Friday, February 8, 2008

Likeability

I was listening to the radio on the way home from work today and again heard this claim that in presidential campaigns, the most 'likable' candidate wins. I've heard this before. I've even heard this about Hitler. How he was charming and had charisma in person. I have never seen it in any of the films I've seen of him-- in all of them, he looks to me like a madman, out of control. His eyes were some of the darkest I've ever seen, showing the deep mental illness that was there.

I wanted to ask "WHAT is your definition of likable?" since it was implied that (except for Ford/Cater, who were both likable, but Ford pardoned Nixon), the most likable candidate has always won... and that somehow, McCain is more likable than Hillary, but Barack is more likable than McCain. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to.... so I decided to do some research into what most people consider the definition of 'likable.'

'Charisma' is one definition of likability. Part of that is 'making one feel good about him/herself when in your presence.' Or evoking sympathy or empathy. Or agreeable.

Now, all of these make sense. To me, someone who is likable is sympathetic or empathetic him/herself. I really truly believe that the eyes are the window to the soul, and to be likable to me, a person needs to have something in their eyes that tells me there's a 'there' there. That there's some depth and that there is genuine interest in and concern for others. However, by this definition, George Bush, Ronald Reagan and John McCain are NOT likable in the least.

I've even found one definition (of course, in sales) that talks about 'likability' as being chameleon-like, flexible enough to change your personality to suit the client/customer. That, to me, is the ANTITHESIS of likability. Manipulating people by pretending to be something you're not is NOT the way to my heart (although, I guess it IS the way to a lot of people's pocketbooks).

Is it someone I'd like to 'have a beer with?' Yeah, I guess. Someone I'd like to spend time with. But, I've been thinking a lot about it over the last few hours and the most important criteria for likability for me is HONESTY. I have to be able to look into your eyes and see that you mean what you say, that you are being honest, open and, actually, vulnerable.

Now, vulnerability is a kind of difficult thing. It is, in fact, the part of film acting that I have the most problem with. The reason is that I have done so much stage acting, which, of necessity, has to be bigger and broader. And, as such, is often not as honest or vulnerable. Emotions and movements, and even your speech, often have to be exaggerated to 'read.'

On the other hand, the camera is about as intimate as it gets. You can whisper and be heard, you can raise an eyebrow slightly or turn your head a fraction of an inch, and speak volumes. The camera sees EVERYTHING.... and that includes deeply into your eyes. It sees either truth or deception there. It sees your past there. It sees YOU. You are honestly not playing a character so much as YOURSELF in that situation, which is quite a bit different than onstage, often. And you have to be WILLING to not really hide behind a character, which you can do on stage. You have to be WILLING to allow people to SEE into your eyes-- to SEE into your soul in a way which is impossible on stage. To open yourself up to the ultimate intimacy and vulnerability.

THAT, to me, is and always has been, likability. It is why I like watching Julia Roberts-- she is vulnerability personified. It is why I ADORE Dame Judi and Helen Mirren... and Kate Hepburn. It is why I always, always, ALWAYS look into the eyes.

Now, by MY definition, the more likable candidate has NOT won the presidential election many times. I have NEVER understood what people mean when they keep saying that George Bush and Ronald Reagan are/were 'likable.' Ronald Reagan was a bad actor reading a script badly. I could see from the beginning that he didn't believe what he was saying.... and by the second term, I KNEW something was seriously wrong, though I didn't know what it was. I could see that he didn't even UNDERSTAND what he was saying-- and it gave me shivers when I saw two photos during his second term: one of him from just prior to his first inauguration-- vital, healthy, riding his horse, and the other a contemporary one in which he looked very ill to me. The change was SHOCKING, and not the typical aging, either. I was not surprised to hear he had Alzheimer's. The eyes told the tale-- there wasn't anything in there, especially by the second term. Before that, there was a wall. One behind which he hid himself (maybe to protect himself from people knowing what he MUST have been starting to sense? That something was wrong? I don't know). He never let us get to know the real Ronald Reagan. Only the 'character' he wanted us to see-- and he was playing a character.

As for Bush, I could feel the insincerity rolling off of him in waves the first time I heard him speak, when I didn't even know who he was. I looked into his eyes and saw-- nothing. Just hearing his voice makes me feel slimy and like I need to take a shower. I would NOT want to 'have a beer' with this man-- I'd be too worried he'd stab me in the back. I see no sincerity, no empathy at all. Looking into his eyes, I don't see that he RECOGNIZES other people outside of his close inner circle as even EXISTING... and some of his statements (like the 'reality-based' stuff and the 'decider' nonsense) only corroborate it. I don't feel that I have been given the opportunity to know the real George Bush in any way-- and it makes me wonder if he's hiding it or if it just doesn't exist. I don't see the wall as I did with Reagan... I simply see... nothing.

I guess I do have to admit that politicians are salespeople and by the 'sales' definition-- being chameleon-like and flexible to suit the personality of the client-- it may be true that both of the above men were likable. The problem with that is that the entire definition feels dishonest and just plain ICKY to me. I don't WANT to be around someone who changes who HE is to suit the people around him. I want to be with people who are willing to share and whom I can trust and feel that I know. Honesty , trust and reliability are high on my priority list.

I just read an article the other day that described the 'perfect wife.' This was supposed to be a woman who cleaned up after her children without complaining, who cooked the foods her husband likes and 'learns to like them, too.' Who 'treasures' his snoring or taking the covers off, and feels grateful to pick up his clothes. Who smiles when he works late because he's 'willing to provide for the family.' Who laughs at his jokes, even when they're not funny.

My biggest problem (aside from not raising independent, capable, ready-to-be-adult children) with this definition of the 'perfect wife' was the fact that the 'perfect wife' in this scenario was NOT being honest with herself OR with her family. And PARTICULARLY not her husband.

How can you have a relationship, ANY kind of relationship, without honesty? And that goes for my president, as well. I may not be in the same room, but when I listen and watch him/her talk to me, I want to see that it is real and honest and TRUTHFUL.

And that seems to be my problem with the definitions of 'likability' that I've found... none of them involve truth, REAL intimacy, or honesty. And by those definitions, many of the presidents we've had in the recent past were NOT likable. And those who were seem to have been the least successful.

It is, in fact, one of the definitions of a sociopath-- someone who can change to suit the circumstances, can 'blend in' and present a facade of emotions to the world, but doesn't actually feel or understand them; one who cannot empathize with other people. And THAT scares me in a leader.

1 comment:

Becca said...

I don't like any of tthe cadndidates at all, and you know what pisses me off? i look at Hillary Clinton and hate her, for no real reason other than that she is strikes me as a strident, bitchy, out-for-herself woman on a power trip who would do anythign to get ahead (including protect her idiot husband who was diddling interns in the oval office). and I hate that i am allowing myself to fall into that trap hating the powerful, capable woman. it is so not who i want to be as a feminist but i cannot help it. she grates on me!