KIANA KARIMI WRITES – « Vous dépendez du pouvoir russe et vous dépendez de Monsieur Poutine…Vous avez contracté un prêt auprès d’une banque russe… Vous ne parlez pas à d’autres dirigeants, vous parlez à votre banquier Madame Le Pen…Vos intérêts sont liés au pouvoir Russe. »
“You depend on Russian power, and you depend on Putin. You had contracted a loan from a Russian bank. You don’t talk to other politicians. You talk to your banker. Ms. Le Pen, your interests are linked to Russian power.”
By meticulously and aggressively contesting Marine Le Pen’s new claims of her anti-Russian position, President Emmanuel Macron shattered his challenger’s credibility in seconds during the last débat présidentielle. Days later, the dominoes tumbled further — Emmanuel Macron clinched the presidential race.
Iridescent fireworks and pride encapsulated the Parisian air. Symbolic in a polarizing world, la liberté, l’égalité, and l’équalitié prevailed. Macron’s triumph against the growing far-right movement ensured that France and the European Union would not be subjected to authoritarianism nor influence by other state leaders, namely one in an ivory palatial Grand Kremlin palace. However, Macron’s victory does not make the growing global far-right movement disappear.
Lately, outcomes of presidential races have become a double-edged sword. In fact, after conceding, Marine Le Pen held herself with a proud demeanor as she accomplished the impossible. Jubilantly jocund to news reporters and her supporters, Le Pen cited the election as a victory for Le Rassemblement National (formerly, Le Front National). The far-right candidate’s haughty behavior is not without reason — Gilles Ivaldi, a researcher at Sciences Po, stated in Le Monde’s Instagram Live special that it was a historical turnout for Le Rassemblement. From attaining a meager 17.8% of the popular vote in 2002 to approximately 42% in 2022, it is evident that the far-right party’s grasp over the public exceptionally burgeoned.
The self-proclaimed re-invented candidate eased herself as a candidate “for all French people,” in stark contrast to the 2017 election. Nominees like Éric Zemmour made her look like a normal candidate. Le Pen attempted to detach herself from politics, specifically her father’s politics; however she comes from a far-right political dynasty that bestows her the title of the far-right princess. Even more so, Marine Le Pen flagrantly coquetted with the possibility of another presidential campaign. The cost of her candidacy on world affairs is simple — it amplifies a dangerous pro-far right mindset. Specifically, her political pursuits normalize far-right views, affecting hot topics like the Ukraine and Russia war and immigration.
Le Pen’s actions mirror and promote tactics similar to a game of crouching tiger and hidden dragon — concealing authentic and bigger intentions. If Marine Le Pen were elected, she would have retrenched military supplies for Ukraine (as she stated herself in the last presidential debate) amid the growing humanitarian crises in the terror-stricken nation. More importantly, she would utilize clandestine methods to fund the Russian government, negating other nations’ economic sanctions. Case in point, a mere two days prior to the second round of elections, La Rassemblement Nationale paid nearly 13 million dollars to a Russian contractor under harsh economic sanctions. Their actions explain Le Pen’s vehement objections to sanctioning Russia further.
However, the “if” is not as important in the present time. Her contributions to a totalitarian government speak volumes of the growing agendas of La Rassemblement National and the greater far-right movement across the globe. (Namely, pursuits of normalizing “secret” alliances and inconspicuously supporting Russian ventures.) Le Pen claimed she vehemently condemned Putin’s crimes, but her party’s monetary contributions and past relationship with the war criminal tell a different tale.
The ideals of far-right parties are not just isolated to France and the United States. Movements of the latter groups are seen across Eurasia (e.g., France, Italy, Germany, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, and others). For now, France dodged a land mine. However, other states’ and nationals’ missions to destabilize Europe are far from finished. The pawns, knights, and clubs are widespread, and with the far-right slowly enclosing forward to sink its venom into democracies, we must stay vigilant to prevent an increase of such sentiments. Here’s where the power of the media is ever eminent and important.
