Obama and Ahmadinejad try the macho man PR method – with mixed results

President AhmadinejadPhoto credit: Daniella Zalcman

President Ahmadinejad
Photo credit: Daniella Zalcman

After the Iranian space agency ‘apparently’ sent a monkey into space, one man has put himself forward as the Middle East’s Neil Armstrong, with current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad volunteering himself as the country’s first human astronaut.

On the other side of the world, another world leader is flexing his public image muscles: President Obama, gearing up for a difficult political battle over gun control, posing with a rifle during a skeet-session.

The only problem is that, according to some, he’s, well… not shooting as well as he could be.

The two events are part of a historic trend of world leaders infusing their photo opps with macho images. The archetype for this kind of testerone-fuelled publicity is, of course, Vladimir Putin. Recounting every single Putin stunt in detail would simply take too long, so here’s a list of seemingly unrelated words and phrases associated with brand ‘Super-Putin’:

Horse

Plane

Fighting in pyjamas

Polar bear

R&B

Tiger cub

Fully-grown tiger

Scuba diving

Whaling

Semi-automatics

After that, Obama and Ahmadinejad photo opps seem tame falling, as they do, way outside Putin’s Ven diagram of manliness – dead animals, pyjamas and pecs. Though, to be fair, Ahmadinejad has ninjas.

There is a long history of world leaders engaging in macho or excessively active stunts for the purpose of public relations, often with very mixed results. Roman emperors – or prospective emperors – would lead columns of troops into Rome after successful military campaigns, a public image tactic later copied by Benito Mussolini in full military regalia. Margaret Thatcher posed in a tank; Teddy Roosevelt made sure photographers accompanied him on his hunting expeditions; and former Mexican President Felipe Calderón was photographed in a Formula 1 car.

With a few honourable exceptions, the stunts nearly always fall flat for one reason and one reason only: because the public expectation is that Herculean figures don’t need photos to prove their virility. Just a tip: leave the muscles out.

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