Pressing the flesh

Populism, in its latest incarnation, is to travel 15 kilometers in order to «listen to the people» and «form your own opinion,» with your entourage around you and the distorting television camera lens always present. To visit a Social Security Foundation (IKA) office or a clinic to share the anxieties of the common people and «form your own opinion,» with your entourage making way for you and the ubiquitous camera. To pay an unexpected visit to an open-air market or Athens’s central meat market for a price check ahead of the Christmas holidays, with journalists and promotion cameras already present. To move among the people, doing what you have never done before and something you are not likely to repeat in the future – all this with supposed spontaneity and under the watchful eye of the camera. Politicians who behave like that are the offspring of Cleon, the ancient Athenian demagogue who died too soon to witness public relations tactics or to recruit his own group of spin doctors – these days an indispensible asset even for our religious leaders. Modern-day populism postulates the systematic use of public relations tricks in order to con the viewing public and exploit their problems. Because no problem can be solved via this sort of inspection or with supposedly unexpected (albeit well-staged) visits to crammed places where people stand in long queues, stare anxiously at escalating prices or fight for a priority number that will allow them to get a medical appointment within the next couple of months, though doctors have called for an immediate examination. But pressing the flesh will solve none of the people’s problems – not even the inability of our sycophant politicians to woo voters. Even children are finding it hard to believe in Santa Claus these days.