Thursday, December 29, 2016

Mélenchon's Social Media Strategy

Le Monde today has an interesting piece on Jean-Luc Mélenchon's use of social media. Apparently he's reaching large numbers of people via the net, which has turned out to be a medium particularly congenial to his style of politicking. As rhetorician, Mélenchon has many admirers. I confess that I've never been among them. His great set speeches à la Passionaria are often full of fine verbiage larded with historical references, but impassioned nostalgia for the halcyon days of the left fails to work its magic on me.

But Mélenchon's fireside chats on YouTube are another matter. Take this one, in which he analyzes Renzi's failure in Italy. The analysis is tendentious, to be sure. Mélenchon accuses Renzi of playing a double game, in which he conspires with "Brussels" to put the Italian economy in difficulty, then imposes neoliberal labor market "reforms" to put things right. Italians, JLM argues, having seen through the media-abetted subterfuge, voted No in the referendum to put an end to Renzi's double-dealing depredations.

The (familiar) argument is worth what it is worth, but what I want to call attention to is Mélenchon's relaxed style. His speech is familiar rather than high-rhetorical. He is relaxed rather than angry, lightly mocking rather than irritable (as he often is with the press), and in his element, because he is excellent at taking a basic theme and embellishing it with marks of familiarity and invitations to assent. His points come off as obvious truths, and since there is no interviewer to contradict him, one sits entranced by his bonhomie and faconde. There is a charm in his directness. YouTube suits him to a T.

I also sampled the site Blabla 18-25 Ans mentioned in the Le Monde piece but found nothing of interest. I visit JLM's blog and press reviews from time to time, but these are more arduous exercises. Written down, Mélenchon's volubility passes less easily. One tires of reading him, whereas listening to him is like sitting down for an apéro with an amusing friend rather to one's left politically but still diverting to hear.

What actual political effect will the new media have? It's impossible to predict. But there's no question that social media have given politicians who understand them the means to circumvent the filters of the old media, for better or for worse, and to speak directly to new strata of voters not reachable via the old routes. Trump's success attests to this. It surprised everyone, and Mélenchon could well surprise in France in a similar way. He won't be in the second round, but it's not impossible that he will surpass the candidate of the "governmental left" in the first round, and that, in its own way, would be a shock of some magnitude with serious implications for the future of the Socialist Party.