Julia Gillard's earlobes, Tony Abbott's budgie-smugglers.
Is discussion about politicians' appearance getting too personal?
• Yes, it's irrelevant 81.83% (5440 votes)
• No, it's fair game 18.17% (1208 votes)
Total votes: 6648
It was about the time that this poll came out, beside the now infamous story
that accompanied it, which was written by Kate Legge and which featured prominently on the front page of The Australian
in the run-up to the 2010 Federal election, just as Julia Gillard was attempting to get traction in the campaign and assume more political gravitas after having deposed Kevin Rudd from the top job of Prime Minister, that the thought occurred to me that this type of tactic, by a crusading newspaper and its editor, who were obviously rooting for the other side in the political contest, was the most extreme manifestation up until that day of a journalistic device which has been employed more and more, and to greater and more devastating effect lately by the Murdoch media mainly, and then copied by others, around the world. That is, in this visually-charged and clogged era in politics, editors and publishers have discovered a new way to 'Poison the Well' of our political discourse, by employing a new paradigm of political character assassination and degradation that focuses, almost literally in a photographic sense, on the physical attributes of politicians, and then casts aspersions about their character as a function of, and around that.
This, 'Image Assassination', especially appears to have coincided with the rise to political prominence of female politicians, and has become another tool in the journalists/editor's armoury when they seek to delegitimise a politician in the eyes of the electorate, or, more aptly in this instance, the 'Viewing Public'. It certainly adds another arrow to their quiver, at the very least.
Now, to be fair, I'm not saying that, “Boo Hoo, Julia Gillard is hardly done by because of it, and all journos should 'cease and desist forthwith'," as I also know that, going as far back as the Roman Empire, and probably even to cavemen and women, people's appearance has always been a source of art and commentary.
Look at the poll I put up at the top of the blog, Tony Abbott's Budgie Smugglers
are mentioned too. I mean, where would 'First Dog On the Moon' cartoons be without them?
Nevertheless, whilst we are all content to attempt to rip into each other's 'persona non grata' politicians, and, I am as guilty as the next person of this, has it gone too far now? Is it 'Poisoning the Well'?
Is it really time for more civility in our political discourse, or should we just continue to 'let it rip', adapt or die?
For example, here's a photo
of Ms Legge: As you can see, she is no oil painting herself. She has barely-controlled buck teeth, and a nose like a pig's snout. Now, would it have been the proper course of action for us here on the blogs to read the article, then give her a dose of her own medicine back, as an instant antidote to that article, using all the tools at our disposal nowadays? Or, attack the lack of substance in her critique of the Prime Minister by commenting from a higher plane, out of the gutter; attack her back in kind; or maintain a dignified silence and not pay her piece any attention in the hope that it will dry up and blow away into the dustbin of journalism where it belongs?
I mean, whenever that modern day icon of the visuo-political age, Sarah Palin, comes in for criticism from her political opponents she uses all the social media and Mainstream Media tools at her disposal to get back on the front foot ASAP in the rolling political debate, as opposed to curling up in a little ball, embarrassed at the scrutiny. Not that she suffers from much in the way of physical imperfections that an embarrassing critique can be hung on by a journalist so-inclined. However, the general point still stands. The approach she takes to criticism seems to work very well for her (even if no one yet takes her particularly seriously in a political sense, she has yet to be totally delegitimised because of it).
Now, in the hands of a politician of intellectual substance, could not this tactic be put to devastating effect, co-ordinating it with help from supporters in the blogosphere, as outlined above, in order to have a devastating effect on disarming critics such as Kate Legge and Niki Savva, when they try to slice and dice you on the front page of national newspapers? Fight Murdoch media machine fire with fire. Do you think that's valid?
It also occurred to me that the seeds of this era of media invective go back to the overwhelming success of a Hollywood movie
called 'Mean Girls'
It was one of those movies that come along every so often that are capable of changing the zeitgeist in a measurable way. Just reading back some of the quotable quotes
from the movie
, it gives you a flavour of the times which have followed, whereupon the rise of catty comment and overt superficiality, viz the return of the 'Girly Girl', occurred.
As far as I can divine it in hindsight, with respect to politics particularly, prior to this time political campaigns and the media which attended them, focussed on portraying ways in which one candidate was better or worse than than the other. Especially in campaigns, the ads had a White Knight vs Black Knight quality about them. So did the media copy. Following which, the electorate made their decisions based upon all the ads and assessments they had seen as to who they thought would best represent them. Plus they gathered up policy information.
Since that time in the early 90s, when the 'Mean Girls' paradigm shift occurred, politics has come with a free character assessment from opponents in the political sphere and the media. To the point where we now have the 'Visual Assessment', pithily put. As if that had anything substantive to do with the calibre of the politician.
However, as I mentioned before, but in a different context, Sarah Palin has come along and made 'Old Paradigm' politics virtually redundant as she crystallised all the above together into one political whole.
She is the one who has come along into politics, and whether she ultimately succeeds in the 2012 Presidential Election in the USA we are yet to see, but, nevertheless, she is the epitome of the new 'Mean Girl' politician and the catalyst of the new 'Mean Girl' political paradigm. Political Evolution has created a new species.
You could almost call her, 'Politician Barbie'. She also appears to be the standard by which all others who come after her will be compared. From now on, it seems, as many politicians as possible are going to have to 'look the part'. Potential leaders will need to be telegenic, have a Stylist, a Hairdresser, a Wardrobe Adviser, as well as the Speech Writer and Press Officer. Even though Miranda Devine on Twitter meant it in a derogatory sense, when she recently described Anna Bligh's performance during the Queensland Floods and Cyclone Yasi, as 'like a great Newsreader', maybe that is going to have to be the standard that political leaders, at least, post Palin, will have to aspire to? More and more, in order to convince the electorate to vote for them and their party, they will have to be a visually 'together' Tailor's Dummy that is the sum of many parts. The intellectual and the visual combined. And there will no longer be any 'No Go' areas that are off limits for comment.
Or is that going to 'Poison the Well' of politics?
What do you think?