[NOTEBOOK]Beaming faces get votesHow much truth does a politician’s smile contain? The editors ask the photographers not to be fooled by the pretentious faces of politicians. Many politicians are such good actors that their facial expression often confuse even the keen eyes of the photographers.
Here’s a politician joke. A politician was struck by lightening while playing golf. But the face of the dead politician was a smiling one. When the lightening flashed, he thought it was a camera flash and he quickly reacted with a fake grin.
The father of “photogenic politics” was former president Kim Young-sam. He understood the physiology of photography and exploited it. He might have been red-faced from an intense discussion, but whenever a photographer appeared on the scene, his face would be filled with a sweet grin. He produced an innocent smile like a child, and it had a charm that attracted people. The friendly image played its part in making him president.
The former Grand National Party chairman, Lee Hoi-chang, is on the other side of the spectrum. When he first became a politician, his photographic image was as cold as ice. His presence was filled with authoritarian dignity, a product of his long career as a judge. When a photographer asked him to smile, he not only faced away but also sometimes expressed discomfort. Among photographers, capturing a smile by Mr. Lee was a scoop. At the end of the day, he never overcame the image of being cold.
Former president Kim Dae-jung made his serious face into the image of a democracy fighter. But there was a limit to that serious face that made him a president. After a series of failures in presidential elections, Mr. Kim began to display the comfortable smile of a grandfather. In order to soften that face, he surely had to make an effort.
“Photogenic politics” proved its power in the recent National Assembly elections. The “tears” of Chung Dong-young of Our Open Party and the “smile” of Park Geun-hye of the Grand National Party are the essence of photogenic politics.
The tears Mr. Chung wept when the impeachment bill was passed at the Assembly aroused the sympathy of voters in their 20s and 30s and eventually helped create a public outcry about the impeachment. His disrespectful comment about the elderly had put him in jeopardy, but he showed tears again as he resigned from the post of the chairman of the election committee. The second tears helped the ruling party keep votes from leaving. As he watched the election coverage on television, he cried again.
In contrast, Park Geun-hye became the star of the last election with her “million-dollar smile.” Her smile is bright and innocent. It is different from the fake, mechanical smiles that only come in front of a camera. The photographers say her natural smile makes a great work of art. With that smile, Ms. Park has created an image of a “sister to turn to.” Her feminine delicacy has infused cold-blooded politics with a warm breeze. She leveraged the nostalgia of the Park Chung Hee era and evoked the gentle image of his first lady, Yook Young-soo.
The “Park Geun-hye effect” brought a sudden rise in popularity of her party. Whenever she gave that sweet smile and held out her hands to the crowd, she won tens of thousands of votes from supporters who had been disappointed with the opposition party.
As the published photos contrasted her bright image with the heavy face of Mr. Chung, the media has even been criticized for being biased.
Whether it be tears or smiles, it is important for a politician to create the image he wants to project. It is as natural as dressing up to go out. For politicians living in the age of visuals, a well-staged image can be an important tool to make an impression. Sometimes, the image can exert a great influence.
But in order for “photogenic politics” to work, a politician need sufficient political competency to back up his image. Now that the National Assembly election is over, Koreans are left with many other pending issues, from the impeachment of the president to the sending of troops to Iraq.
Let’s hope for political competency and wisdom from our leaders.
* The writer is the editor of photography of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Ju Ki-jung