Some people were surprised to find out that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was originally a comedienne/actor. In reality, however, all modern politicians are more actor than statesman. The actors on our political stage, our wearing their hi viz garb for every photo opportunity. The ubiquity of the media in the digital age has thrust civic leaders into a 24/7 spotlight. Great leaders like Winston Churchill would not get elected in this day and age because they do not look like some version of a male model. Women have, of course, always suffered under this public expectation of their physical aesthetic appeal. Today’s political leaders are forever acting out what their spin doctors prescribe the public want to see and hear.
Australian Political Actors & the Blokey Caricature
Bob Hawke, famously, made a career out of portraying his version of the quintessential Aussie bloke. Those who cannot quite manage this cut-out character of the “she’ll be right mate” loveable larrikin are at a disadvantage from the outset. See Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese as current examples of this lack of blokey appeal. The Liberals have made a point of attacking ‘so-called’ elites over the last couple of decades. Again, this is a premeditated strategy designed to win over the archetypal average Australian. The personality contest, which is how most voters approach the federal election, is a game manipulated by both sides of politics.
A Good Sport Shines on the Australian Political Stage
Australia’s founding culture has been described as a brutal meritocracy. The once convict colony was a land full of harsh conditions both environmental and man-made. Corruption was endemic in its governments and police forces from the outset. There were a few good people trying to do the right thing as well. Sport quickly seized the public imagination, as the favoured arena for a young country to make its mark. White men achieving glory on sporting fields was the highest honour in this emerging culture. The unassuming Aussie bloke who was good with his hands and feet under pressure captured the hearts of a nation. Footy and cricket provided the metaphors for our politicians to seize.
Australian political leaders imitate this archetypal sporting hero whenever they get the chance. A win by an Australian sporting team or individual will never pass without a prominent comment from a PM or Premier. The blokey stance and soundbite will emanate from screens and speakers around the nation in quick time. Those who climb the greasy pole have always been actors to some degree. Even back in the time of Alcibiades and Julius Caesar, Greek and Roman audiences were won over by posturing and performance. Rhetoric was usually accompanied by exaggerated acting during the public presentation in the forum. Perhaps, the prerequisite for the modern politician should be a year or two in rep theatre or a degree in performing arts. Ronald Reagan, of course, springs to mind but his best years were behind him by the time he grabbed the mantle of president. The prolonged press conference, during the Covid pandemic in Australia, became a new form of public performance for Premiers, the PM, and Health Ministers. These overly long and intense daily episodes had our political leaders making announcements and being questioned by the media 7 days a week for many months.
Eventually, however, these performances can wear thin, especially if incompetence has become a track record feature. It seems, the Australian public have begun to see through Scott Morrison’s act and to question his government’s ability to measure up. It has been a tough time to govern but mistakes made repeatedly over the pandemic, fires, and floods cannot be forgiven forever. The actor only gets a finite number of chances to impress up on the stage. The audience tires of the same old faces failing to live up to their promises. They seek new talent to hopefully dazzle and entertain them. They, also, want a responsible hand on the tiller to reassure them during a storm.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy is giving the performance of his life and it may well cost him his life. In comparison every other civic leader seems empty and insincere. The actors on our political stage are smiling and waving, their gestures full of loaded messages to the audience. Vote for me. Please give me your vote. I am a trustworthy politician!
Many people vote for likeable leaders over and above any other consideration, until something bites them personally on the arse. In Russia, they traditionally like their leaders to be strongmen on law and order. Centuries of Czars and decades of Soviet style despots like Stalin have programmed this population to expect the worse. Putin has modelled himself on this strongman caricature, despite his short stature. Human beings are complex characters in reality, and these are only roles these individuals are playing. Prick the balloon and it will burst.