Salut from Paris, where President Emmanuel Macron has undergone an overnight makeover that would put Trinny and Susannah to shame. One day he was his buttoned-up, immaculate-blue-suit wearing former banker self, while the next, images emerged of Monsieur Le President in the Elysee’s ‘Golden Salon’ making top-secret international calls in none other than a black hoodie. But it’s not just the tracksuit top and its CPA 10 logo (apparently the merchandise of France’s 10th Parachute Commando) that has sent French social media into a frenzy.
A flurry of photos emerged (scroll through them via the post above), the entire mood and mannerisms of which, seem both foreign and strangely familiar. In one, the veins in his hands almost visibly pulse at the table. In another, he rests his furrowed brow in his hands (very JFK). There's a fair bit of facial hair, which suggests he's not in fact living in the Palace but, um, a bunker?
To be fair to 'Manu', the photos were taken on Sunday evening, after what was no doubt a long and stressful day’s work, attempting to manage a horrific international crisis on behalf of the European Union. But, fancy that, official Elysee photographer, Soazig de La Moissonnière, was on hand to catch the disheveled and manufactured magic at every turn.
Out of context, the photos are admittedly quite attractive. I feel a flash of self-loathing when I realise that I do, despite the glaring transparency of the spectacle, think he looks a lot dishier than usual.
Thinking back to a few weeks ago, when I first subscribed to Vlodimir Zelensky’s Instagram account and was subsequently glued to it for hours on end, frantically tapping 'see translation' to take in his every word, my husband cynically remarked that it seemed like 'macho men were back'. Obviously offended by the suggestion that I would be watching Zelensky’s videos for any other reason than to keep up with his steadfast addresses and the unfolding situation on the ground, I turned up the volume.
But with Macron’s photos I had to wonder whether my husband had a point. Is the French President attempting to jump on the manly-man wagon ahead of his country’s rapidly approaching election? Zelensky’s approval ratings are, it must be said, up an impressive 25% since the war began.
Never one to make a decision about a weird cultural phenomenon without consulting my trusted Instagram followers, I asked what they thought of Macron's latest look via a poll. Reactions were about 50/50. In what I’ll call the positive camp, messages read: 'It’s kinda hot', 'A savage look. I must own that sweatshirt.' 'He’s hot in a French way so he can wear whatever he wants', 'Would it be weird if I said I trust him more now?', 'Sorry but FIRE —compared to our Australian PM that is.' And, simply: 'DADDY.'
'It’s so ridiculous yet so human. We all emulate popular/really cool people. It appears politicians are no different!'
On the other hand, some weren’t going to be blinded by a little five o’clock shadow: 'He wishes he had [Zelensky]’s guts', 'Ridiculous', 'My Franco-Ukrainian friends and I have been wondering if Zelensky is now producing Macron’s campaign!', 'Someone tell him he’s not in the middle of a crossfire!' and, my personal favourite: 'It’s so ridiculous yet so human. We all emulate popular/really cool people. It appears politicians are no different!'
Shouldn’t they be different though? Last night, the Prime Minister of my native Canada posted a photo of Zelensky on a screen in the Canadian House of Commons. Unfortunately my first thought was whether he was using the Ukranian leader to fish for likes. We’ve quickly grown accustomed to watching current events play out in real time on social media and, now, watching the brutalities of war on our phones. Where will this leave us? Better informed, or simply numbed to human suffering and subconsciously searching for welcome distractions?
Of course, in a sense we’re beyond fortunate to be able to access Zelensky’s speeches in a single click, and more crucially one hopes they are heartening to the Ukranian people. In previous decades a leader under siege might have had to, say, travel to a different country to make himself heard on foreign radio waves in hopes of accessing the ears of his people, a la General de Gaulle in June 1940. But just as Churchill lent the BBC’s airwaves to the French General, maybe today it would be appropriate for other world leaders to keep their heads down, pass Zelensky the mic, and lay off any 'inspired' publicity stunts for now.