Nota: Artikel ini ditulis sekitar enam bulan lalu, untuk sebuah penerbitan terkenal di kawasan Hulu Kelang dan Bukit Antarabangsa (?). Siri politik dan budaya popular seperti ini bakal kembali di blog ini.
Horse riding. Setting up tents. Cathing fish. Lighting up wood fire. The image that these items would collectively create in most people’s minds would be a macho one, a life in the wild.
Enter Vladimir Putin. A shirtless Vladimir Putin wearing military fatigue and boots. Now that is one hell of a macho image, and one hell of a PR campaign.
Russia’s president until a couple of years back, Putin, embraced and utilized the mass media to the fullest since learning of its immeasureable power.
Not unlike his colleague in the West, he used that campaign tool effectively, and looking a bit more cool than others.
The macho, ex-KGB, man vs wild vacation cum photo op took place in 2009. He appeared shirtless, flaunting his tough body for the world to see (although originally the target was the Russian people, for domestic political purposes), appealing to both straight women and gay men, indeed a huge vote bank througout the political spectrum.
The photo op cannot help but felt and looked properly and meticulously arranged, to give the best impact for Putin and the psyche of Russia.
It was a convervative-themed PR campaign but its appeal was not limited to conservatives. It presented an image of tough guy that played to the feeling of a strong and resurgent Russia. And at the same time offered a relatable ordinary guy image who caught his own fish and made his own fire.
The timing of the campaign explains everything perfectly. It was a time when Russia was in a resurgent mood (it is still now), more than ever. The vacation in the wild photos served to reinforce that feeling further.
It was, at that time, a new thing for Russia. Since at least Bill Clinton prsidential campaign, pop culture imagery has served many presidents and presidential candidates very well. From playing the saxophone in a talk show to announcing candidacy in a popular talk show, the line between pop culture and politics has been blurred for some time now.
In the United States, politicians appear increasingly more eager to go to Oprah or David Letterman for the important messages than the more “serious” shows on CNN or NBC.
There, pop culture in politics has been part of the game that many if not all, should take into account seriously.
Sure, you know how to explain universal health care and have a great idea of getting the troops out of Iraq or Afghanistan, but how well can you talk to Jon Stewart? Would you look good on Saturday Night Live?
For Putin, the tough guy, shirtless images in one way or another reinforced his image as Russia’s tough guy. They tell the Russian people that this is the guy that sould lead us through this trying time, who will stand up to the United States (it was way before the reset), and who will kick Georgia’s ass.
The photos practically set the standard for tough guy images. Both US President Barack Obama and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy have been seen vacationing shirtless, but they in no way neared Putin’s tough guy standard. Plus Sarkozy’s photos was doctored to remove an unsightly element, to put it nicely. For many world leaders, vacation has never been the same ever since. They are also now PR campaign’s photo sessions.
Obama’s and Sarkozy’s photos on the other hand, show regular Joe images, of powerful people vacationing and enjoying themselves with their families. Unlike Putin’s, their photos served to attach a more human (not that they weren’t), regular dimension to their larger than life images.
Obama, with the Rolling Stones covers and everything, ia already a rock star, as if being the president of the most powerful country in the world is not enough. The family-themed beach vacation photos served well in attaching a regular Joe element to Obama.
We, here in Malaysia, are also witnessing an increasing number of politicians (or first lady even) working hard to conjure up certain images (with YouTube music videos and stuff).
We see them appearing in public being nice to children, visiting Puduraya, buying kuih at Ramadan stalls, carrying guns to shoot squirrels and many more that they manage to set up.
Why? Because it is important, in an age where images play increasingly important roles in politics, an age where people with not enough time to really process the loads of information available have to make decisions on who to vote.
And increasingly, people rely on bits and pieces of information seen and heard on talk shows and other popular culture space. In the age of the "Like" button dominates all sphere of our lives, this is where popular culture plays a critical role.
This is why getting on social media, getting lots of friends and organizing meetups is important to politicians, especially when your government is in danger of losing the next general elections.
Popular culture is one channel that the most number of people can access, as opposed to articles in newspapers, journals, and discussions on TV that need more time to process. Through pop culture, the messages reach more people, and may be the only bits of politics that reach them, without appearing as naked propaganda to most.
Getting back to Putin, it is no doubt an achievement for the Russian prime minister, who before never cared to smile for the camera, looking as cold as Russian winter everytime. The tough guy images reassure the Russian people that they have a strong leader leading a resurgent Russia back to where it belongs (which is equal to the United States, if you ask them).
Labels: Amerika, Eurasia, Malaysia, Masyarakat, Politik, Pop