For me the one image that summed up 2013 was Evo Morales’ awesome shit-eating grin as he demonstrated to a dude with a crappy camera-phone that he wasn’t hiding Edward Snowden on his plane.
This one image was symbolic of a new era of international relations: a more boisterous, more playful, less po-faced era, in which trolling is not just fun but a way to score points.
So what about 2014?
Well, first prize has to go to Natalia Poklonskaya.
And not just because I’m a fool in love (though I’d still go out and annex anything she asked me to annex).
The fan response to Natalia-chan sums up a new attitude towards politics which has been gaining ground over the past year or two. An episteme in which citizens are both more engaged and more detached from the business of government. While inidividuals have never been less interested in ideology, the importance of personal relationships with the centres of power has grown as clientelist systems like Russia, China and India have become more active and more self-confident*. Government is more a source of gossip, and less an object of principled ire.
And on that note, here are some more pictures.
Ok. I’m done.
Second place? Angela Merkel’s Caxton Street selfie:
Merkel didn’t arrive in politics a born populist (neither, as we tend to forget, did her evil twin, Vladimir Putin), but she was a born politician, and it’s something that she’s learnt and accommodated herself to over the years – to such an impressive degree that she has become far better at it than many for whom it is a natural inclination. She always achieves the necessary verismo, and never misses her mark – the opposite of, say, Ed Miliband, who manages to make any interaction with real people so painfully awkward that even Tories start feeling bad for him. Her gestures towards the home crowd always manage to fit in with her persona while capturing the public mood, and they are all the stronger for being understated.
She’s the first European leader to sense that, as far as international dealings go, personality politics and flashy gestures are the new black. While the others shuffled around the G20 looking like bit-players, she immediately took stock of the irreverent, individualistic tone that had been set at APEC, and threw herself into the role. What’s more, she managed to hit 2013’s key theme of trolling as she did it – her informal Aussie-style meet and greet making the Russian warships moored off the coast look like a sign of insecurity rather than an demonstration of power.
Third place: the APEC red carpet.
(The atmosphere was only slightly soured when Squall Leonhart attempted to assassinate Xi Jinping.)
Because if you’ve got it, why the hell not flaunt it? We pass this way but once, and wealth and power were meant to be enjoyed. If you’re going to have an evil empire, you might as well make it look good. I am cynical and sophisticated Eurotrash, and I was impressed.
Western readers tended to chuckle indulgently (‘Ah, these Orientals…’) at the levels of enthusiasm displayed by regular citizens in China, but then chances are that most of them have never had to bribe an official or pay for women for a company CEO. Money and political clout are – for want of a better word – cool, and all the more so if having them is a matter of survival. In a way it’s less of a new development than a return to a more traditional way of thinking.
In any normal year, the red carpet video would have taken first place – it’s a sign of how fast things have changed of late that it’s languishing in third.
*Literally two minutes ago I was reading a piece about Jackie Chan openly acknowledging that he could have used his personal connections to get his son out of trouble. A year or two back, you couldn’t even have recognised that the facility existed, even to deny having availed oneself of it.