Tuesday. 9/11/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Alexis Self

Very public servants

Politics, as former US presidential advisor Paul Begala once said, is “showbusiness for ugly people”. But while the internet age has put some physical space between celebrities and their fans – allowing a retreat behind compound walls from where the occasional Tiktok can be tossed to the masses – politicians, bound by accountability, have been forced to open up more of their private lives to the public glare.

This seems to be why a number of French politicians, including Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo (pictured) and National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, are taking part in a new reality TV programme. An Intimate Ambition follows them going about their daily lives (gardening, taking the children to school) while discussing such things as their domestic arrangements and childhood. The show has proved a hit but the country’s commentators have bemoaned it as further evidence of France’s inexorable slide into the quagmire of US celebrity culture, in which privacy is no longer sacred. This, after all, is a country whose president between 1981 and 1995, Francois Mitterrand, had a secret family living in a château in Souzy-la-Briche (an official residence), unbeknown to the general public.

Image has long been important for politicians but our relationship with their private lives continues to shift. US lawmakers in the 20th-century needed to be paragons of virtue and probity; now a kind of reverse virtuosity is happening. The popularity of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson proves that a decorous private life is no longer considered essential for gaining power.

As they are able to make rules that affect our private lives, how politicians conduct theirs should be open to some scrutiny. But should there be a line drawn as to what constitutes intrusion? To paraphrase the famous Gore Vidal maxim: any politician who is prepared to tell us everything about themselves should by definition be disqualified from doing so.

Society / Switzerland

Funding injection

Switzerland has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe, with only 65 per cent of the population having received two shots. To boost that number, an official “vaccination week” drive began yesterday that includes extended opening hours, rewards and inoculations administered on a boat on the Rhine. And if you don’t care for the whole experience, you can even have the jab under hypnosis. More than 80 well-known figures from sport, culture and politics have also joined the campaign to highlight the benefits of vaccination on posters (pictured) across the country. The problem? Neither the Swiss regional administrations (cantons) nor the population seem to be playing ball. Out of a possible CHF96m (€91m) in federal funding offered to boost vaccination campaigns this week, just CHF18m (€17m) has been claimed by cantons, while the vaccination week also marks the beginning of a tense period of public debate over government-led measures. A second public referendum on whether Switzerland’s pandemic-era laws can continue will be held on 28 November.

For more discussion of Switzerland’s vaccination drive, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Politics / Sudan

No turning back

More pro-democracy demonstrations erupted across Sudan over the weekend after last month’s military takeover. The coup, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, halted a power-sharing agreement between civilians and the military that was established after former president Omar al-Bashir was deposed in 2019. Sudan’s civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, remains under house arrest and internet services have been disrupted. Although al-Burhan has pledged to transfer power back to a transitional government, the Sudanese are understandably sceptical. “There is a lot of distrust that any move back to joint military-civilian rule will be safe and stable because this has now been undermined by the very actions that the coup has prosecuted,” Sharath Srinivasan, director of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights at Cambridge University, tells Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Al-Burhan appears to have backed himself into a dangerous corner. “There is a complete unwillingness to accept any role for the military, even during the transition,” says Srinivasan.

Image: Alamy

Music / Brazil

Singing her praises

Marília Mendonça, one of Brazil’s biggest popstars, died in a plane crash this weekend on her way to a concert. Known for singing country music – sertanejo in Brazil – her songs tackled female empowerment in a traditionally male-dominated genre, earning her the title of Brazil’s “queen of suffering”. Last year, Mendonça (pictured) was Spotify’s most played artist in Brazil and one of her performances during the pandemic became Youtube’s most-viewed live stream ever, drawing 3.3 million concurrent views. This week much of the country will be reeling from the news of the singer’s death; many politicians, sports stars and fellow artists have already paid tribute. “Her death is an immeasurable loss,” said musician Caetano Veloso, who covered one of her songs live on television on Sunday. “I’m crying. I can’t believe it.” Mendonça will be remembered as one of Brazil’s most beloved and influential artists.

Image: Amam Dacotan

Society / Japan

Best in dough

As the year draws to a close, so the list season begins. Japanese magazine Nikkei Trendy’s annual round-up of hit products makes for good reading. Who would have predicted that maritozzi – sweet Italian bread filled with whipped cream – would take off in Japan? A bakery in Fukuoka (pictured) claims to have started the craze but Yamazaki Baking made it a national bestseller and shifted 29 billion buns. Meanwhile, it took drinks giant Kirin five years and a new brewing technique to create its runaway success of the year: a zero-sugar beer. Other hot items, according to the list, include Ariel sterilising laundry detergent, beak-shaped masks from South Korea (better for talking and keeping make-up intact, apparently), pyjama “suits” that look smart enough for video calls but feel like loungewear, video e-commerce on Tiktok, Piccoma’s subscription manga service for smartphones, and fine bubble shower heads. Looks like trend-spotting is as unpredictable as ever.

M24 / The Big Interview

Juan Manuel Santos

Former president of Colombia and Nobel Peace prize winner, Juan Manuel Santos, speaks to Monocle 24’s Andrew Mueller about his efforts to end more than 50 years of civil war in his country.

Monocle Films / Canada

Reading the tea leaves

Vancouver Island might not be famous for growing tea but its lush soil has proved perfect for starting an idyllic farm.

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