Last week, I was surprised that when Emmanuel Macron chose Edouard Philippe as Prime Minister, one of the talking points in the media was his co-authorship of the book, “Dans l’ombre“. The controversial passages revolved around women, including referring to one as a trophy and the main character saying that one of them acts like a man for leaving him after a one night stand. Some considered the passages misogynist, which implies that you cannot separate the dancer form the dance.
It reminded me of an old email chain I received, which asked if you would hypothetically rather vote for an alcoholic (alleged) womanizer or a vegetarian that loves children. The following slide revealed the first was Winston Churchill and the second Adolph Hitler. Of course the fact that one was a democracy’s prime minister while the other was a psychopath with a “final solution” for an entire people was omitted. With all his accomplishments, Churchill was also a man of his colonial time and enforced with violence the will of the British crown. With perspective, we can start to assess the actions of men more than seven decades ago.
But in today’s hyper accelerated media cycle the cherry picking of information is widespread. Not quite fake news but stoking the fire, inspiring outrage, clickbaiting. It is after all how human beings function at their core: we are emotional creatures. What causes outrage will vary from country to country. Anglo-saxon countries tend to put a emphasis on a person’s private character to judge their public figure. Cheating on a spouse is very much frowned upon, whereas in France people hardly raised an eyebrow when the affair between Francois Hollande and Julie Gayet came to light.
In the kingdom of real time news politics has turned very messy. Perhaps more transparent, but also more short sighted than ever. For a taste of what a government led by the media cycle looks like, do check out the outstanding British comedy The Thick of It (think Yes Minister 30 years down the road). The ministers dance to the tune of the media, under the watch of the government’s spin master, unable to accomplish anything significant.
The Macron era seems to have kick-started a whole new spin culture in France. He ran his campaign on emotions (and was criticised for the lack of content), skillfully orchestrated the media in his favour and has been trying to redefine the relation of the government with the media. I am somewhat weary of this new direction that politics is taking. Now more than ever civil society and the media needs to hold political figures accountable for their actions rather than speculate on their characters.