The history of image politics.

It must be your age that determines when history began. Reading an op-ed in the paper last week, there was a public relations guy who thought that image politics only went back to the time of American President Ronald Regan. He must have missed the lecture on the image of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Teddy, as he was known, was a hero of the Spanish-American War. He was the first ‘progressive’ to ever achieve the presidency of the United States. His ‘Bull Moose’ Party almost established third-party politics in America. He was the first president to stand up to big business. And where did you think his distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt got the idea for the ‘New Deal.’

And speaking of FDR, his use of the medium radio for his regular fireside chats created a lasting image of a caring and concerned national leader. It was a surprisingly few American voters who knew he was mostly confined to a wheelchair while serving them in the White House.

The image of John F. Kennedy through the medium of television was all it took to beat a stiff-necked Richard Nixon as early as 1960.

And what was the 1968 election federal election in Canada with its Trudeaumania? Pierre Trudeau was elected for his image, not for what he was saying. He almost lost the subsequent election in 1972 because he believed his own image.

Image control is a tightly woven tapestry with which people can be shielded from the confusion caused by exposure. Designing an image is as simple as drawing a line down the middle of a blank page. On one side, you headline ‘Do’s and on the other side, you headline ‘Don’ts.’ We will bet that public relation’s pioneer Ivy Lee drew up something like that for John D. Rockefeller in the early 1900s.

If any of his communications people had tried that with Pierre Trudeau, he would have perversely tried all the ‘Don’ts.’

We also had Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media available to us at that time and we have mistrusted the media ever since.

And what the late Professor McLuhan would make of the Internet-based social media of today would just be conjecture.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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