It’s a hoot going mute with politicians

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“I’m told, our brains are actually designed to make judgments about our fellow human beings from their faces and their upper-body language,” writes “The Gadfly” columnist ROBERT MACKLIN.

THE best way to listen to politicians on television, I’ve discovered, is not at all. 

Robert Macklin.

I don’t mean turn them off entirely – though several of my family would certainly vote for that – just the sound. It’s a distraction. All you’re missing is pabulum mixed with repetition, exaggeration and the occasional fib.

But turn it off and suddenly you’re treated to a face in close-up that can tell you much more about the character of the speaker than all the wordage in the world. 

In fact, I’m told, our brains are actually designed to make judgments about our fellow human beings from their faces and their upper-body language.

This is how we characterise film stars into heroes and villains even before they utter their opening lines. And it’s how politicians try to trick us with words while their faces are telling us a very different – and much more authentic – story.

It came crashing home when, once again, I couldn’t bear Scott Morrison pretending to answer Leigh Sales’ questions on the ABC’s “7.30”. 

When I hit the “mute” button I reared back in fright. I was suddenly confronted by a big, angry bear. And if his lips curled up at the ends it wasn’t to smile but to dribble with hunger before tearing at someone’s throat – Leigh’s, or worse, mine! 

So, over the next few days I sought out other prominent pollies and tried the same experiment. The results were, well, mixed.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, sans sound, I can report, does a great impression of an unmade bed. No surprises there. But Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was the very picture of a blow-up doll, frowning as if trying desperately to keep all the air inside lest it make a squeaky noise as it departed the stopper in his bottom. 

Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk minus that grating screech was Head Girl giving the valedictory at Indooroopilly High; while Victoria’s Dan Andrews could have been a prefect at Mannix College (which he probably was). The ACT debaters, Barr and Coe seemed to disappear into the studio background. 

By now I’d caught the bug so next day I tuned in to CNN and rounded up Joe Biden. Alas, he’d hidden almost his entire face behind a blue mask. 

I quickly passed on to Kamala Harris and, happily, she was debating Mike Pence. Boy, did she put on a happy face or three. Whether she was being an Indian like her mum, a Caribbean like her dad or a stern prosecutor like her professional self, she was happy-scary-smiley with teeth that radiated. Scott Morrison’s bear would have met his match.

However, Mike Pence was not impressed. The only movement from his entire head came from a fly that perched briefly in his silver hair. Then, bingo, Joe was back, bare-faced this time, and it really didn’t make much difference; it still looked like a mask. 

Finally, poor Gladys Berejiklian was everywhere and whether the sound was on or off she was either Gilligan of that TV Island or Sad Sack, a comic book character I remembered from childhood, a poor down-trodden soldier in the US Army always getting humiliated through no fault of his own. 

The only difference, I guess, is that Sad Sack was a private whereas poor Gladys, “stuffed up” her private life with a bum from Wagga Wagga; and she was running the whole shooting match. 

robert@robertmacklin.com 

 

 

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Robert Macklin
Journalist and author. Contact robert@robertmacklin.com

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