Essay: Politicians used to work behind closed doors, now their days are spent moving from one public appearance to the next. A glance at how leadership fashion sense matters more and more, from country to country, from East to West.
BEIJING - Film lovers owe a debt of gratitude to European politics. The Old Continent has provided plenty of real-life characters that have been fodder for great cinema.
In particular, there have been some great British politicians portrayed on the silver screen. After "The Queen" played by Helen Mirren, which won her the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II, we now await the upcoming "The Iron Lady," the biopic on Britain's first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose 11 years in power left its mark on the United Kingdom.
Beyond the script and storyline, costumes are always an important element in shooting historical films. From the trailers, Meryl Streep looks fairly convincing, with meticulously set hair, fitting suits and a voice of authority.
Looking back, however, it must be noted that in Margaret Thatcher's time the public didn't seem to connect politicians too closely with what they wore, so long as it wasn't inappropriate.
Today is a different story. Politicians around the world are no longer simply political figures, but also stars and celebrities. They are required to appear in TV programs and make never-ending public presentations. Inevitably this means that they will wind up transmitting their policies through their appearance.
America is the world's best example of the importance of appearance for a nation's political leadership. In the past 30 years, one Hollywood star, Ronald Regan, was elected President, while an action hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger, became California's governor. During their campaigns, they had an advantage not only in their fame, but also in the clever ways they controled their image on TV. Americans joke that if Lincoln were to stand for office today, he definitely would not be elected -- with his messy beard and unpleasant voice.
But beyond Hollywood, more and more politicians are realizing how much appearance matters, and that every time they appear in public, it is indeed a public relations issue.
For instance, Donald Tsang, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, always wears a bow tie with a suit to hide the fact that he is not very tall.
Leaders in the West prefer to use their attire to try to transmit an image of being close to people and easy-going. Educated by television, most voters have no patience for listening to any party's policy agenda. They often vote simply according to a candidate's external presentation. Even if Americans complain about President Obama today, he originally won their hearts precisely because of his excellent speaking skills and comfortable appearance.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has not changed her outdated suits in the past 15 years. Although some criticize her lack of a woman's fashion sense, it's nevertheless not a bad thing for the Germans who care above all that she is vigorous.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, in a different way, captures the style of a new, energetic Britain, with his Polo shirts and open collars. Now even his rivals are imitating his dress code.
Some people say this kind of show politics based on looks will eventually turn serious political stands into slogans, or even totems. In this case, the original meaning of elections will become irrelevant. Leaders who once were busy getting policy advice will spend more and more time listening to fashion advisors.
Ironically, while politicians in democratic countries tend to be quite similar in their wardrobe choices, leaders in dictatorships generally dress up in a much more freewheeling fashion -- just like their talk. The former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi was justly called a "fashion madman."
Then there is the recently departed North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, who wore his khaki-colored jacket with his curly hair no matter how solemn the occasion. It was said to mean simplicity and modesty – he too trying to appear close to the people.
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Photo-Leader Nancy Pelosi