Media and the history of political rhetoric

The representation of power

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Creating an image and representation is not something new to our time. Queen Christina knew what she was doing while posing for this painting in the 17th century, a pose we can recognize from most royals of our history, as well as in looking at the present crown princess Victoria of Sweden.

According to the SOM-institute in Gothenburg working with societal polls, the level of trust in the monarchy in Sweden is fairly high, but it is declining and is at its lowest point ever. However, there is one exception: the crown princess is the public person in Sweden with the highest level of confidence with the Swedish people, and has the highest ratings ever for an public person (SOM, 2012).

Looking at the history, there have been many scandals surrounding the king and his lifestyle, making him a public mockery almost. But there has always been a counter-image to the king, which is Victoria, the image of the crown princess being calm and wise, never saying or doing anything wrong. Hardly ever a bad word written about her in the press. Considering Sweden has a free press system, this might seem odd she is not questioned since she has such trust with the people, but we can understand this better if we look at her younger years, where it became obvious with images of a scarcely thin young girl that she had gotten anorexia, stated to be due to heavy pressure on her, and the court appealed to the press, as well as the media itself decided to hold off on criticism of her. Probably therefor she is often portrayed in a positive way, compared to her father, but even to her mother and younger brother and sister.

The polls speak for themselves, her ”pr-campaign” has been utterly successful. Most people wouldn’t think of questioning her at all. The image of her is coherent, but more based on the photographs of her than what she has said or done.

She is often in various forms of media; tv, printed press, internet during representation but also releases official images of her family life with husband and young child. She regularly travels around the country for representations but also abroad. She’s linked to different voluntary work and on occasion she holds speeches where she for example refers to herself as Pippi Longstocking, but these are not very often shown in the media. Her primary audience is the Swedish people in wanting them to stay positive to the monarchy, to be proud and feel it is a part of our heritage, but also an international audience in promoting the Swedish industry and culture, since this is a part of her assignment as a royal without official political power.

Victoria is always on a first name basis, both in official media and unofficial, showing she is one of the people, we are close to her, and this works well with the Swedish culture and language which is not very hierarchical. Swedes use the second person in addressing in conversation, not the third more polite way to address as can be seen in German and the Latin languages.

In the media, she used to be shown more in traditional Swedish national costume, but today she is more shown in more contemporary power clothes, such as the business suit or evening gowns, or in a nurturing position as a mother or aid worker. Perhaps showing she is more grown up, ready to take over the throne, and looking like the normal person in power. Also a common image of her today is one with her husband and child. Burke says: even undemocratic leaders claim to have gotten their power of the people today. The illusion of closeness to the people is necessary and an emphasis on dynamic, youth and vitality (Burke, 1992) we see this in her usually smiling, forming a family of her own, looking powerful in her clothing.

While her representation in the press might seem coherent, there is an inherent contradiction to being one of the people as well as royal. In some of her official photographs we can find that historic play on the same graceful royal pose as Queen Christina, one shoulder slightly forward the other, sitting, with the light hitting from one side and the cleavage going down the shoulders but covering the arms (Kungahuset, 2013). This is to show, she is still after all a royal, still not really one of us, and play on the lure of the myth, the exoticism of an old tradition in the modern world. We can buy a lot of things in today’s society, but this is actually something we can never get or really come close, which of course is fascinating.

Had Victoria been like her father, surrounded by scandalous lifestyle, or like her sister with her party-image, it is unlikely she would have been as popular with the Swedish people, and the monarchy might have been more threatened in Sweden than it is today. It is hard not to have a cynical approach in that her popularity is unbelievable positive, but possibly it is also a result in the outcome of her eating disorder which was for sure not staged and an honest consequence of the pressure she felt as an individual.

It should be slightly eye opening reflecting on power around us and how it is represented, present and in history!

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