Spare a thought for Panama. They want to be known for their high levels of literacy, their traditional straw hats and their eclectic cuisine. Yet thanks to the famed leaked papers this country of less than four million continues to be synonymous with Dickie Roepers swigging their Crème de menthes on their untaxed island getaways. It comes as no surprise that this week it has been revealed that the Panamanian government has brought in Bellwether Strategies, the firm that gave us the acceptable face of China for Beijing ‘08.
If Bellwether’s job is to make the Central American country boring again it marks a curious contrast to what’s happening up North. The one-man political revolution that is Donald Trump continues to barbarise his way through the election campaign while the rest of the world gazes on in horror. Few polls put him ahead of, or even neck-and-neck with, Hilary Clinton. Yet he remains in the game and rather than bowing to levels of outrage that would bulldoze almost any other sentient being he seems to thrive on it. In the second presidential debate, taking place just hours after the leaked recordings trumped even Trump’s record for chauvinistic smut, the Donald was back on fighting form. By the third debate he was wading into even hotter water over whether or not he would concede to Clinton in the event of defeat. With such disregard for democratic norms it wasn’t obvious if he was speaking in Nevada, USA or Astana, Kazakhstan.
But this is how he does it. Speaking to Jeremy Paxman, election guru Jim Messina cites Trump’s masterful control of the media as the billionaire buffoon’s greatest weapon. Hang on, frowns Paxo- surely the media loathes him? Which is exactly Messina’s point. Trump dominates election coverage precisely because he delights in being loathed. As Joseph Conrad wrote, there’s a fascination to the abomination. To his supporters Trump is the alternative to the media establishment; in reality, he is its 21st century embodiment.
The message of Trump goes beyond the road to the Whitehouse. For many brands ratcheting up the outrage is a key strategy to cutting through the noise. Before the Donald there was of course the Paddy- the bookies synonymous with boundary-pushing mischief. In 2016 it’s almost as if Paddy Power has faded from their outrage-baiting ‘best’- or could it be with all the vitriol and divisiveness vented this year we have become inured to the vulgarity? Last week we saw an online costume seller advertise a Kim Kardashian Parisian robbery-inspired Halloween costume, complete with $4m ring and mouth gag. The efficiency with which this design was devised and marketed only goes to show the enterprising rapacity of the outrage economy.
It’s not just the Panamanians who are yearning for more boring times. The circus fraternity, long regarded as an old fashioned curio, are now reeling from the backlash against the bizarre killer clown fad. Perhaps the genuine circus professionals ought to consider acquiring the services of Bellwether Strategies.
There may be some nostalgia for simpler eras but silence is not an option. As the apocryphal Chinese curse goes, we are forced to live in interesting times. The figure to receive the most damage on Question Time last night wasn’t Trump or his newly recruited media handler Nigel Farage but meek and mild Jeremy Corbyn. The reason: the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition was not mentioned once throughout the programme, despite the edition coming from an old Labour seat and the panel discussing the key issues of Brexit and immigration. There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, said Oscar, and that is not being talked about.