Abstract: This article suggests that one reason for the resurgence of populism we see in the digital age is its resonance as a political aesthetic with the style and aesthetics of online culture. Influencers on social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram rely on style to attract viewers and identify themselves with a community. This makes fertile ground for far-right populist movements like the alt-right, who can package extremist politics in attractive content that appears to represent viewers’ everyday concerns. A growing alt-right community on YouTube known as traditional or “trad” wives create videos about femininity, beauty, and relationships. However, viewers who seek out these channels for clothing or hair styling tips leave with another kind of styling: populist messaging that frames feminism as an elitist threat to the “real” femininity of everyday women. Through rhetorical analysis, I find that trad wife vloggers’ videos stylistically suture alt-right anti-feminism to the broader online influencer culture through repeated aesthetic displays of the feminine self, home, and family. I argue that this visuality acts as an aesthetic mode of veridiction for the anti-feminist message that is uniquely powerful on image-based social media platforms. It creates the appearance of broad support as similar aesthetics are repeatedly performed by many trusted influencers. I conclude by calling scholars of populism and rhetoric to attend to the way multi-layered conventions of aesthetics on social media platforms can spread extremist messaging through ambiguous content within and beyond online communities.
Keywords: aesthetic; alt-right; extremism; femininity; gender; internet culture; populism; rhetoric; social media; trad wife vlogs; YouTube