3/04/2012

Democratically sanctioned flip-flopping



Like it or nor, anything you say or wear makes a political statement. Ever-since the fig leaf, one’s attire could be regarded as proper, elegant, avant-garde or sloppy, dependent on whatever occasion. These days you do not have to be a politician or an artist to make political statements. Just being on Facebook or tweeting your random thoughts is enough to become a subject of public notoriety.
            For some of us, it's our face that creates a commentary. In a sense, as the Polish writer, Witold Gombrowicz, mused, that you cannot escape from the face you already have.
            A few years ago, I recall, as I walked into our corporate office one humid August day, the security guard offered a comment, "On holiday, are we?" I happened not to be wearing a tie. These days, wearing a tie to work is an option. So, you were somebody, and it was expected you behaved in agreed way. If you didn't, someone felt obliged to offer a corrective reminder.
            In mid-February, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, one of Maryland’s Republican politicians running for another term propped-up his election notoriety by allowing his office release information that appeared to support a legislation for a tax break for those who are sporting mustaches. If your political platform does not offer quality of public service, you opt for raising your profile in a PR fashion.
            Recognizable by his ever-present mustache, Bartlett – through his office - declared a denial: I didn’t do it. But his press secretary affirmed that the congressman is “Pro-Stache.” She looked at a legislation proposal sent by The American Mustache Institute, thought of it as a joke, yet for fun and without further endorsement from her boss she passed it up the congressional food chain.
            There must have been something to it, right? Far from a political endorsement, I tweeted that I am in support of a tax break for my mustache! My reasoning: tax breaks are good for at least 1% of the wealthy citizens!
            These days, there seems to be a common agreement that some politicians seem exempt from telling the truth, and prefer flip-flopping on their positions as their modus operandi. It is said that flip-flopping dates back to mid-1600s. A contemporary version of a flip-flop moment can now be measured in romneys, a designation offered by Jon Stewart of the Daily Show last week. According to him, a romney is a time-measure unit (3.5 hours) needed by a presidential aspirant Mitt Romney to change his view or position on a given topic.
            If politicians change their minds they seem to be exempt from being called liars. These days one can change a public stance on a moment's notice, based on one’s ability to have honesty or memory lapses. So, we – the public - forgive and forget. We accept the confusion as par for the course.
            Observing the presidential race of 2012 in the United States, we feel being fed with a reality of confusion and dis-functionality in which authenticity is at a premium. The candidates often serve us with their declared beliefs as being authentic and destined to receive democratic sanctioning.
            Traversing between my ancestral Polish pedigree and my current US reality, I note a common discomfort with the way political discourse in Poland is conducted. Many a citizen feels being pushed into making choices between two or more ugly realities. Whether here or there, we resolve to support the lesser option of what we would wish to have.
            My communication experience invites me to appreciate those who know how to make us believe in ... make-believe. Some of them are masters in making us “imagine as in play,” as by one definition.
            Take Janusz Palikot, a wunderkind of the Polish political milieu, a master of political PR. In a recent interview in Polityka weekly (Feb 29, 2012), he commented that no matter what he does, he lands with some kind of a face. "In a reality of politics, one cannot be authentic. One cannot be oneself to the fullest. I am at peace with it," he frankly stated.
            For Palikot, a leader of a movement that stunned the national scene with a huge parliamentary outcome for a movement named after his name, wearing a yellow jacket is just fine, and colors he uses have a theatrical dimension. So, he cuts his hair and puts on glasses, symbolically expressing a political change he noted in a political adversary, Jaroslaw Kaczynski after he lost his brother-president, Lech, in an air crush. 
            Mr. Kaczynski’s chameleon-like behavior issued a license to others to do likewise. Palikot said he "needed to disguise” himself in order to save his political chances and not become a sacrificial goat in someone else’s political play.
            We don’t have to imagine living among chameleons. We all play make-believe games with greater or smaller roles in them. Some of us excel in a Venetian carnival of masks. Wearing colorful, artsy masks, we hide behind a make-believe dance of pretense. Yet, when a failure comes along, it takes time to admit that it was so.
            Yet, we love the attention we get.
            My own romney-moment gets it’s hearing in a reality of my own, personal authenticity. It is far deeper than being seen in wearing Levis’ to a church service, or to opera, but in realizing that the cash I spend is play money.
            Jesus did not restrain himself in calling his hypocritical adversaries, who were the masters of moral make-believe of his time, by their own name: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside.” [Read: Matthew 23: 27 NIV].
            So, I pause. Will 3.5 hours be enough to recognize a need to change my mind about what I just wrote?
Pretense alive and kicking: Festival parade dancer wearing a Pinocchio-like mask in Cuzco, Peru.

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