Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Kitchen As Political Theatre

The Miliband second kitchen

So far its the kitchen that's emerged as the most important political space of the moment.

First, we had Ed Miliband filmed at home in what transpired to be only one of his kitchens. What wasn't filmed was apparently a bigger affair downstairs. As Ed tried to explain later "The house we bought had a kitchen downstairs when we bought it. And it is not the one we use. We use the small one upstairs"

Sarah Vine, columnist for the Mail (and Tory chief whip Michael Gove's wife), described the Miliband's (second) kitchen as “bland, functional, humourless”, comparing it to “Communist era” housing. (Here's her full article)

Meanwhile Ed hit back at Prime Ministers Questions. To a Cameron jibe about kitchen cabinets, Miliband replied "I thought he might mention kitchens ... At least I paid for my kitchen unlike the government chief whip.” A reference to the fact that the Gove kitchen was apparently paid for by taxpayer money.

Cameron showing The Sun how he makes a sardine sandwich in the Downing St kitchen

At the same time, Cameron was inviting The Sun into his 'well stocked' Downing Street kitchen where he was filmed whipping up a quick ‘Sardines a la Cameron’ lunch as part of his day-in-the-life of a PM movie.

Cameron's country kitchen

Now, we have Cameron inviting the BBC to his Witney constituency home filmed for the interview where he seemed to get ahead of himself a little by claiming he wouldn't stand for a third term as PM.

Nixon & Khrushchev's Kitchen Debate

Is all this kitchen action accidental? Surely not. We only have to think of the famous Kitchen Debate between Nixon and Khrushchev back in 1959 to see how the image of domesticity acts as the perfect ideological theatre for political ideas.

In the current proliferation of kitchen photo-ops its not the explicit political argument that's at stake but the semiotics of kitchen design which is the political argument. In other words, the kitchen has assumed the role of staging the authenticity and humanity of our politicians. 

Why? Well, they have co-opted the heart of domestic life in a desperate attempt to look like real people - people like us, with, y'know, real kitchens. That's why they all look - in what should be the most natural and relaxed of places - completely awkward. And why their kitchens seem to be doubling, becoming phantom-like, less real and more like the staged kitchen of the American National Exhibition.  

Except in that case the kitchen was an deliberate piece of cold war propaganda. It showing a kitchen full of the promise of technology and convenience, a kitchen staging an idea of the domestic future. 

This batch of political kitchens however are simply trying to stage the present.

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