The Aestheticisation of Politics: The Presentation of Self in Finnish Political Advertising

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Juri Mykkanen


Today, it is natural to think that political advertising is thoroughly aesthetic and that advertisements are only about rhetorically framing issues and candidates; hence, it is very easy to dismiss the issue of political aesthetics as trivial. In this article, I will show that the indifferent attitude towards political aesthetics misses two related issues, first, its own historical constitution, and second, the level of sophistication reached by ad makers who capitalise on general political disillusionment. The latter point is fundamental for understanding the public display of politics. We can detect increased reflexivity in advertising, revealing the ads’ artificial nature, which, according to some ad makers, is just what people expect to see. Politicians and advertising designers are aware of this and they do their best to accommodate it. My argument is inspired by Wolfgang Welsch’s distinction between surface and deep aestheticisation, in which the latter refers to the postmodern sensibility from which representations are seen as profoundly arbitrary and their reference function as a social fiction. According to Welsch, in our time, vision, as our pathway to reality, has become suspect. In today’s political advertising, aesthetics is increasingly used for questioning visual representations. To illustrate this development, I compare Finnish
campaign spots from recent presidential elections. In these, we can detect two different aesthetic styles, one characterised by its claim of authority over the meanings the ads signify, the other appealing to audiences in the opposite way, by highlighting the artificial nature of the advertising signs. In both styles, the advertising signs evoke a sense of aesthetic delight but only in the latter has the aesthetic function
replaced the reference function.

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