Tag Archives: Spin Doctors

Making democracy work

It’s been Democracy Day today and, quite properly, we’ve heard a lot about the way we vote and what we vote for.
All the discussions and debates I’ve heard have made sense.
I have to say, it would have been a shame if they hadn’t. We are, after all, a civilised society and democracy is a civilised way of choosing our governments.
Major points
There are two major points that have stuck with me throughout the day.
The first is that politicians of all parties should offer us clearly defined, coherent policies that they then adhere to.
The second is that the increasing professionalisation and splintering of politics means it’s inevitable we’ll be offered a plethora of parties to choose from – many of them with no experience of government – when we get to the polling booth. Ballot Paper Cross 1
Like children in a sweet shop, we’ll be faced with a bewildering array of tempting goodies, all of them enticing but none of them guaranteed to do us any good.
Indeed, some of them may even do us serous harm.
Sharper cures
Faced with such a wide choice, and increasingly dubious about the worth of anything we’re offered, it’s little wonder people are turning away from mainstream politics.
Rather than suffer a never-ending diet of sugar-coated placebos prescribed by smart-suited spin doctors, some of us are turning to sharper cures for our current ills.
Protest has become rife. Revolution is on the rise. The clamour to be heard is mounting.
For some of us, the question now is where to turn for the kind of government we crave; fair, open, honest, honourable and humane policies that provide a solid foundation for a sound society.
True, most of the parties offer a version of this.
The disappointment for many of us is that few, if any, deliver on their promises, which leaves us disillusioned.
The sour choice
As a result, fewer and fewer of us even bother to vote.
We don’t go to the sweet shop because what’s on offer makes us sick.
Even if we did go, we’re not really able adopt a suck-it-and-see approach because, instead of giving us a second choice immediately, the current parliamentary system saddles us with a government we can’t change for five years.
So, if we are feeling sour-faced and militant enough, we trot along to the polling station and spoil our ballot papers by writing something rude across them, which makes us feel better.
The savoury alternative
The tragedy of this approach is that our votes are disregarded completely; written off as “spoiled papers” and never properly accounted for.
It’s my belief there could be an alternative for those of us who want to vote responsibly. Ballot Paper Cross 2
We should be given a box on the ballot paper where we can put a cross, not against a name or a party, but against No Confidence.
In this way, we would be able to voice our disappointment – even our disillusionment – without running the risk of our vote being, quite literally, consigned to the dustbin of history.
Moreover, all our No Confidence votes could be counted, thus sending a clear message to the politicians that – if they want to win our votes – they must give us something we can have confidence in and therefore vote for.
It’s not rocket science. It’s just democracy at work.

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What keeps the spin doctors spinning?

Watching the final episodes of series two of Borgen, the Danish political drama that’s been a hit for BBC4, it occurred to me to wonder why so many fictional spin doctors are – in some way or another – crippled.

The idea wasn’t prompted by Kaspar Juul’s appearance on crutches due to damaged tendons.

True, his arrival was part of a beautifully played scene that showed us just enough of Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg’s character to set us up for what followed: her struggle to reconcile her public ambition with her family’s very private needs.

What struck me was the way in which – like Madmen’s Don Draper – Kasper Juul is not just physically injured, but emotionally flawed. Even quite horribly damaged.

Don’s false premise

Don Draper – as Madmen fans will know – assumed another man’s identity and, using his own charm and persuasive guile, managed to get a job as an advertising copywriter.

Since then, as the creator of numerous imaginative ad campaigns, he has – in the spirit of the conventional times his life is set in – been the inventive perpetrator of artful expressions of the contented consumerist life.

Heavens to Betsy, as one of his contemporaries might’ve said, he even married a model and thus completed his own (now fractured) version of the perfect story!

Eventually, as his fictional career progressed and he became Creative Director of, and Partner in, his own advertising agency, Draper came so close to resembling the man he’d contrived to be that he found it hard to answer questions about who he really was.

For me, he began to look like a man whose easy ability to dream up artificial constructs of daily life was born of the artificiality of his own life.

Indeed, just as an Englishman speaks English with ease from birth, Draper can – almost as easily – think up deceptions as soon as he starts work.

Kasper’s chaos

Kasper Juul, Nyborg’s terrifying spin doctor, has a different back-story to deal with.

As the victim of child abuse – and carrying the memory of that and his savage attempt to end it by trying kill his own father – it seems as if he’s constantly trying to impose his own draconian sense of order on the chaotic political world he works in.

He’s also trying to do the same thing in his private life.

It’s as if, by controlling everything and everyone around him, he can convince himself that he’s been in charge of his life since birth.

Of course, he’ll never achieve that.

Like Draper’s seductive illusions, Juul’s angry self-loathing is a powerful engine that not only drives him but also gives him the desire to turn almost everything into something it isn’t.

To – quite literally – spin his world on its head.

It seems to me that both these fictional characters are aiming for the same thing: a world that exists in their imagination that can’t be replicated in life.

The dramatic ideal

Perhaps it’s this tension that makes both Borgen’s Juul and Madmen’s Draper so compelling as characters.

We want them both to achieve the happiness they seek, but we know that neither of them are capable of reaching that ideal.

They’re both too flawed to do that, yet we will them on, knowing they’re doomed to failure.

What’s fascinating about all this is the way in which the writers of both series have spun both spin doctors’ stories, giving them both troubled backgrounds that they’re trying to overcome.

The origins of insight

What’s even more intriguing is to speculate on where the writers found their inspiration.

Do they believe that all spin doctors – men like Kasper Juul and Don Draper – are essentially flawed and that their fictitious characters are simply reflections of real life?

Or is it the case that, in order to see the light inside life’s darkest situations, all of us have to experience life’s bleak and evil side beforehand?

Truly, as you can see, it’s set my head spinning.

Which is, after all, the mark of either a good drama or a talented (spin) doctor!

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