The chances are that Boris Johnson will be the next Prime Minister of Britain, following the resignation of Theresa May and a messy three years wherein the country’s descent into Brexit madness has left us all poorer, stupider, and in a ceaseless state of hopelessness. We’ve all been worn down by the painful inevitability that is PM BoJo. His insatiable hunger for power is the biggest non-secret in politics. That’s not to say his road to the top has been without its road blocks. The sheen of bumbling charisma he carefully maintained for decades has long been chipped away to reveal the ruthless ineptitude beneath that blonde ambition, but the past two weeks or so have also further exposed just how much large swaths of the British press have invested in his coronation.
As our own Petr detailed this week, the police were called to Johnson’s house following neighbours’ report of a domestic disturbance with his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds. Neighbours heard ‘loud altercation involving screaming, shouting and banging.’ One neighbour told the Guardian that ‘they heard a woman screaming followed by “slamming and banging”. At one point Symonds could be heard telling Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat”.’ This obviously unnerving saga has been an absolute disgrace with regards to the British press, many of whom have tried to turn it into proof of a left-wing smear against Boris, just another PC gone mad storm in a teacup designed to prevent him winning the Tory leadership contest. What would typically be discussed in terms of domestic abuse and harassment under normal circumstances is now further proof of the irrevocable toxicity of the British political classes.
Johnson, ever used to his Teflon reputation, has stayed quiet on the issue but not passive. Selected newspapers revealed a photograph of Boris and Symonds lovingly gazing at one another while seated in the garden of a local pub. The image was framed as proof of a picture perfect relationship, one that could withstand all the silliness of the press. Anyone who knows anything about PR or celebrity saw the photograph for what it is - a desperate attempt at spin. Social media, of course, responded accordingly.
Was the onlooker their SPAD? pic.twitter.com/3OrUEe4Bl4— Hanna Ines Flint (@HannaFlint) June 24, 2019
Bored. Made this. pic.twitter.com/3HGSzchNWi— Dave Lee (@davelee1968) June 24, 2019
Oh honey, where to start with this gem?
Despite the frequent protests from many a celebrity, the relationship between fame and the press is not always a negative one. It is true that the paparazzi, especially those of the British tabloids, can be infamously nasty in their hunt for the (im)perfect pic. However, it can be a more mutually beneficial dynamic. The Kardashian clan are notorious for their alleged use of private paparazzi to ensure they have control over which images make their way to the general public. We know that celebrities and their publicists call the tabloids to keep control of particular narratives. It’s just good business. Why risk messy intrusion when you can play the game and stay on top?
Politicians aren’t above this. Check out any person currently running for President and how they’re working to look as ‘relatable’ as possible through supposedly candid photos with their families. Half the work in campaigning is in that exhausting pursuit of humanity, be it through cutesy talk-show appearances or going overboard with social media. Boris is king of this nonsense, and it’s why he’s gotten as powerful as he has. He’s the guy who turned being a public joke on Have I Got News For You into a bankable persona; the bumbling toff whose Jeeves and Wooster-style persona made the public forget his insidious policies and long history of scandals long enough to consider him a viable candidate for Mayor of London. The more he made a fool of himself, the more people loved him for it. I can’t tell you the number of people who said to me some variation of the phrase ‘wouldn’t it be such a laugh to have Boris in charge of the country’ over the years. Boris, aided by a media that were happy to play along, turned his supposedly most off-putting quality as a politician - his unbearable poshness - into the ultimate benefit. As long as he seemed ‘in on the joke’, people were giddy to see him thrive.
That routine has worn thin over the past couple of years, from the dwindling final years of his tenure as Mayor to his campaigning for Brexit to his disastrous turn as foreign secretary. For many people, Boris has lost his luster, but he’s retained it for enough people to continue rooting for him. Maintaining an image that messy requires immense control, and he’s never stopped wanting it, even though most of us wonder if he even knows why he wants all this power.
Which brings us back to that photograph. It astounds and aggravates because it is, like Boris himself, so transparently bullsh*t. It’s a display of pure and utter calculation, so devoid of true emotion or any semblance of relatable warmth. You can practically hear the harried advisors off-camera yelling at the pair of them to look more in love. It reminds me so much of the most hilariously obvious staged photo-ops of celebrities from recent years, from the Hiddleswift beach cuddle to Bradley Cooper mansplaining Lolita in the park to a much younger Suki Waterhouse to Heidi Pratt’s magnificent public crying. We laughed at these images because they felt like performances, a combination of giving the public what they wanted and forcing them to want what they were given. There’s something about watching the rich and famous be just desperate enough to descend into such artifice that proves endlessly entertaining.
But with Boris? I’m not entertained. I stopped being amused by his well-maintained diversions a long time ago. More than that, I became utterly aggravated by how he could screw up time and time again - spewing bigoted language and exacerbating racist tensions across the globe, and endangering lives in the process - and still have people laugh at him as if he’s the clown rather than the ringmaster. The pathetic falseness of that picture is just Boris being Boris to his devotees and to a press who have bent over backwards to accommodate his every fault and dangerous quality. We have audio evidence of what is at best a messy domestic dispute with his partner where she demands that he ‘get off’ her, and the press spun that in favour of Poor Beleaguered Boris. There’s been a steadfast refusal to engage with the obvious trappings of his PR spin, with this photograph acting as the major piece of evidence, and that only further weakens our understanding of our current political hellhole.
That photograph is bad, but then again, when you’ve been treated as the king in waiting for so long by an adoring press and blinded public, why would you try to be good?