Let me tell you about two things that happened this week: I watched a video and I took a phone call.
The video I watched was “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” and the phone call I took was with a college counselor at The University of Chicago.
For those of you who don’t know, John Oliver is a British comedian with a show on HBO. Once a week he does an in-depth commentary on a topic in the world. This week’s topic was Boris Johnson. Johnson was just named the Prime Minister of the UK. Oliver talked about Johnson’s background. Johnson’s sister in an interview talked about how her brother learned from doing high school theater that he could get a lot of laughs if he went out on stage and bumbled around like he had no idea what he was doing. From then on, he noticed that people not only liked when he acted foolish and bumbling, but they also held great confidence when he pretended like he didn’t know what he was doing. In an interview Oliver plays, Johnson says “it is often useful to give the slight impression that you are deliberately pretending not to know what is going on because the reality is you may not know what is going on and people may not be able to tell the difference.” And that is how Johnson has been declared the one man in England who can solve Brexit. Johnson is so much of an actor that many people close to him say that he purposely wears silly outfits and ruffles his hair before interviews to play this role of someone who has no idea what is going on.
Oliver also describes another one of his strengths: writing. Johnson got his start as a journalist and through this he was able to tap into people’s interests, and find ways of speaking to people that peaked their interests. He had certain lines he began to curate and using the newspaper he could discover which ones people would catch on to. This allowed him to get laughs from large audiences, bounce back from what would normally be career-ending gaffes, and win over the media through high ratings and clever strategy. If none of this makes sense to you, watch Oliver’s video and you will see that Johnson is not a politician, he is a comedian, a writer, and an actor.
Yesterday, I got on a phone call with my academic advisor at UChicago. He asked me what my interests were. I told him I like journalism, theater, English class, improv, political science, and math. He then said “that’s awesome! Which one are you going to pursue?”
This immediately made me think about the people who are running the world. Donald Trump is an actor. He literally starred in his own TV show. Watch this video. He isn’t a politician, he’s a comedy writer, improviser and actor. He tests things out on his audience and whatever sticks becomes his policy in office. He dominates the news cycle because he understands how to connect with the media. He brilliantly pretends to distance himself from the media by saying he hates fake news and in doing so makes them even more interested in him.
So what am I saying? Am I saying that I am like Boris John and Donald Trump. Nope. First off, I am not saying I will be President, that’s conceited and inaccurate. I’m also not comparing myself to two people who spread hate speech and lies. One of the problems of coming to power through the theater background both of these leaders employ is that it is based on deception. It can be very dangerous to achieve power this way, and very effective.
The reason I am saying all of this to you is to note that the times are changing. My UChicago advisor struggled to see the connection between politics, theater, math, and journalism. He saw one or two as a career and everything else as a hobby. However, that’s the old world. Gone are the days of our presidents and leaders being just career politicians. One reason why Hillary Clinton struggled against Obama was she couldn’t connect to people. In debates, she knew facts and figures but couldn’t connect with voters, whereas Obama was able to do this. Biden I foresee will lose to Trump because as Hillary showed, intelligence doesn’t win anymore. Stickiness wins. Theater wins. Math wins – a new tv show on Netflix called “The Great Hack” talks about how the Trump campaign used incredible amounts of math to win the electoral college. People like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has become a national figure at 29 because of her Instagram live stories and her ability to tell her story on TV. Buetiggegg has risen to fame and raised a historic amount of money because he uses humor and storytelling to connect with people and cause he’s developed a lovable character as a brilliant, young, gay, Christian. Watch this. The age of being a lifelong politician is over. People used to get their news once a day – in the papers in the morning or the tv at night. But now, with Instagram and Twitter spreading viral clips 24/7 our news has become one that has required politicians to become actors.
Linear career paths are dying. The same could be said for more than just heads of state, but this is what I wanted to write about.