At the start of 2020, I needed a new calendar for work, so I headed to the mall. I was of course thinking along pretty neutral lines. Landscapes. Watercolors. Animals. Y’know, the exact opposite of NSFW.
With images of neutrality firmly in mind, imagine my reaction when I walked into the calendar store and got hit smack between the eyes with this.
My immediate reaction was one of disbelief, a knee-jerk, “Dear God, WHY???” He’s a politician, not a rock star. I don’t care how attractive some people find him – and I understand that many do – why would anyone want to look at photos of the Prime Minister, any Prime Minister, every day? And considering Trudeau is nearly 50 years old, the whole ‘I Heart My Boyfriend’ teenage girl-targeted cover has a seriously creepy vibe.
Like a horror movie character reluctantly reaching towards the thing we in the audience all know is going to bite their hand off, I picked up the calendar and flipped it over. And I was treated to a dozen of images of Trudeau speaking, campaigning, exercising, gazing into the middle distance, weighing in, and doing what appears to be a Horatio Caine impersonation.
I realize that the overlap between politics and celebrity is nothing new. Image has been key since the televised US Presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. It’s widely considered to be a seminal moment in both politics and television where, for the first time, the candidate’s physical appearance played a major role in the public’s perception of how well they’d done.
It’s a trend that has only gotten worse over the years, and it’s no longer limited just to physical appearance. (Goodness knows, if looks were the only consideration, we wouldn’t be stuck with Donald Trump.) In the world of celebrity politics, how well a candidate can do the job is no longer the prime consideration. Winning the election is. Name recognition is of key importance, as is the ability to generate ratings and put on a good ‘show.’
This is how we get actors, sports figures, porn stars, and entertainers of every kind in the political arena. Do all of them do a bad job? Of course not. Some make the career transition well, but they tend to be the ones who start at the bottom and work their way up – the way one succeeds in any job. They become politicians. It’s the calls for Oprah Winfrey or Dwayne Johnson to run for President, solely because they’re charming and fire the imagination, that are problematic.
Image – whether it be of the no-nonsense businessman who speaks his mind and gets shit done, or of the wholesome guy next door – is a dangerous criteria to rely on when electing our leaders. Because once the votes are counted, the winners have to run the country.
Politics is not entertainment. And no world leader should have to market themselves like this.