[OUTLOOK]Makeup, bows, botox and imageThe introduction of television to election campaigns has made some strange changes in our candidates. I once had the chance to sit next to the two presidential candidates when they spoke, on separate occasions, at the Kwanhun Club, an organization of Korea's journalists.
The two candidates, both men, sported layers of white makeup powder during their televised presentations and questioning by the journalists.
One of the candidates, reports have it, had even had botox injections to get rid of the wrinkles on his forehead. An average Korean male of the candidate's age would probably shun things like botox unless it were for a special occasion ?his wedding day, perhaps. But more and more importance is being given to a candidate's outward appearance and actions in recent elections because of television.
Lee Hoi-chang, who was accused by his opponent of being "aristocratic and imperialistic," got down on his knees at a Grand National Party rally to give a humble traditional bow to the audience. For a candidate who is generally known to be economical in his movements, this was a surprising gesture.
Mr. Lee also has visited markets recently to sit down on the ground for a humble round of soju with the ajuma, the women vendors, and visited street cleaners to talk to them. Of course, it is possible that Mr. Lee really likes soju and talking to street cleaners in particular. But what is for sure is that no one is calling him "aristocratic and imperialistic."
Election campaigns are like commercial advertisements. The ads have to be good, but the products have to be good enough to sell in the end. The image of a candidate matters, but what is more important is his or her "contents."
These contents include individual character and the specific agenda he or she promises to pursue as president. It is dangerously easy for voters to prefer the easy way out, to choose to be told what is good for them instead of thinking for themselves; to be emotional rather than rational. In order to find out the true worth of the candidates, one must make individual efforts.
To consider such a process tiresome and to stop at listening to a few slogans and the intentionally presented image of the candidates would be to buy a president on impulse, which would lead to regrets in the end. We are already seeing signs of such reckless voter behavior in our elections.
Recently, Mr. Lee's family was reported to be living in a luxury home, and his popularity fell sharply. The candidate was too "aristocratic" for the public's taste. But what did he do wrong? As long as the house was not wrongfully acquired, it is the candidate's undeniable right to live there if he chooses to.
However, as soon as the accusations of being "aristocratic" came flying in, Mr. Lee made unconditional public apologies and moved to a smaller and humbler house. His move did not change the size of his bank account nor his character. He merely changed homes for the time being for the sake of his image. That did nothing to solve the essence of the "aristocratic" problem.
Details emerged about the life of the father-in-law of Roh Moo-hyun. Had it been the father-in-law of an ordinary person, it would not have mattered at all. The tragic past of Mr. Roh's wife's family could also arouse personal sympathy.
But in our reality of two Koreas still divided, we must logically think about what kind of problems could arise should this candidate become the president and the head of the army, and what effects this could have on inter-Korean relations.
There seems to be a taboo about speaking publicly of this matter, and anyone who questions the candidate's past is accused of outdated Cold War thinking. The candidate's image as a unification-driven candidate seems to make the public blind to all other problems.
A true image is not gained through plastic surgery or by pretending to be a "commoner." The American people remember the not-so-handsome face of President Abraham Lincoln as that of a saint. Another U. S. president, John F. Kennedy, is also remembered as a courageous president in the hearts of Americans. This is not because he was young and presented a dashing image, but because he worked for the civil rights of black Americans.
Actions like getting rid of wrinkles or bowing before the public do not change a candidate. A true concern for the poor and a policy that gives them hope will make wrinkles a sign of honor rather than age, while getting down on one's knees every morning in humble prayer by oneself instead of in front of a crowd will make the "aristocratic image" go away by itself.
The writer is a director of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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