The spectacle of politicians wheeling themselves out in order to gain street cred reared its familiar head yet again last week with the emergence at the Emmy’s of former press secretary to the White House, Sean Spicer. Unfortunately, for many, Spicer missed the mark this time, and only sought to normalise the half truths and propaganda of Trump’s administration. From the man who propped up the lies of the Trump regime, the attempt at redemption did come across as a little unsavoury. However, it has to be said that this does not necessarily apply to all public figures.
This cult of politicians in popular culture has been manifest for quite some time, Gorbachev’s appearance in a Pizza Hut advert being a classic example (and a must watch). It could be argued that a more approachable public image boosts support for their political cause and enables us to identify with our politicians.
We like charismatic leaders, as shown by the elections of Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who were both actors before their political careers. Sadly for the UK, it is increasingly rare to come across an effortlessly cool politician on this side of the Atlantic – Michael Gove’s declaration that he has ‘no charisma’ being the norm for much of our political stock.
Indeed, our relationship with politicians in popular culture is at best conflicted. Though we like politicians who can handle talk show banter, a la Jeremy Corbyn, this has lead to a whole string of politicians attempting unsuccessfully to generate charisma for greater popularity.
Our desire to be governed by fun politicians, or at least people able to eat a bacon sandwich with dignity, is evident in this country’s fascination with Boris Johnson. Boris is still able to conjure up support even though he is by no means the most effective politician – famously calling the president of Turkey ‘a terrific wankerer’ – because of his genuine image. Despite his well-known elite Etonian-Oxford education, he does not shy away from a little bumbling foolishness, careering into children whilst playing rugby, and endearing himself to the country in the process. Though he lied through his teeth during the Brexit referendum, his persona was ultimately deemed a pleasant one.
This phenomenon is further illustrated by Corbyn’s support, his sincerity and integrity winning him fans from the likes of Stormzy to Russell Brand. The love for him stems from his ability to be relatable, his unreserved acceptance of his own very unique personality.
For others however, public endearment does not come quite so easily. Consider those who attempt to appear normal, trying desperately to appeal to the maximum number of voters, at which point the façade falls down.
Indeed the desire to create a ‘normal’ facade has the opposite effect to that which it set out to achieve, alienating those the politician was attempting to beguile. One spectacular example of such incidences backfiring can be seen in Cameron’s supposed support for Aston Villa being exposed as a ploy when he absentmindedly referred to them as West Ham. Similarly, Theresa May’s revelation that the naughtiest thing she has ever done, save the sale of weaponry to Saudi Arabia, was running through a field of wheat, only proved to ostracise her further, her failed attempt at humanisation only making her seem more robotic.
In this manipulative pursuit of popularity, politicians demonstrate what the public hates about politics: deception. We desire to be governed by people that we like, but this seemingly only pushes our representatives to new bizarre extremes. It’s a common complaint that our politicians are not “normal”, yet in desiring that they be more human, and then ripping them apart when they make mistakes we are paradoxically driving them further into their robotic-like personas.
We want to see normal – but only if it is genuine. We don’t like being duped, but maybe occasionally we should cut them some slack.
Image: Pete Souza