The politics of style

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by anoop_mig25, Jul 29, 2011.

  1. anoop_mig25

    anoop_mig25 Senior Member Senior Member

    Aug 17, 2009
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    The politics of style

    Dilip Bobb Posted: Fri Jul 29 2011

    Even before she arrived in a swirl of speculation, it was in the bag. Literally. Hina Rabbani Khar came, saw, flaunted her Birkin, and conquered. For the media, it was more about style than substance. Her Hermes bag, what it costs, her Cavalli glares, the South Sea pearls and her outfit was a greater focus of attention than what she personally brought to the India-Pakistan table. All this media coverage begs the question — do glamour and good looks enhance a politician’s career or are they a hindrance? In a celebrity-obsessed age, does the paparazzi-type focus on certain individuals only end up hiding their flaws?
    The most immediate answer to that has to come from President Barack Obama. We were all dazzled by the man when he first hit the world stage — young, good-looking, charismatic, and Harvard Law School to boot. It made it easy to imagine that he would dissolve differences, abolish hard choices, and save the world. Glamorous leaders tend to be put on a higher pedestal, as if looks, style and charisma are a substitute for ability and intellectual prowess. The general attitude to such leaders at the start of their careers is a judgment based on distance and mystery, because glamour is always an illusion. Not surprisingly, then, as the healthcare debate in America intensified, Obama’s own aura and ratings have diminished. Eventually you have to break the spell.

    So it was with so many of our own leaders, led by Rajiv Gandhi. He was quickly elevated to political stardom, first by his name, and then his looks. He had charisma too, a deadly combination; and many world leaders and dignitaries were enamoured of his youthfulness and Camelot-type promise. Despite the fact that his physical aura seemed to fade along with his political stature, his looks and charm gave him a huge headstart. His son occupies the same position now with the good looks, the famous dimples, the Gandhi name and an aura of mystery, but it is starting to fade. Like youth and promise and public projection, everything comes with a sell-by date.

    Benazir Bhutto was, like Rabbani Khar, given huge public acceptance because of her name to some extent, but more durably, her style and looks and effervescent personality. They propelled her to the prime minister’s office. In a study from the department of economics at the University of Helsinki, scientists conducted a large-scale experiment using photos of 2,000 political candidates which were shown to members of the public. Both men and women favoured those they found more attractive. The more attractive a candidate, the more they were seen as trustworthy, intelligent, likeable and able. Simply given a photograph to look at, people do vote for beauty and associate it with other qualities. The selection of political candidates in Finland were also shown to 6,303 people from outside Finland. Most of those taking part had no clue about the political persuasion or personality of those they were looking at. For every increment in attractiveness there was a much larger jump in their perceived intelligence, competence, likeability and trustworthiness. The study, titled “Are good looks an advantage in politics?” concluded that “the positive relationship between beauty and electoral success holds for both male and female candidates.”

    There are enough examples of the connection between glamour and politics. It was so evident in the election of John F. Kennedy, and later, Bill Clinton, both charismatic and physically imposing. Between the Kennedy and Clinton period, America elected Ronald Reagan, a movie star, as the 40th president of their nation. At a more minor level, its impossible to believe that Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his accent and pumped-up musculature would have become governor of California had he not been a movie star. Now, it is Sarah Palin who occupies mind-space because of her glamourous looks, and, despite her obvious lack of intellectual heft or a coherent world view, she became a serious candidate for president of the United States. In fact, a new study by the University of Haifa shows that the better a politician looks, the higher the frequency of news coverage. “Earlier studies have shown that people generally tend to prefer the company of people who are physically attractive and even value them as more worthy people,” note the researchers. The study explores the association between the physical appearance of politicians and news coverage. The researchers found that the more attractive politicians receive more media coverage than do the less attractive ones, physical appearance having more influence on the amount of coverage for women than for men..

    So here it is, Hina Rabbani Khar. Being attractive does bring major benefits but clearly, once push comes to shove in leadership terms, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Glamour tends to dissipate once a candidate is in office and has to take specific positions. As Ronald Reagan once said, “Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book.”

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