusive people to also work mundane professions or not work at all, whilst projecting a glamorous and fast-paced lifestyle on the Internet. The existence of social media has allowed for us to create a facade for ourselves, using this idea of ‘clout’ as capital, reducing the value of talent in a society so creatively wealthy.

Written by Sophie Beeching