Saturday, April 14, 2012

Self-Promotion and Politics

Sign for Berlitz at Versailles train station

Here is a poster in the Versailles train station, promoting English lessons at Berlitz.  The translation: “Nicolas, Francois, Eva, Jean-Luc, Marine meeting with Barack in 8 weeks…In English, is everything OK?”  Why those names – Nicolas, Francois, Eva, Jean-Luc, Marine?  These are the five top contenders for the presidential race in France.

Actually, 10 hopefuls are running in France, from the extreme left, Eva Joly, to the extreme right, Marine Le Pen, with the center-right current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, battling the Socialist, Francois Hollande, as the top two contenders. 

In Ferney-Voltaire: Posters of the 10 presidential candidates

The French election season, unlike the expensive and long American one, lasts 4 months.  Next Sunday, April 22, is the election, and there might be a run-off election as well.  And because of the concept of laicite – secularism – which is the French political religion, no mention of God is permitted in politics.  French politicians don’t brag about going to church, nor do they mention religious beliefs in their speeches.  Unlike in the United States, religion and politics are separate in France.  No French politician would ever end a speech with something like, “God bless you, and God bless France,” in the way American politicians are obliged to end their speeches as if they are responding to an orchestrated public sneeze (“God bless you, and God bless America”).

The one thing that the presidential candidates of both France and the United States have in common is the personality of self-promotion, because that’s what’s needed to succeed in politics (aside from money and ideas that appeal to a segment of the population).  Just think about Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich: with their bizarre ideologies, how were they able to get such a following?  They have the talent of self-promotion - a flair that facilitated their obtaining financial backing, but in the long run, they didn’t make it as the Republican presidential candidate this go-around. 

Self-promotion is not just for politicians.  In our world of the world-wide web, writers such as Charlotte Bronte and Emily Dickinson would never have been published, because these were shy and introverted women who sat at home and wrote.  They wouldn’t have been able to create a “platform” – the concept so necessary in today’s publishing milieu -   meaning that you are already well-known and have a following, have many people reading what you write, are often quoted, are invited to lecture in front of audiences. In other words, before you can get an agent, let alone a book deal, you have to exist in a Catch-22 world.  Just think of how many contemporary Brontes and Dickinsons are uncomfortable with self-promotion, and as such, we will never read their works. 

I am uncomfortable with self-promotion and the concept of platform development, which writers are told they need to do.  One agent who had agreed to represent my memoir about living in Iran during the revolution rescinded his offer, telling me it’s because I have no platform.  So modest me has to put on the mask of a politician and start self-promotion.  But how?  Just the concept of platform development makes me feel like a phony politician, but without the financial support.  Rather than self-promotion, I’d rather eat ice cream, read, write, paint, drink wine, travel, talk to friends, anything, really, rather than beg people to follow my blog, friend me on Facebook, tweet me with Twitter, or link to me on LinkedIn.  But I do need a platform so I can get an agent so I can get a book published.  In that regard, I need to self-promote, and ask you to follow my blog, friend me on Facebook, and connect with me on LinkedIn.  I (with reluctance) signed up for Twitter – something I thought I’d never do (my Twitter contact, or whatever it’s called, is @KarenLeePliskin).  Why am I doing all this?  Because I’m participating in something called the “April Platform Challenge” by Robert Lee Brewer, from his blog, My Name Is Not Bob.  Platform development is a real challenge for me as both a writer and an artist, and just think, I used to want to be a politician. 

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