About this blog
A blog dedicated to the examination of communications in election campaigns, with a focus on posters
Friday, April 2, 2010
How important are good looks and smiles on political posters, billboards, direct-mail pieces, Web sites, and television to political consultants and designers?
Well, it depends. Does a candidate or party want to convey seriousness, which the times demand, or a confident, friendly image to which voters can better relate? And how much airbrushing and other image manipulation should be done, before the candidate is ridiculed (as British Conservative Party leader David Cameron has been, especially on the mydavidcameron.com Web site)?
Some commentators, such as Michael Deacon, think that Cameron (especially after his portrait was airbrushed for a billboard recently) just doesn't look like a "statesmen," and that the result is a lack of support of his party in the polls.
British Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Gordon Brown was never shown smiling a decade ago, but now is shown with a very pleasant smile on his party's Web site, and with an idiotic grin on opposition Conservative posters. Since times are hard now, perhaps Labour should can the smiles though.
Cameron, of course, was not the first politician whose image was "improved" by designers. Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, was transformed from "homely" to "attractive," according to Ernest Marshall, who wrote in 1929 that although “Baldwin has been described as the homeliest man in a conspicuous position in British politics, … [his] facial lineaments are now displayed on posters all over the country as an attractive appeal to the voters, … [with his] features … rounded out almost to John Bullish fullness” (Ernest Marshall, “The News of Europe in Week-End Cables,” New York Times, May 5, 1929, http://proquest.com).
Baldwin was not the first “homely” candidate to be idealized in campaign portraits, since this process had transformed, earlier, plain-looking or unattractive politicians, most notably Abraham Lincoln in the United States.
And after the memorable first debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy during the 1960 U.S. election campaign, the importance of “image” was mentioned right away in newspaper articles. For example, two days after the event, a piece in the New York Times stated that viewers had made “frequent mention of how drawn and weary the Vice President had looked” and how his “grimness was shocking,” but many thought that Senator Kennedy had projected a “mature image” (New York Times, “Both Candidates Retain Backers,” September 28, 1960, http://proquest.com).
Until the 1952 election, candidates never really smiled in U.S. political propaganda; they were expected to present themselves as “serious.” Smiling also has varied by party: in Japan, only 36% of candidates of the Clean Government Party smiled in campaign posters studied in 2000 and 2001, in contrast to the 80% of Communist candidates who did [See Jonathan Lewis and Brian J. Masshardt, “Election Posters in Japan,” Japan Forum 14 (2002)].
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