Politicians on the Cover-What Happens When Politics Become a Fashion Spectacle

Kamala Harris Vogue US

In today’s material world, politicians are not strange to fashion and lifestyle magazines. Most recently, US Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris has made the February cover of magazine Vogue cementing her status as both an influential figure-and a style icon, despite of the controversy following the move. A daring choice but not a rare one as politicians often chose to grace the cover of fashion and entertainment magazines, grabbing some of the allure connected with the fashion world. Former US President Barack Obama appeared on the cover of InStyle and Vanity Fair while former First Lady Michelle Obama has graced the covers of several fashion and women’s magazines in the past, including Vogue. Hillary Clinton appeared on the cover of Vogue in 1998 in a portrait-like shoot that oozed glamour and authority while Newsweek got under serious under fire for choosing Sarah Palin -in shorts! – as its 2009 cover.

Fashion magazine covers appear irresistible for members of the state hierarchy. For Michelle Washington, Fashion Stylist & GQ Insider, fashion is inherently political. “ When we question if fashion is political, the answer is…yes. The fashion industry is all too aware of the significance clothing carries and within the past decade, people have become politically polarized; played out before our eyes on various platforms of social media. ” Indeed, any cover star appearing on Vogue or Vanity Fair signifies less than the epitome of a cultural moment-and becomes part of a spectacle unfolding before the public’s eyes.

This mass spectacle is one that equals influence and power For Marco Briziarelli, Associate Professor of Communication & Journalism, at the University of New Mexico; politicians who seek symbolic expression through fashion seek political power. “Political power, as any form of social power, is relational and in many ways abstract, i.e. objectively there but invisible, you don’t see particles or atoms of power right? In this sense, the spectacle is a form of representation as well as attainment of power, like money is a form of representation of economic value. What are the implications of that? Well, politics, even genuinely good politics, has a necessary spectacular aspect. ” he explains.

If so, it’s not hard to see why certain politicians seek to appear in fashion media. It’s part of the public persona and constitutes their narrative. It is also, about embracing the political and social zeitgeist. As Michelle Washington points out, for decades, fashion has been the zeitgeist of our times.“ It really shows the intersection of fashion and politics while revealing how powerful people in politics are also influential fashion icons. Having politicians on the cover of fashion magazines certainly increases the visibility of complex issues, but it should not negate the expectation of fashion escapism that we anticipate from fashion magazines.”

Still, what happens when politics become a spectacle, albeit a very poignant one,? For Marco Briziarelli, the answer is based on those abstract relations of social power that become visible only through representations. “ Representations (the principle don’t tell me, show me) are very useful in order to visualize abstract or complex things. The problem with spectacular representations is that they also tend to provide gross simplifications of any issues, thus reducing the complexity of the social or history to ‘fairy tales’, false dichotomies and unjustified polarizations of meanings. Politics, ideally, is a rational form through which we deal with the complexity created by living together. Spectacular politics does not address nor grasp such complexity. ”

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