Reagan: The ‘Performing’ Politician

Long after all that manufactured hype around the demise of former US President Ronald ‘Gipper’ Reagan fades out, here is what I think he will finally be remembered for: as the most powerful B-grade movie actor ever in human history.


And of course, which other screen hero ever got so much opportunity in real life to deliver so many clichd lines and delivered every one of them? I have no doubt at all that some of the finest acting in Ronald Reagan’s career came while occupying the White House with theatricals far surpassing any show he put on as the leading man of some low-budget Hollywood flick. ("Mr. Gorbachev, bring down the Berlin Wall" indeed!!!)


When Ronald Reagan entered politics it was still considered the art of the possible. By the time he exited it had well and truly become the art of the POSEable. In fact, if you want to talk about the entire global epidemic of actors, sportsmen, television personalities and other sundry entertainers turning politicians Reagan as US President was certainly a ‘super-spreader’ (to borrow an interesting phrase coined at the height of the SARS pandemic in Asia last year).


The only problem though is that the only qualifications required to become a successful politician these days has all to do with the ability to act and nothing else. The semi-permanent Close-Up smile, a moist eye for a moist occasion, pretended outrage at portended events, the kissing of babies that cannot even vote and the avoidance of truth like the Al Qaeda coming home for dinner- this is what it takes to be a ‘good’ political ‘leader’ in our democracies.


And of course, all this is not something peculiar to the United States either. In India where I come from, leave alone movie stars even completely mythological characters are capable of winning or at least heavily influencing elections.


And the recently concluded elections in India saw a record number of celebrities from Bollywood and at least one cricket sports star enter Indian electoral politics, adding glitter to the usual litter. A significant number of them in fact won seats in parliament too. One of them, known for his signature movie dialogue ‘if you were brought up on your mother’s milk, come out and fight with me’ is expected to do particularly well as a politician. (This statement about ‘mother’s milk’ by the way is not meant to hurt the interests of Nestle’s baby milk powder business)


And as if movie stars in politics were not enough, the race for the post of Bangkok governor underway right now includes a guy who is better known as the king of the city’s numerous and very shady massage parlors! Massaging the electorate before the elections and then the truth once elected to power, I suppose! So, what is this all about-I mean what explains the Reagan phenomenon as well as the worldwide trend of entertainers turning politicians?


Again, just as in our economic life where we often buy goods not because of their inherent quality but because of the ‘sexiness’ of their image, in our political systems too public showmanship has become way more important than private reality. Any candidate able to project a ‘better’ image is automatically considered the ‘better’ choice too. Those who can spend big money on getting advertising and public relations outfits to polish their image win over those who cannot.


Amusing ourselves to death: Another reason why entertainers have become so high profile in politics is probably due to the very low expectations that most alienated citizens have from their politicians these days. The motto it seems is, don’t do a song and dance about crooked politicians – instead get a politician who can do some song and dance for you.


Camouflaging corporate elites: Just as in the movie industry where every actor has a ‘director’ who tells him/her what to do so also in the case of actors-turned-politicians who often are puppets in the hands of various lobbies. While entertainer-politicians (like most politicians in general) may pose and propose all they want the harsh fact in our era of financial and consumerist capitalism is that it is the CEOs of the corporate world that dispose (ACTION $ CUT $ RETAKE $).


Having said all this I now have a premonition about where the future of this trend of entertainers- turned-politicians is headed. I don’t know if many noticed but while sections of the global media were doing all that hooplah about Reagan’s demise there was another event of immense planetary significance that got buried amidst their elegies. And I am not talking about the planet Venus crossing the Sun (who cares about those Stars!)


Surely, given his contributions to making America a superpower (entertaining potential foreign dictators in their childhood for eg.,), as a natural born quackery expert and with his ability to duck when in trouble Donald would make a good presidential candidate someday. Just in case I am accused of partisanship let me add that Mickey Mouse would make a good candidate also, and to counter any allegations of a gender bias- let me propose Daffy and Minnie too.


Consider the advantages of having a cartoon as President or Prime Minister. For example, I don’t know of a single cartoon character anywhere who has been accused of authorizing war crimes, genocide or even simple torture. Cartoons don’t have friends in the arms or oil industry to promote and are not known to send off underage youth to die in distant wars.


Of course, all these arguments about turning cartoons into political candidates are valid only if we never ever make the mistake of giving children the right to vote. After all, they might elect someone sensible and screw-up SHOWTIME.



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