THE NEW DA: POLITICAL MASTERS OF MEDIA SPECTACLES

2015-05-10 17:51

The recent DA spectacle – the kind of orchestrated event normally the hallmark of the ANC’s and EFF’s scheming – represents a turning point in SA politics. It represents the death knell of the party intellectual and the triumph of the political marketer, the fall of the party advisor and the rise of the party public relations guru, the demise of the citizen and the birth of the political consumer.

Never again will there be a Van Zyl Slabbert or Sisulu. Never again will there be a De Klerk or Mandela. The political "cult of personality" machinery will be spewing out more Zilles, Zumas and Malemas. These political celebrities will be crafted in the public relations assembly line, packaged, promoted, put on display and sold like the standard, transient, throwaway products of the entertainment industry. And while these celebrities may be deficient in intellect, they will definitely be qualified masters at blurring the differences between entertainment, news and politics. A much lauded skill in the Age of the Media – a skill cherished by the largely illiterate and addicted consumers of media manipulation.

The public relations guru and advertising expert’s ‘modern’ Machiavellian techniques of elaborate billboard campaigns, posters, ‘educational films’, booklets, pamphlets, party conferences, internal referendums, lobbying events, costumes, song and dance sketches, television, talk radio, Internet sites, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, all kinds of celebrity endorsements, hosts of public relations staff and journalists, and let us not forget posh catering and so on, must cost a fortune. But it does not end there. Superficial philosophy lessons on the virtue of greed, ruthlessness and ambition; Crude coaching lessons on the art of deception and manipulation, on the virtue of sucking up and networking; Dance, body language, rhetoric etc. This elaborate machinery manufactures not just the political party’s brand and the political leader’s brand but it also constructs the political consumer brand and the passive, individual, political consumer.

The recent alleged DA sex scandal and lavish celebrations (in the midst of a majority of people in poverty and misery) places them on the ‘right’ path. If the DA is to compete with Zuma’s ANC and Malema’s EFF, they will also need devious and vulgar celebrity personalities, cheap gossip, trashy tabloid and soap stories, incoherent campaign rhetoric, nasty trading in insults, and the hosting of many more vacuous and glitzy entertainment spectacles. They will need to forgo humane values such as generosity, compassion, selflessness, truth and justice. They will need to play the game of concealment, hide the negative, provide refuge in fleeting escapes from reality, and add to our super affluence in entertainment.

Like in the US and UK, this is exactly the kind of ‘amusing’ rubbish that will push the buttons of the majority of citizens – like defective, unthinking, image-fueled robots – to vote. This is democracy in the Age of Hyper Distractions.

Can the alienated, bored, excitement-seeking, distracted political consumer take personal responsibility for their media literacy and contribute towards the creation of a truly vibrant and participative democracy?

This is very unlikely. Political consumers have been systematically brainwashed into thinking that they have the most sacred and satisfying right of all – the right to consume images.

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