Boys, football and politics: Children in Political Campaign Ads

As the election in Greece approaches, a tense atmosphere has overtaken the city of Athens. Political ads, of any form and medium, are flooding the public discourse – as is to be expected in pre-election times, let alone in the context of such a crucial election. Among the television ads of political parties, unsurprisingly, there are some that depict children. Certainly, the use of children in political campaign ads is not news – and in fact it seems that in the US it is almost a genre in itself. It is clear that such ads are not intended to influence the subjects they depict, children, but rather to get to their parents who have voting rights, and that usually children appear in such commercials in order to extort the voters emotions. What I find annoying however is that such commercials rarely actually even address children’s issues. It is not unusual in such commercials to depict children robbed of their agency and their present, as they are basically used only to make a reference to the future. I think that the issue is rather important as such representations effectively reaffirm exoticised and naïve images of childhood, promote gendered representations of children unreal and deprived of any agency and undermine children’s citizenship status.

The commercial that got me thinking about all this is a commercial from the current governing party, the conservative Nea Dimokratia. In the video, we watch a company of boys playing football. One of the boys scores a goal, and the ball reaches the prime-minister of the current government, Antonis Samaras, who happens to be passing by. Samaras catches the ball and engages in a ‘discussion’ with the boy. Here is the video, followed by a translated transcription of the dialogues:

Samaras: What’s your name?

Nikolas: Nikolas… Can I tell you something? My father says that things are difficult.

Samaras: Let’s sit and discuss, eh Nikola. Your father is right. But sometimes, if you want to make something right, you go through hardships. Isn’t it so?

Nikolas: It is.

Samaras: The point is to know where you want to go. And to head there with a plan, with knowledge and without stopping even for a moment. And today we have brought Greece where we should, so it will become a normal, a serious, a great country… for you, for all children. So that the hardships of today that your father mentions, will not become your hardships too. Therefore, don’t worry, keep on practicing and we will continue working. Because, for a country to play ball, just like a team, it needs to have a field, and we are making it’s field, brand new. That’s the truth. Tell it to your father.

In encountering this spot I was initially stricken by it’s decisive gendered character: it all seems to be boy’s games. There are the boys playing football and then they sit down and discuss like men, about football and politics. The boy’s connecting point to political discourse is his father, who told him that ‘things are difficult’, and equally Samaras, by the end of the spot asks the boy to pass over the message to his father. The only woman that ever appears in the spot is a woman in the team of Samaras, who basically smiles thoughout the whole three seconds of her time in the spot – and then she disappears. The prime minister speaks in a mildly macho way to the boy (“Eh Nikolas!”), which is also gendered and which, if it attempts to hint in a profound ease and directness, it pays no respect to the boy who has addressed the prime minister in formal plural. They go ahead and sit down – the primeminister on a bench, the boys are either standing or are seated on the ground. The image of the group strongly evokes a guru like image of a teacher that talks to his disciples, and somehow charms them – in a way that only television mise-en-scène can achieve.

In the case of the conservative party, which basically supports the continuation of the austerity politics of last years, the children seem to be a high stake, and there are countless reasons why children should be in theirs or in any partys political agendas. But Samaras, is not talking to the child – who is not considered an equal citizen at any rate, not even to the child as a future citizen. Obviously he’s not addressing his older fellows either, as it is his party that has denied about 100,000 young people who have become eighteen years-old between the last revision of the voters list and today, their right to vote. The stake is the child’s parent, today’s voter. The ad has no pretentions about whom is talking to (“Tell it to your father”), and what it essentially communicates is that yes, we have to go through hardships. If you cannot stand it, just think about your children.

There goes UNCRC’s acknowledgment of the right of the children to participate in decisions that affect them. The boy can instead go ahead and practice his football skills. That seems to be the only role that Nikolas has in this ad. He doesn’t have a real opinion – his opinion is only asked for via a strong proposition for agreement (“it is-isn’t it?” “it is.”) and is being thus offered only to reaffirm what S. has said. Which is that sometimes you have to go through hardships in order to achieve something. S. expects that this child ‘discussant’ understands that well – and he is not proven wrong! Otherwise the child’s opinion is not asked for and instead he is being told what he should do. He should not worry and keep practicing (football), for the bright governing minds are doing their job. Oh, and to tell to his father that the government is building a football field.

It is interesting that Samaras is inviting Nikolas to sit down and discuss. Αlthough they do sit down (Samaras on a bench, Nikolas on the ground), I have not noticed any discussion going on in the course of the video. If the makers of the commercial consider that they have captured an image of the child and it’s place in society, this is a bleak, disrespectful and worrying image.

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