Questioning pop politics

Is pop politics really the answer to the decades-long, male-dominated ruling, or is it simply a quick fix, a Band-Aid on a bullet wound?

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Sanna Marin -Photo: Facebook page
By Parveen Kaur Harnam | OPINION |

Finland’s transport minister has been selected to lead the Social Democratic Party, therefore making Sanna Marin the world’s youngest prime minister. This has been taken to mean a “new dawn” of politics is upon us.

It seems that politics has turned into something of a game of youth. This is perhaps due, in part, to the rise of socially-driven politics, a stripped-down, bare-essentials form of politics and (very likely) social media.

If one were to study recently elected, young prime ministers, ministers and political representatives in general – they all seem to have similarities in that they are proponents of what appears to be “pop politics”.

With politicians now having their own brand and pull, there’s no wonder that young politicians become the go-to, as their internet literacy is far more “in trend” than older, more seasoned politicians.

They all also have something else in common – all of them are pleasing to the eye, speak with gusto and have an almost “celebrity-like” persona, a political front that seems to have been popularized by Barrack Obama. They are like the Kardashians of politics.

The very fact that Sanna Martin was formerly the Transport and Communication Minister is very telling. She was the face of communication and is now going to be the face of Finland.

There are others like her in different countries. For instance, there is Alexandria–Ocasia Cortez (otherwise known as AOC) in the US, Justin Trudeau in Canada (who has recently been re-elected despite his black-face and brown face pictures, his third world handling of a corruption inquiry, refusing to cancel the major arms deal to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia as well as his questionable policies on the environment).

Then there is Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand (who recently appeared in a viral video of “accomplishments” during her reign so far) and Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister.

It would not be a gross exaggeration to say that these politicians won because they are exactly what the public wants to see. The rise of the feminist (e.g. the “Me Too”) movement has made institutions – particularly political institutions – a subject of great scrutiny and so we see Finland’s Social Democratic Party playing the best, easiest form of politics – the politics of trendiness, of “the moment”, of emotions.

Let’s study this for a moment. AOC, for instance, has popularized socialism. Once known as an almost fringe movement, associated with history and Russia, is now on the forefront – even in Britain (with the Labour Party gaining traction after years of Conservative party’s dominance).

Millennial socialism is on the rise. It’s not to say that this is a bad thing. Socialism is an economic and social system that is important and was bound to be on the rise with the gap between the top 1% and the rest of the social sector widening. The issue is the simplified form in which it is being promulgated.

Not all socialism is positive. Look at the rise of Joseph Stalin, for instance.

Socialism itself has tranches and complexities. George Orwell, for example, was an advocate for the Trotskyist (a theory advocated by Leon Trotsky that grew and developed as a result of Stalinism and is one that was critical of the bureaucracy that developed from Stalin’s rule).

All these different forms of socialism was, or rather, diluted to a simple manifesto with a pretty face (AOC is not a stranger to controversy: she lives in a luxury apartment complex that does not offer affordable housing units, making her whole brand rather ironic).

The question is: if feminism really was the concern, why was Donald Trump chosen over Hillary Clinton? It sometimes appears as though “pop politics” is selective in its progressiveness. Perhaps we are simply moving from sexism to ageism.

In fact, all pop politics is like this. Jacinda Ardern’s 3-minute video is one great example, it reduces a whole country’s progress and policies into a soundbite, something that can be shared by millions around the web – to make New Zealand an awe-inspiring nation. This is forgetting that the Christchurch mosque shooting marked a dark chapter in New Zealand’s previously “peaceful” image, the high cost of rent and even the increase in petrol prices. Everyday issues cannot be cramped into one easy-to-watch 5-minute publicity stunt.

Justin Trudeau on the other hand could very well get away with murder, with his honey-sweet smile and charisma (a charisma that almost always cracks at the seams when questioned about his contradictory actions on the climate crisis). We have our very own Syed Saddiq, who is famed for his close-up, short videos on Twitter (simultaneously appealing to the masses and giving a stand on many different issues).

When we really look into it, pop politics is merely a farce of diversity – on the outside it looks diverse – young faces, women coming into power, but notice one thing, and this is quite apparent: there are little to no truly diverse faces. When Jagmeet Singh went against Justin Trudeau, he had support, though was not a stranger to racial discrimination. The beard and the turban, his calm responses to casual racism – all of it was simply too much for the Canadian public, and this is a country that prides itself in its so-called “diversity”. And so is the truth of pop politics. Youth. Feminism. Never multicultural, one need only look at Jagmeet Singh or the Mayor of London: Sadiq Khan; to see the reality. Diversity is selective, pop politics is selective, a mirage of progressiveness.

Pop politics though cannot be said to be something new. In the old days, there were leaders like John F. Kennedy who had the support of the public with a near-celebrity fever. It has, however, become a more dangerous game in recent times.

The rise of young leaders seems to be a direct by-product of the long-held patriarchal, “old-men” system that is in place in most Western and even Asian political institutions. It may just be an effect of growth but politics is not entertainment (no matter how much the lines have been blurred), it affects our livelihood, it affects everything from the brush we comb our hair with in the morning to the fuel we fill up our cars with.

There is no part in a person’s life that is unaffected by politics. Are we so sure that a young, 30-something newbie can understand the complexity that comes with running a country – or even a ministry for that matter?

Are we so sure that just a fresh face is all that is required? How far can trendiness really take us is the real question. Is pop politics really the answer to the decades-long, male-dominated ruling, or is it simply a quick fix, a Band-Aid on a bullet wound? A Band-Aid that might ultimately spell inefficacy in political leadership.

Parveen Kaur Harnam is a Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer. 

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

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