I was asked to contribute my $0.02 for piece in the Irish Examiner on the crossover of politics and celebrity – more from a communication angle than a career one. Extracts:

POLITICAL ROLES

The success of many celebrity candidates shows that politics and showbusiness make good bedfellows, writes Sinead Mooney

Ronald Reagan, Jesse Ventura, Mairead McGuinness, Jerry Springer, Frank McNamara, Nana Mouskouri, Al Franken, La Cicciolina, Dana, Arnold Schwarzenegger. What do they all have in common aside from varying degrees of fame or, in some cases, infamy? They have all entered the world of politics.


The Governator – would you buy a used plasma rifle from this man?

Making the leap from the screen or stage to the political podium seems to automatically engender distrust, however. We all titter at the thought of Arnie terminating tax. We snigger at the notion of Mouskouri joining Dana in a duet for peace. Is the concept of the celebrity politician inherently shoddy? We elect teachers, accountants and business people to high office and no one raises an eyebrow. Why not actors, singers, porn stars and pianists?

Rowan Manahan, an employment expert and communications trainer with Fortify Services, believes the worlds of showbiz and politics are not as uncomfortable bedfellows as we might think.

“Both share the need to be appreciated – be it the politician having 10,000 people jumping to their feet at the end of the speech, or a singer in concert with thousands of fans screaming their unqualified approval,” he says. “I would imagine the same holds true of an ard fheis [Irish political party convention] or maybe even a local council meeting. How do you come offstage after something like that and come back to normality?”

… Manahan cautions against mistaking sparkle for substance, however. “There are two skillsets you need to survive in politics: one is getting yourself elected and the other is doing the job effectively once you have been elected. Unfortunately, these are often mutually exclusive. Someone can deliver a speech as if they mean it; but have little or no awareness of the content. But try standing up in a parliamentary setting defending the content of the policy outlined in that speech against highly-skilled politicians.”

… So what about Ireland? Do profile and celebrity really matter here? “Human beings don’t like to hire strangers,” says Manahan. “If you have the same surname as your grandfather who fought in the GPO [during the 1916 Easter Rising preceding the Irish War of Independence], that gives you brand quality. We like to have reference points; to know ‘his people, his stock.’ To that end, even a local teacher has a degree of celebrity, albeit a small one. The children’s parents all know your name, plus they have the advantage of being comfortable with public speaking. Look how many Irish politicians have a background in education.”