Beachwear, bikini and bad hair: the politics of first impressions

di Joe Volpe del August 4, 2020

TORONTO - What follows may offend you. Take a valium – or grab a hold of Maria Juana; now that it is legal to do so. This is a light-hearted opinion piece on the most serious of Canadian political issues: waste and perceived corruption. A more serious disposition would surely lead to depression.

Politics has always been like sitting down for a meal: one feasts with the eyes first, aromas second and taste buds third. Call it the “sensory antipasto” to a good meal. If it looks good enough to eat, you might take a chance.

Marshall McLuhan, celebrated mid-twentieth century philosopher and communications guru (no slight to other religions intended; he was Catholic) made famous the oft-repeated trope, “the medium is the message”. If the nuances escape the reader, that means “what you say is less important than how you present yourself”. First Impressions, one supposes.

Third century B.C. (pre-Christian era antiquity) ancient Greek philosophers debated the fundamental approaches to the significance of life in terms of “matter and form”.

The public apparently appreciated that their representatives – elected or opportunistic – might demonstrate an “understanding of context” before they could pretend to attract the demos, otherwise known as “the great unwashed”.

Alexander the Great was accompanied by one History’s greatest thinkers, Aristotle, to ensure he say the “right thing” (and communicate back home the appropriate message), even as he went about his business of subjugating peoples far and wide. It is all about “talking points”.

This is 2020 A.D. Does anyone care – in Canada? At first blush, the answer would appear to be negative, judging from the performance of both government players and Opposition tacticians on Thursday’ much anticipated “political body-slam” Finance Committee hearing on the topic of “credibility” re WE.

The fashionista who previously doubled as the uber-successful pollster/campaign manager for the Wynne government must be trying to “make a comeback”. So, Liberal Party strategists agreed the Prime Minister should go on TV grizzled and dressed (bad word-association) in that certain, “je ne sais quoi”, nonchalance associated with bikers or homeless people. Just to get to their level of “trustworthiness”, so to speak.

Apparently, they must have calculated that this would make his version of the events regarding WE so much more palatable than the one previously relayed by two individuals doing their best to imitate charlatans. It might have worked.

Except that the Prime Minister’s performance was followed immediately by that of his Chief of Staff, whose “Miss Prim and Proper”, dedicated mother [to children everywhere], “Aye Aye Captain” approach to issues management seemed to offer a starkly different image.

In the absence of thriving, vigorous political parties, we tend to rely on the cult of the personality – a depreciating asset at the best of times - or perception of competence in the management of issues.

But Canadians are not the only ones to be easily distracted.

Matteo Salvini, Leader of Italy’s equivalent of Canada’s Bloc Quebecois, enjoying a sunny weekend at the beach, regaling his adulating followers with plans to re-appropriate control of the government, when he was interrupted by a local deputy mayor.

She offered a sharply contrasting view of the world. Since everyone was appropriately attired in beachwear, it is probably did not occur to her that the fashion house which designed her bikini has a better understanding of how to present an argument than Salvini’s communications staff.

The handlers for Canada’s Prime Minister must have caught on quickly enough.

The very next day, he “appeared” before Vancouver audience, hair appropriately combed, attired in a white shirt and tie, sleeves dutifully rolled up to manifest seriousness.


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