The politics of Celebrity Style utilizes public popularity, lack of political interest, and media appeal to attract new voters and to gain influence in the political arena.
As a child I spent many Sunday mornings watching WWF wrestling with my brother. Back then I would never have imagined that Jesse “The Body” Ventura would eventually become the governor of Minnesota! He was a public entertainer without a post-high school education, and little if no knowledge of politics. How he won the Minnesota Governor election may be a mystery to some. However, Gov. Jesse Ventura has a distinct, effective political style that is appealing to much of the public.
Basically, the celebrity style has little to do with politics. Jesse Ventura doesn’t have many prominent political figures endorsing him. He hasn’t had any previous family members involved in government. He has little interest in politics themselves. However, although he lacks political interest, he does have political knowledge and positions on important issues. Nonetheless, Jesse would not have been elected governor if he weren’t an appealing celebrity. His celebrity style has many characteristics.
Lack of political interest. Since most common citizens think politics is dirty and remote, a politician with a lack of political interest is appealing to the public. It seems as though he is one of us, in the sense that he doesn’t really care what the politicians are doing in Washington. He doesn’t want to be involved in the “dirty politics,” either. Therefore, the public is not afraid that he’ll pull a fast one on them, or be dishonest about issues. The public trusts him because he is politically equivalent with them. His stance on political issues and solutions to political controversy seems to be simple and practical. Ventura alludes to this approach in a Playboy interview, “I have only a high school education, but I’m street smart, which can be more effective than college degrees. I operate under a rule that I learned during seals training: Keep it simple and stupid. That’s common sense.” To the public, yes, that does seem like common sense, and that is one of the reasons they like him. The public actually recognizes his vocabulary when he speaks about issues such as state budget surpluses, or infrastructure. In fact, Ventura’s speeches are said to be long on personal stories and memories and short on policy details. That rhetorical approach is very effective with people, especially people of Minnesota. Who wants to hear boring details about policies that we don’t even understand? In general, the public can relate to him.
Celebrity Appeal. It is hard to deny that Jesse Ventura is interesting. The mere fact that he was a professional wrestler probably won him a few votes. How often does a governor consider an interview with Playboy, more or less actually partake in the questioning? This was not a political “mistake.” The interview was one of many interesting circumstances under which Ventura has maintained public support and admiration. He focuses on a younger generation. I’ll bet more young men read his article in Playboy than would have thought about picking up a Newsweek! In fact, Ventura tackled his win by motivating traditional nonvoters to vote. Almost 16% of the electorate registered on Election Day and Ventura got the lion share of those new voters. Furthermore, 12% of voters said they would not have voted if Jesse had not been on the ballot. He did particularly well with younger voters, carrying almost half of the vote of those under 30 (ABCNEWS.com, 2). These younger voters take a more “live and let live” approach, very similar to Jesse’s.
Successful governing. The day after his election, Jesse knew very little about state government. But he has worked very hard spending long hours studying the details of what state government does, and he has appointed a number of able advisors. His governorship does not look as if it will be the disaster some thought it would be. He has knowledgably proposed legislation on many legitimate policies and has practical stances on a number of political issues. For example, he thinks the decision of whether or not to have an abortion does not belong in politics. He states, “It belongs with the woman, her family, her physician and possibly her clergy.” He also thinks Consumption Taxes should replace existing Income Taxes, saying, “The income tax penalizes people for working and for saving their money in interest earning accounts. With a consumption tax, everyone would only be taxed on what he or she chooses to purchase.” What is appealing to the public concerning his policy issues is that we could come up with these solutions, too. They do seem like common sense, regardless of their political implications. Mostly, people are relieved to see that Ventura’s election was not a “joke” and that he is an effective governor.
Media appeal. Jesse Ventura is comfortable appearing in the media, and he is appealing as a media figure. He has made a career as a celebrity, and he uses those tools to strengthen his position as governor. He is familiar with the media’s tricks and uses them to his advantage. His relationship with the media is a common one; he gives them interesting, popular stories and quotes, and they in return give him the coverage he needs to maintain popularity and support. The main advantage is that the media likes him. They want him to succeed. It is a good story, “pro-wrestler gone governor.”
Non-career politician. Jesse Ventura is probably not a “lifer” in the political world. However, clearly candidates with Jesse’s style will find a popular reception wherever they run. Jesse doesn’t know a lot about government, but he’s honest. Many would say our president, in contrast, knows a lot about government, but is less than honest. Jesse is an effective, political, anti-Clinton. He hasn’t gotten settled in his office. His wife has not founded any sort of cause. He hasn’t had any previous family members involved in government. He probably won’t be in office for long. Many people like that idea. People don’t like to be bored with the same old politicians day in and day out, projecting the same ideas. Ventura sparked an interest in politics, and created an unusual relationship with the public. He will be remembered for that.
What you see is what you get. “I can only be me, and I’m not going to change who I am.” This was Jesse Ventura’s defense to negative reactions concerning his comments regarding religion in an interview shortly after becoming governor. He made no apologies. He stands firm in his views, no matter how outlandish they may be. He asked, “You’re telling me when we get elected, all of a sudden we have to be Mr. Stone Man and change who we are?” This is very plausible in the eyes of the public. The public doesn’t want politicians to say one thing, and do another. They are happy to recognize that Jesse isn’t going to change to make other politicians approving of his actions.
In conclusion, Jesse Ventura has made this celebrity style successful for himself. Although rare, this can be an effective political style. Uniquely, this style inspires youth to get involved in politics, something not done enough. Hopefully, with the emergence of new political styles many people, young and old, will become more informed and interested in politics!
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