This article explores the relationships between masculinity, flirtation and fantasy within the promotional arena of politics and public relations. Flirtation is associated with coquetry and play, connoting a lack of seriousness, and in political flirtation, the desire to move between different opinions and ideas. Flirtation is often linked with femininity. Yet against a backdrop of masculinity in crisis, the study of flirtation, with its connotations of ambiguity and frustrated desire, is useful to explore the uncertainties of masculinities today. Dilemmas about flirtation as a tantalising performance resonate with misgivings about the seductive nature of political spin and the desire of politicians to woo audiences by flirting to the camera. Taking examples of politicians such as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Barack Obama, this article discusses the possibilities of flirtatious masculinity as a counter-hegemonic strategy within the symbolic battleground of Western politics, a struggle largely played out in print and digital media.
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These terms, as used here, are very loosely based on Mansfield's (2006) discussion of metrosexual and retrosexual masculinities, which he discusses in terms of new and old masculinities, respectively.
Resentiment is a contested term and its different uses are related to different philosophical traditions. From a psychoanalytic perspective, resentiment can be used in a similar way to Melanie Klein's concepts of envy and projective identification. For further discussion see Clarke et al (2006).
In particular, see Melanie Klein, who discussed at length the links between the mature love in the ‘depressive position’ ‘mourning’ and loss (1988).
See Green's (2006) critical essay ‘Addendum to Lecture’ on the flirtatious cruelty of the psychoanalyst Masud Khan.
The gendered connotations of the word ‘flirt’ can be traced back to the French term coquette, and from the eighteenth century, the nouns ‘coquette’ and ‘flirt’ tend to be associated in Britain with French aristocratic women (Kaye, 2002, p. 21).
Recent examples of such online responses include websites and blogs by political activists such as the infamous Guido Fawkes (see Staines, 2010), or spoof political videos and electioneering posters using comical artwork and captions, as in the recent UK ‘Airbrushed for change’ e-campaign (see Singer, 2010).
This power dynamic was illustrated in the ‘Yo Blair’ episode, when Bush unwittingly spoke to Blair at the 2006 G8 conference in Russia with the microphone still turned on (BBC News Channel, 2006).
As numerous comical YouTube videos of Berlusconi and Sarkozy demonstrate.
The feminised aspects of his public persona relate to his publicised identity as a father, his identification with ‘so-called “compassionate conservatism” and “soft” issues traditionally linked to female voters' (Cockerell, 2007). See, for example, his victory speech, which was delivered in a manner that was similar in style to Tony Blair (Cameron, 2005).
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Yates, C. Spinning, spooning and the seductions of flirtatious masculinity in contemporary politics. Subjectivity 3, 282–302 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1057/sub.2010.16