Far-right candidates and any political candidate can utilize or bend media portrayal to however they please — intending to influence attitudes and behaviors regardless of malicious or pure intentions. From President Emmanuel Macron’s sharp suits to Joe Biden wearing his aviators, to Putin drenching himself in designer coats, and to Le Pen riding horses during her campaign trail, all the latter actions have one thing in common, each of their quirks evokes a specific message to the public, lending credence to their personality traits. Each leader knows how to wield the power of media outlets, which is a necessary skill of the latter twenty-first century. Some blatantly show their wrongs and add gasoline to the fire. Although, actors like Marine Le Pen are cleverly molding a novel, “calmer” image for themselves, which is more dangerous than someone outright committing heinous acts. Of course, committing war crimes and suffocating the livelihood of a whole nation is among one of the most atrocious acts, but individuals like Le Pen pose a far greater danger.
As aforementioned, Le Pen attempted to separate herself from politics during this election cycle. The far-right princess went as far as to claim that she is merely a regular woman and certified cat breeder. During his campaign cycle, she pushed forth a new, friendlier image, as evidenced by her campaign posters. In stark contrast to her 2017 campaign photos (via Instagram), she is less stand-offish — no longer crossing her arms or taking an awkward stance and/or space amongst her supporters. Smiling and embracing her supporters, Le Pen evokes a maternal image, possibly as the mother of France. Adding to that reputation, Le Pen started featuring her feline companions in this race — specifically her cat’s children, which undoubtedly shows her soft and gentle side. Shaking hands, employing an open posture and body language, and posting photos with animals disguise her hidden power as the token far-right princess. In addition, her outfits highlighted the same image as she strategically chose to wear neutral colors such as blue and white. Blue is often associated with evocations of trust and dependability, and white is associated with simplicity, new beginnings, and women’s suffrage. Her integration of the latter elements shows her mastery over media influences by weaponizing style.
Showcasing her admittedly adorable cats does indeed distract from the greater image of her views, but it should not erase her intense animosity towards immigrants and Muslims. Le Pen specifically cites massive immigration causes endangering French women, and the latter exploded in the past few years (as one of her campaign slogans is « Exigeons un retour de la sécurité pour les femmes françaises! » “Demand a return of security for French women!”) The latter ideologies affect Muslim migrants, maghrébins, people of color, and refugees. With the French legislative election at stake, the elections of far-right legislators could indeed be detrimental to the latter actors. Mais elle est l’une des personnes, non? But she’s one of the people, right?
“Baroqueness of images hides the éminence grise of politics” as Jean Baudrilard stated in Simulacra and Simulation. Images in Baudrillard’s point of view, and the present case of Le Pen’s campaign cycle, fit his second phase of an image — “one that masks or perverts a basic reality.” Separate from his ideals of the simulacrum, images or, in this case, Instagram campaign photos are forces that drive us further towards new ideas/images. Candidates like Le Pen are normalizing their extreme views by showing their quotidien lives. Le Pen and more modernized far-right politicians are not abasing mainstream media platforms or creating their own nonsensical app — they are blending in the global village, a term coined by the father of media theory, Marshall McLuhan.
Taking a page out of Marshall McLuhan’s Mechanical Bride, Le Pen utilizes advertisements and mass media to assuage the French people’s skeptical and ill-views of her. McLuhan’s studies of the images’ effect on the subconscious apply in present-day situations. “Generate heat, not light” is the intention, or in English terms, an appeal to pathos. Images are used to “energize” the mind and elicit responses to change, reinforce, or heighten behaviors. By Le Pen showing her maternal side to children and animals, the image signals a response to our receptors, generating calming and comforting chemicals like oxytocin.
Media and television (now extended to social media) are an extension of the human senses. As users are engulfed by digital images, it influences a response from the public. Circling back to Freudian psychodynamics, social media and images represent mental impulses that strive to create seismic hits of different sentiments. The goal of far-right leaders is to present themselves as relatable outsiders who adore their nation and carry the torch of rebellion, thus invigorating passionate hatred towards government entities.
Words and conventions illustrate the capability of far-right leaders to normalize their cogitations, which heavily impacts different attitudes and perhaps some forms of participation. As evidenced by Marine Le Pen narrowing the margin of votes, the far right’s capability to further expand is on the horizon. Increasingly so, far-right groups and leaders (such as the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), and the Italian Northern League (LN)) are emerging and uniting across Eurasia, forming something like the Dark Avengers or New Axis Powers. This is not to say we should not celebrate the win of President Macron; we should and must. However, work for the pursuit of justice, equity, and equality is far from over. It is wise to err on the side of caution of the rising far-right movements in Europe and Asia.
Kiana Karimi is a recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University.