I, like most of you reading this, watched Zach Galifianakis interview President Obama on Between Two Ferns and had mixed feelings about the political circus act. On the one hand, I laughed. On the other, I felt awkward. To me, it’s such a strange arena for dialogue about a topic as important as health care.
A recent article on CBC.ca reports that the unique promotional effort was influential. It resulted in a 40% traffic increase on healthcare.gov only hours after the interview and convinced many young adults in the US to enrol in health insurance programs.
So in that respect, the out-of-the-box media strategy of Obama’s crew could be considered a success. It further established his suave presidential persona and had many millennial Canadians asking themselves (myself included): why can’t Prime Minister Harper be as cool as President Obama?
Well, according to Huffington Post Mr. Harper has a personality of his own. Apparently, he and his wife are cat lovers and aren’t afraid to shout it from the media rooftops. Placing this curious factoid in context, it’s a stunning display of warmth from a political personality who has previously adopted the affections of a robot when cameras lurk about.
So maybe Primer Minister Harper is cooler than we initially thought. Maybe there is a person we’d like to hang out with behind the non-committal demeanour we often see in the media. It’s tough to say, because it could be a strategic effort from his media team to gain popularity. Or maybe he does really love turning to social media for help when naming his new kitten.
It’s not as if personality and appearance haven’t played a role in the public’s view of political candidates in the past. Yet it seems as if the advent of social media has injected the public’s desire for cool and charismatic politicians with steroids, to the extent that any politician who wants to be considered worth voting for now has to establish a social media presence or risk being viewed as old fashioned.
As Galifianakis suggests in the interview, “Be short, fat, and smell like Doritos, and try making it in Hollywood.” The same stands for politics in the West: be uncool, unattractive, and reclusive, and try getting someone to vote for you. It won’t work. It doesn’t matter if you’re an actor, musician, or politician; most people in our culture want to follow compelling personalities.
This vexes me, because the implication is that politicians are being forced to construct images that don’t accurately reflect who they are. Which is to say, should it really matter how ‘cool’ Obama or Harper really are? Shouldn’t the more pressing questions be directed toward their character and competency, and how those things relate to their ability to lead a country?
At the conclusion of the Between Two Ferns interview, Obama cheekily pushes a button on the coffee table that causes the backdrop of curtains to fall. Revealed behind the set is the White House’s diplomatic room. Witty banter about clearance for Galifianakis ensues.
If only there was such a button we could press to see behind the curtains of our political leaders’ images in the media. If only we could receive clearance to see beyond the façades and gaze upon the real personalities, with all the good and the bad, the cool and the not-so-cool, the admirable and alarming, the strengths and the weaknesses, and then make a decision regarding whether or not they are the kind of person we’d like to follow.
That’s an approach to politics that I would certainly vote for.
Photo from digitaltrends.com