With the rise of information technology, the media has become almost impossible to escape. It is everywhere: billboards, magazine, TV, and radio. Gossip magazines have become more and more popular usually by propagating information about famous figures. It is without surprise that we now see political leaders being scrutinised by the media, including popular media. While some would suggest Orwellian doom has fallen upon us, others would examine the meaning and impact of this new media on the image of prominent individuals.
The most recent shocking outbreak in the political world has been the affair between the journalist Julie Gayet and the French president François Hollande. This affair was released by the media through pictures in the magazine Closer. Hollande was not married but had been living with his partner Valérie Trierweiler since 2007. Their separation was announced very soon after the magazine came out. Rumours have also said that Mrs. Trierweiler attempted suicide after this news and was hospitalised.
I cannot help but wonder, from all that information, what is really true? The photos published seemed authentic and portrayed a man in a helmet going out of the building where Julie Gayet lives and driving away on a scooter. The rumours were not denied by the president but he stated at a press conference that ‘private matters are dealt in private’. Is this an admission of guilt? Sure looks like one, but this also proves the blurred lines between the division of the public and private spheres when it comes to politics.
This is not the first time a prominent Frenchman has been notorious for being a little too cavalier. Dominique Strauss-Khan, ex-head of the IMF, like the French President, has been known for being a little more than courteous with women. His sexual relations with Mrs. Diallo were highly publicised when he was accused of sexual assault and rape. What does that tell us? That French men are incapable of being monogamous? That French men in power are inexplicably attractive to women? Or does it tell us something deeper about the intricate relationship between the public and private life in global politics?
There is a common refrain of politics being set in a global theatre especially in the context of post-colonialism. However, I find this comparison to have a much deeper meaning when it comes to being a political figure. I believe being a politician is essentially being an actor. Every single aspect of your life will be scrutinised and you have to play the game to stay a pawn in the grand scheme of global politics. This is done through speeches, but also through what politicians wear and the intricate details of their private affairs.
The problem essentially with politics is that to be popular you need to appeal to the vast majority of the population who may not be interested in political subjects. However, what those people will read are gossip magazines and popular newscasts. And what will they see? Michelle Obama pulling a face as his husband is taking a selfie with the Denmark’s Prime Minister and David Cameron. That will later create a rumour about Obama and his wife fighting and next thing you know, they are sleeping in separate beds. The next day rumours of divorce will be let loose and for all we know, the next step will be Obama having not a conference on how to deal with the disparities of wealth in the world but of him denying rumours of a divorce.
When we put things into perspective, it would be impossible to get rid of these kinds of popular media. Political figures have attained the same level of buzz as singers and actors. The academic par excellence would argue that we should go back to a more intellectual display of information. That might be true, but this statement is also extremely unrealistic.
The men in politics should not complain too hard as there is a definite double-standard when it comes to women. Women suffer much more from those media when it comes to what they are wearing and what shape of lipsticks they put on today. It could be argued that they have to watch their image even more carefully for them to be taken seriously.
What leaders like Strauss-Khan and Hollande have to understand is that the positions they get to are highly prestigious and I doubt any of them would agree that it took a lot of work and dedication to get where they are. A French president has a mandate of only five years. How hard can it be to not be promiscuous during that short time period (pun intended)? Leaders have to realise that they cannot differentiate their private matters from their careers. Their private life is part of their carriers. The dress that will show a bit too much of the First Lady will be something that is talked about. Politics is essentially a global theatre where actors and actresses have to portray what the people values. And the people certainly do not want a President who goes around seeing his mistress on a scooter. What if the scooter had been hit by a car? I can see the titles now ‘Hollande dies in a scooter accident as post-coital cheating bliss goes sour’. That would simply be a hit in the media.