You will have seen Justin Trudeau’s boxing photo already. Go Canada, amirite?
It is genuinely one of the most surreal images of a politician I have ever seen. Remember, Trudeau was a sitting MP when he took part in the charity match. Given how important it is for a politician to be seen as authoritative and reasonable it is weird for one to instead present himself as so literally pugilistic. Even Tony Abbott didn’t insist on publically punching someone. Yes, Vladimir Putin does, but I think that rather proves the point (having said that, Trudeau’s opponent was also an MP, so maybe this sort of thing is actually normal in Canada). Now, there is a whole other discussion to be had about the role sport plays in the public profiles of politicians, e.g. how some emphasise their physical fitness through participating in endurance events, which serve as great metaphors for the demands of public life: it’s hard to argue someone isn’t motivated, disciplined and willing to work hard while they stumble across the triathlon finish line. Yet Trudeau the boxer isn’t just physically fit, he is also relentlessly sexy – which is even weirder than literally hitting another human being in the face (although according to this definitive list Trudeau is only the third hottest head of state in the world, so let’s not get too carried away).
Not that politicians aren’t or shouldn’t be sexy – far be it from me to slut shame our elected representatives! – but it is rather new to draw such conspicuous attention to the fact. Incidentally, while you join me in not being the least bit titillated by all this, check out Trudeau’s strip tease.
At this point I’ll deviate a little to introduce Maria Lohela, the Speaker of the Finnish Parliament. She caused a stir by suggesting some of her colleagues were dressed inappropriately for the business of governing a country and requested more formal attire to be worn, so the weekend supplement to the Helsingin Sanomat-newspaper put together a rather laconic gallery of MPs dressed in “lewd”, “inappropriate” and “disgusting” fashion:
I will of course insist that there is a world of difference between Lohela’s desire for a more formal dress code and my double-take at Justin Trudeau’s bare chest; although the difference may well just be one of degree rather than substance. It has made me think, though, about the kind of image we expect politicians to live up to, and to what extent that image can be subverted.
Bernard Manin refers to the emergence of “audience democracy”, where the relationship between political candidates and voters becomes more personal while the media sphere becomes more fragmented. In this kind of an environment politicians have greater licence for attention-grabbing stunts or a quirky social media presence to establish a distinctive public personality and connect with prospective voters (if you fancy a read Jason Wilson has written on Kevin Rudd’s negotiation of this ‘celebritisation’ of politics DOI: 10.1177/1464884913488724). On top of that we have seen a certain levelling out of social hierarchies and an appreciation of irony that allows both politician and constituent alike to not take the performance of politics as seriously, without necessarily diminishing politics itself.
Just for funsies: in the centre there is Queensland MP Russ Hinze judging (and joining) a beer belly contest.
Politicians getting up to japes of various stripes and self-deprecating on Twitter has been going on for a while, to the extent that it would be a challenge to make much of a name for yourself (for better or for worse) without memeing things up a bit now and then. Given Trudeau’s success clearly hasn’t been hampered by this playing up of his sex appeal, I wonder whether that means a boundary of sorts has been broken, and we can – eventually – expect to see erotically charged political performances from others as well.
I’ll leave you at this intersection of sex, politics and performance with that dark prospect, and this music video, featuring Finnish Coalition MP Ben Zyskowicz getting seduced by four comedians: