Posted by: Yorgos | September 20, 2008

Text 27 – Image

I’ve been following with interest, yet not closely, the campaigns for the US presidential elections. Even though I would prefer Obama to win (along with the rest of the world, I guess…the only ones who are not sure are the Americans), I am not the right person to say what I think about the two candidates (being a Greek and all…).

I would like to talk about an observation I made about the image and how it is formed and shaped, a process which is most apparent in the land of the spectacle, the US.

None of us has any doubts as to whether everything that reaches the media is perfectly designed and controlled, in order to present the candidate in the best possible way (of course, I am talking about the official campaigns). My thought is, however, that, if everyone is so aware that what they see is nothing but a carefully constructed image, why haven’t we got past that? Well, I think we have gone past that. What we are judging now is not how good we are made to think the candidate is, but how well he conforms to the needs of image and television. In other words, a successful campaign is not one who makes the candidate look trustworthy (we all know that it is his job to be presented trustworthy), but the one who is most successful at making him look more trustworthy. Basically, we are judging the image makers and not the candidates.

OK, maybe this is not making much sense. Maybe it’s just me and not everyone thinks like that. But knowing that a candidate will make himself look as good as possible, the difference is in how this is done. This is why small things that should be unimportant become significant. A slip of the tongue (and this can happen to anybody) is given meaning and destroys the image. We know where the candidate stands and a slip of the tongue can’t change that. And if we believe he is lying, then we will not wait for a lapsus linguae to be convinced. It all comes down to the fact that he made a mistake in front of the TV and that made him look bad. That’s where the negative publicity is based. No one actually believes those commercials, but the image is hurt, nonetheless.

In the end, the candidate is judged by if he looks handsome on TV. This has not changed in centuries, only in the old days, it was public speakers who won the attention of the crowd. Being a good public speaker does not mean you know what’s good for the public; in the same way, looking good on TV doesn’t make you a leader. And yet it is one of the prerequisites for election. And even if we are able to look past that trait of a candidate, it has become one of the things we are looking for.

One can say: “This guy is smart, knows a lot about economy and foreign affairs, unfortunately he doesn’t look good on TV”. Not being TV-friendly has a value on its own; it’s not bad because people may think that the candidate is stupid. It’s bad, because it’s bad.

I’ve said too much and this has confused even me. I hope that what I want to say shows somewhere in there.

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