Opinion | Stop glorifying politicians and conflict


AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Supporters of Ukraine watch a pre-recorded video by the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, during a Stand with Ukraine rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.

By Livia LaMarca, Staff Columnist

While the war between Russia and Ukraine rages on, it is relatively safe to say that Volodymyr Zelenskyy is winning when it comes to spreading his message of a free Ukraine.

With Ukrainian forces slowly taking back full control of their nation, Zelenskyy has been talking with European leaders and making inspirational, impassioned speeches in this time of crisis.

During this tumultuous period, I’ve heard a few people say that Zelenskyy has become what Putin always wanted to be — admired. Putin publishes shirtless photos showing off his strong figure in an effort to demonstrate how strong Russia is, but it’s Zelenskyy’s past as a comedian and performer that has helped him appeal to so many. It truly is a “performer’s skill” to appeal to massive audiences and, in this case, Zelenskyy is talking to the world. He knows how to work an audience, and he knows how to work it well.

But we cannot forget that the fate of Ukraine is at stake, and thousands of people have died due to Putin’s ferocity. We can enjoy Zelenskyy’s likeability and character, but we must not forget that there is brutality and bloodshed taking place a continent over.

Americans, especially those of younger generations, are desensitized to violence and war thanks to constant media coverage of horrors like mass shootings and terror attacks while growing up in the wake of 9/11. As a result, many people have apathetic reactions to the war in Ukraine, focusing on commodifying Zelenskyy and mentioning how attractive he is. 

These should not be the topics of conversation. People should never glorify politicians and conflict — especially while it is actively occurring. Zelenskyy is easy to admire, but that’s because of his personality and position as a politician. When we put politicians on a pedestal, we often forget they are human just like the rest of us. Zelenskyy is a man trying to deal with an insurmountable crisis as his people are dying beside him, and we need to treat him as such.

As Zelenskyy gains international popularity, admirers have fan-casted Jeremy Renner to play him in a hypothetical biopic of the invasion. Even Netflix has taken it upon itself to share some of his comedy work, adding the satire “Servant Of The People” to its collection. Amy Schumer, a co-host of this year’s Oscars, has said she wants Zelenskyy to call into the awards ceremony — as if he doesn’t have other things to do.

To mention something that may exploit a nation’s suffering, while it is actively happening, is abhorrent and weird. Ukrainians are dying and the only thing some people can think about are things not focused on stopping the violence playing out in front of us.

Parasocial relationships with politicians are a relatively new occurrence. As people glorify political actors, it becomes easier to forgive and forget their wrongdoings. People loved Barack Obama for his hand in legalizing gay marriage and passing the Affordable Care Act, but seem to forget he appeared to greenlight 10 times as many air strikes in the covert war on terror duing his first year in office than George W. Bush did — killing somewhere between 384 and 807 civilians.

I worry that this same thing is happening to Zelenskyy through American eyes. While he is a great leader doing great things in trying circumstances, we cannot forget he is not an international celebrity. And in all the idolization of Zelenskyy that is taking place, the absolute worst of it has to be the neoliberal glorification. Neoliberalism is identified by its replacement of the term “citizen” with “consumer,” and often focuses on how the economy is doing. The desire to create capital off of the Ukrainian-Russia crisis and objectify the president is a telltale sign of American neoliberal ideology.

American neoliberal thought and the glorification of elected officials has done just that. If people reflect on what they are saying about Zelenskyy and the crisis, they would hopefully be disgusted by their reactions.

We lack the empathy needed to sympathize with those in unfathomable situations such as this. Why is one of our first thoughts as a nation not what can we do, but how can we use this situation to our advantage? Take Zelenskyy off the profit-making pedestal we put him on, donate to reputable organizations if you have the means and try your hardest to worry about Ukrainians.

Livia LaMarca mostly writes about American politics and pop culture. Write to her at [email protected]. #NoWarInUkraine.