Amanda Vanstone and why it matters what people wear on TV

Most of the politically incorrect commentary on what people wear when they appear in public and, in particular on television is directed at women. This is probably because women’s clothing has got a greater range of variety than men’s and hence has greater potential to stir public opinion.

Commentary that seeks to denigrate public figures who do not conform to certain standards of attractiveness is at the shallow end of the swimming pool of political debate. However, television is a powerful medium for politicians eager to get their message across to the public and the way they manipulate this particular medium should be the subject of observation and comment. The thoughtful politician is always careful about how they present themselves and particularly how they dress

Tony Abbott is a master of the use of the medium of television and in particular dressing up for the occasion. Marshall McLuhan who coined the phrase “the medium is the message” describes the “content” of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. Abbott was able to shape the content of his TV message through the clothes he wore. His relentless attacks on both the carbon and mining taxes were dressed up by his appearing as the “ordinary working man.”

 Tony as pineapple man,  policeman,  truck driver,  Iceman, the bomb disposal man, fireman  builder man, mango man, miner man and fish man
Tony as pineapple man, policeman, truck driver, iceman, bomb disposal man, fireman, builder man, mango man, miner man and fish man

In each of these cases, Abbott is very careful to manipulate the message by the way he dresses. He very skilfully blends the medium of the way he dresses with the message. Personally, I think there’s too much emphasis on orange and lime, not his colours.

Amanda Vanstone appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 to discuss the National Commission of Audit of which she was a member. Here are some of the gems:

It’s a bit like a game of pickup sticks, the budget

And I’ll tell you what’s more costly that’s to sit on your backside doing nothing, taking your pay as a minister and not getting on and fixing things

Promises can be a little bit constraining, we almost ask that and the media demands that, what are you going to promise us we say…. It’s part of the political mileu in Australia that people try to corner you into locking yourself in, So that, so that they can come back later and say aha aha. Now all of that is very interesting it could be the subject of a Ph.D. The real issue is where you want Australia to go

Well, everybody is entitled to their view. You see, when I say I don’t care about people’s different views, I don’t mean that I’m not interested, I mean that this is a democracy and there will be different views on a whole range of things

So, as I say, the budget is a package, there will be, obviously, some savings measures in the budget, some spending measures… and maybe some revenue measures

We are all driven mad by endless reporting and overlap and duplication, now if you could get rid of that you would simplify government in Australia. One way to do that would be to raise the GST and give the states the ability to raise taxes…. One set of question is for you and I to answer and much simpler government.

As far as I could see, she gave absolutely no insight into the thinking of the Commission and no insight into the economic rationale of the Commission’s recommendations. From my side of the television, it appeared that despite the best efforts Sarah Ferguson to get straight answers to questions, the whole interview was a disorganised, rambling shambles. Which brings me to what Ms Vanstone was wearing.

Goldfish amanda.jpg

Amanda Vanstone and the riot of goldfish

If we accept that the way politicians dress can be a medium for getting their message across, then this was a wonderful example of the medium of dress reinforcing the message of the interview. Ms Vanstone came dressed as a pond full of very colourful goldfish, a confusing riot of colour. Her appearance reinforced her hopelessly disorganised explanation of the workings of the Commission.

Mind you, in fairness, she has got form in the sartorial stakes.


Her shirts even have their own Facebook page.

The problem for a politician like Amanda Vanstone, whose style could be described as colourful and flamboyant, is that a discussion about the National Commission of Audit does not easily give itself to colour and flamboyancy. It is serious stuff and if you want to be taken seriously, you need to address seriously. Tony Abbott understands this because he is no longer doing joke pictures. Now that he is Prime Minister he has a serious message to get across and he doesn’t want the storyline being stolen by a fish, a pineapple or a mango or for that matter a pond of decorative goldfish.

mango man.jpeg

It may be boring, but it’s not a distraction. And some people manage to get it just right.


Style, class and elegance: Dame Quentin Bryce

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