Political image and
While watching and listening to our political leaders we witness dramatic performances. When we watch parliamentary debates or a television interview, or when we listen to the latest policy announcements, we also watch the style of dress, the deportment of our political leaders, and we listen to their manner of speech. We recognise the finger-wagging sternness of an Opposition leader, the nervous hesitations of a government minister, the confident smile of a Prime Minister. This is to be expected: human communication is embodied and performative. Whenever someone talks to us we not only decode the content of the speech—we attribute meaning to how they speak, their appearance, their gestures. The importance of political image in contemporary political communication is, nonetheless, an occasion for much consternation. Concern is expressed that political style is now almost as important as political substance and that political success is dependent more on media management than policy acumen.
Political leaders and public figures, always conscious of their performative powers, have always cultivated ‘images’ for political consumption. The importance of political image has, however, burgeoned in the age of television. The particular communicative contexts of television, with its audiovisual ‘presence’ of represented subjects, has leant personal features a significance they did not previously hold. (Abraham Lincoln, who had a speech impediment, might have found it difficult to assume public office today.) The greater importance of image and style in contemporary politics is partly due to changes in