Performative Roles


Is the contemporary politician’s skills as a leader best evaluated by his or her ability to maintain order while under media scrutiny? Certainly if a politician cannot avoid a media scandal at the outset his or her ability to face down global conflict must come into question. The contemporary politician must undergo a test of media awareness before actually dealing with the issues of a country. In some sense a politician running for election functions initially to create a media persona. Once established this persona must be maintained and adapted to meet the situations that arise post-creation. New news stores, gossip and global factors require that the initial image be adjusted to respond to new data. Media savvy figures keenly understand one’s presentation of personal evolution as the essential behavior while under media scrutiny.

The contemporary American politician is a testament to this role and success in the early stages of an election is now best evaluated on one’s ability to maintain dynamism while under scrutiny. No longer is a politician’s beliefs on a subject the essential factor in earning public trust. The 1960 documentary Primary provides an excellent preview of the the ways the media would alter the ways in which a politician related to the general public. As the film makes clear in scene after scene, the media savvy politician utilized the media in order to create a demeanor, establish message and maintain a personal connection with the public. Kennedy is seen as a master of the new medium while his his competitor, Hubert Humphrey, stays true to older forms of person-to-person connections and appears cold before the cameras.

In comparing the 1960 media presented in the film and the 2011 media presented daily, it becomes evident that a major power shift has occurred. No longer does the politician utilize the media; instead, it is the media that utilizes the politician to establish its message, characterization and rhetorical perspective. The media is in charge now and as curators of knowledge it functions as gateway to public connection and consideration. The media long ago abandoned the innocuous role of media provider. The contemporary media is now master curator and media savvy politicians are the only politicians who attain power. One cannot control the media; instead the successful politician is the individual whose awareness of its power avoids major embarrassment and provides it with the sound bits and ideas that it demands. The media is the power source today.

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