The On-Camera Illusions of Politicians

Performance Politics

20 Apr '24
3 min read


Politics and media have been intertwined for decades, evolving together as technology advances. The transition from radio broadcasts to television changed the landscape significantly, with the internet and social media setting current standards and strategies. This evolution has shaped not only how politicians communicate but also how they are perceived by the public.

Imagine watching a politician deliver an impassioned speech on camera, fervently advocating for poverty alleviation. Now, imagine a leaked off-camera footage showing the same politician dismissing poverty issues as unimportant. This striking difference in behaviour highlights the curated personas many political figures adopt when the cameras roll. In modern politics, the act of maintaining a specific image on camera greatly impacts public perception and trust, prompting a complex interplay between authenticity and performance.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats: An early example of using media to create a comforting presidential image, directly addressing the public during the Great Depression.

The Kennedy-Nixon Debates, 1960: These were the first televised U.S. presidential debates. Kennedy’s telegenic appeal contrasted sharply with Nixon’s less polished image, influencing public perception and, arguably, the election outcome.

Politicians often employ carefully crafted speech patterns, sound bites, and scripted responses to resonate with their audiences. These tactics ensure memorable and quotable moments that reinforce their desired image.

Body language, facial expressions, and staged interactions play crucial roles. A well-timed smile or handshake can convey warmth and approachability, just as much as a furrowed brow can communicate seriousness and concern.

The strategic use of props, settings, and clothing is pivotal. For example, a politician might wear a hard hat and a high-visibility vest at a construction site to project an image of support for blue-collar workers.

Certain media outlets may inadvertently or deliberately amplify the crafted images of politicians, either by not challenging their on-camera personas or by focusing primarily on their media performances rather than their policies.

The use of real-time social media metrics and analytics allows politicians to instantly gauge the effectiveness of their appearances and adjust accordingly, often tailoring their messages to what garners the most approval online.

On-camera performances significantly influence how policies are perceived. A convincingly delivered speech about national security can boost a politician’s ratings, regardless of the actual efficacy of their policy.

Media appearances are sometimes strategically used to divert public attention away from legislative failures or controversies, a practice that can mislead and manipulate public opinion.

The demand for media savvy conflicts with the need for genuine leadership. Politicians often prioritize appearance over substance, undermining public trust and the authenticity of democratic processes.

Some politicians have mastered the art of using media to genuinely engage and inform the public, enhancing transparency and public involvement in political processes.

Conversely, there are numerous examples where politicians’ dependence on crafted images and performances has led to scandals or public distrust when their true capabilities or intentions are revealed.

The advent of technologies like deepfakes and virtual interactions poses new challenges for media literacy, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish real from scripted performances.

Promoting transparency and authenticity in political media strategies could help restore trust and ensure that public officials are held accountable for what they convey both on and off camera.

The on-camera performances by politicians have profound implications on public perception and policy. As media continue to evolve, it becomes imperative for the electorate to critically evaluate these performances and advocate for a political discourse that values substance over style. This call to action is not just about demanding more from our leaders but also about fostering a more informed and engaged citizenry in the face of evolving political theatrics.



Written by Younus M. Bhat

I am a columnist, author, and a PhD scholar with a passion for sharing my knowledge and expertise with others. Visit: Email: [email protected], Stay Happy😊