Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s terrific that more than 40 world leaders linked arms and joined a march of solidarity in Paris following the death of 17 people during the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, police officers, and a kosher supermarket.
At the head of the parade were French leader Francois Hollande led the British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, , Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, EU President Donald Tusk, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Hollande had actually originally asked not to attend, feeling that Netanyahu’s presence might be ‘divisive.’
After a minute’s silence, the march began. One and a half million people walked behind the dignitaries, who did not stay for the entire length of the march from Place de la République to the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris, about 2km or 1.2 miles.
Joining the leaders’ own security staffs were about 2,000 police officers and 1,350 soldiers, including elite marksmen on rooftops.
A wide angle shot, taken from a nearby rooftop, showed that the front line of leaders was followed by just over a dozen rows of other dignitaries and officials. Following them was a large security presence keeping the leaders separated from the throngs of other marchers.
World leaders want to look as though they are down to earth, and just one of the people, but in actual fact, they are kept fairly isolated from their citizens. They spend a lot of taxpayer money on keeping taxpayers out of their way through security forces. Even the most innocuous photo op involves days of preparation. The kiss that politician just gave that baby was not spontaneous. Leaders must be kept from both intentional and unintentional attack and surprises.
In March 2014, the National Post noted that the cost of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s RCMP personal security team has more than doubled since 2005, when the annual budget for the PM’s protection detail was $8.8 million, to the 2013-14 cost of $19.6 million, an increase of 122% between 2006 and 2014. It costs a lot of money to be that unpopular.
Security aside, heads of countries spend a lot of money and time on image. Specialists in public relations matters, aka “spin doctors,’ work closely with anyone who needs to present themselves, and politicians are no different. They are groomed in how to speak, behave, and maintain a positive public image.
Probably one of the first cases in which style over content ruled was the Nixon/Kennedy television debates of 1960. U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, and Vice-President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, were filmed at CBS’s WBBM-TV studio in Chicago.
“Nixon, pale and underweight from a recent hospitalization, appeared sickly and sweaty, while Kennedy appeared calm and confident. As the story goes, those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won. But those listeners were in the minority. By 1960, 88% of American households had televisions — up from just 11% the decade before. The number of viewers who tuned in to the debate has been estimated as high as 74 million, by the Nielsen of the day, Broadcast Magazine. Those that watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy was the clear winner. Many say Kennedy won the election that night. Sorensen says the Kennedy team didn’t realize what a game changer the debate was until the following day at a campaign event in Ohio. “The crowds for his motorcade were much larger than they’d ever been,” he says. “That’s when we knew that, if nothing else, Kennedy had firmed up support for himself in the Democratic party.” (Time Magazine)
Technology has made it harder for aspiring and incumbent political aspirants to present an always positive image. With social media, a politician’s message can be blasted over Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, creating a more human image. But it can also be used against them, as they are shown to make just as many embarrassing mistakes as any other human.
I’m sure that Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama would like to forget their selfies at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Anthony Weiner had to resign his position as a member of the United States House of Representatives after getting caught sexting in 2011, and didn’t he do it all again during his attempted run for the Mayoralty of New York City in 2013!
So it’s not too surprising that the world leaders staged a photo-op. What is surprising is that so many people were shocked to discover, less than 24 hours later, that they’d been once again set up to see what politicians wanted them to see.
Perhaps it’s an object lesson that people of all countries should consider; the Wizard of Oz commanded Dorothy to ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain‘, because in reality, he was just be a regular guy hiding behind a machine to create a mighty and powerful display.