Monday, 22 February 2010

The Buffalo and The President

Buffalos are not fat and slow. They are just shaped like that. And they could actually run pretty fast in a buffalo race. The fact that our beloved President took umbrage to the presence of a buffalo demonstrator during the rally protesting his government’s one hundred days performance, seeing the animal’s participation as a comment on the fact that he is fat and slow, goes to show that he is getting pretty sensitive to his physical appearance.

After all, no one actually called him fat and slow to his face. Certainly if he didn’t feel slow and fat he wouldn’t have been offended by the presence of the bovine activist. If any obvious reference was made to the president’s public persona, it was probably more akin to the buffalo’s name ‘Si Lebay’, a word which is today’s young people’s slang meaning ‘over the top.’ And which, judging by the president’s wounded reaction, was probably not widely off the mark. These days it does seem as if our man at the top increasingly displays his more feminine side (that is to say, overly touchy) as opposed to a more macho, tough and stoic disposition that would be more in keeping with his position as an army general and leader of this country. Especially seeing the 100 days demonstrations were a pretty feeble affair by any standard if not a downright flop.

It is the president’s over the top reaction that would probably ensure that the Si Lebay the buffalo has a place in the country’s history as a democratically inclined animal that was not shy to exercise its freedom of expression.

But let’s go back to the fat bit, seeing that the president himself raised this issue. Not wishing to be mean or anything, I suppose one of his more visible achievements during his presidency is the growing size of his girth, which in terms of physical development has certainly been a lot more ambitious than any of his government’s infrastructure projects.

And that, in these days of media conscious leadership where the way a head of state look is as important as the soundness of his policies, will certainly not do. As a matter of fact, our dear leader has always been meticulous and self-conscious in the way he deports himself (some accuse him of being ‘ja’im’ or image conscious) especially in front of the camera. His hand movements are contrived, his gestures deliberate and the way he chooses his words anything but spontaneous.

But let’s be honest, compared to his international peers, he is getting a bit too portly. To be sure this phenomenon is not only limited to him. Many of our government officials seem to suffer from this physical inflation concomitant with their elevated status. (Madame, by the way, also displays similar propensity for horizontal expansion).

Perhaps it’s a middle-aged thing. Perhaps it’s just not enough exercise and too much fried food. Whatever it is, subconsciously it does have an effect on the way we perceive our leaders, what they stand for and how effective their government is.

Imagine for example if US President Obama had a paunch and his wife a dowdy matron with unfashionable hairstyle and arms that would benefit greatly from liposuction. I’m sure they would not exude the same aura. As a matter of fact, thinking about it, there aren’t that many leaders these days whose physiques leave a lot to be desired. Even George W was quite svelte and Bill Clinton had muscle contours. Tony Blair was suitable well proportioned. Even the French president, who is somewhat vertically challenged, has his media image greatly enhanced by having a drop-dead beauty for a spouse who could no doubt temper any disgruntlement directed at him just merely by having her hanging on his arm.

Closer at home, just compare the size of our Prez with that of his former Veep, the diminutive and sprightly Jusuf Kalla, who as a matter of fact, is well known for his spontaneous, no-nonsense and superfast response to anything that came his way. One could not help wondering if his physical size had any connection to his shoot-from-the-hip character, but it does seem likely that a person with cumbersome proportions would not be as agile and unselfconscious in his deportment.

At the risk of being profoundly shallow, I do feel that a leader who cultivates extra pounds while still at office, is giving his people the wrong signal. After all a democratic and hard-working leader should be someone who not only works hard but is also seen as capable of taking care of his own body as much as his ability to take care of the country.

Slim is then the equivalent of serious hard work, morally uprightness and a disciplined approach to life, while being overweight on the contrary, denotes lack of discipline, excessive self-indulgence and too lazy to hit the gym.

Examples of big fat leaders can be found in the forms of morally questionable tin-pot dictators who see their position more as an opportunity for career and wealth advancement rather than the heavy task to carry out the people’s mandate.

(First Published in The Jakarta Globe)

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