A Roman thumbs up to Kevin Rudd’s election campaign

Hail Caesar! We who are about to die salute you.

In Roman time, gladiators who were about fight to the death pleaded for their lives to the Emperor Claudius by uttering “Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant” roughly translated to “Hail, emperor Caesar, we who are about to die salute you”. The Emperor then replied by first assessing the crowd’s reaction to their plea, before giving his own thumbs down; signifying for the swords to be put away or thumbs up signifying a kill.

Wait a moment…thumbs down is a good thing?


That’s right, incorrect interpretation of the thumbs down gesture can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, who mistook the Latin word verso “turned” to mean “turned down”. In his iconic painting Pollice Verso (1873),  Gérôme mistakenly depicted a death scene with the thumbs down gesture. From then on giving a thumbs down was widely accepted to signify disapproval.

Thumbs down for you!

Such is the power of the popular media that today, Facebook’s symbol for “likes” is the ubiquitous thumbs up. Yet, regardless of the interpretation of the gesture, what I find fascinating is the way that the thumbs up/down gesture symbolises a collective decision making process in play. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that post election, regular Labor members are using social media to demand for the ability to help choose the leader for the Labor party. When the Financial Review went to press on Thursday the “Anthony Albanese for Labor Leader” Facebook page had 1,600 likes.  As of today, the number climbed to 2,950 likes and is likely to grow.

Today, the right to vote is no longer restricted to certain gender or race in most countries and the ability to do so had never been so accessible. When you throw in social media into the mix; you theoretically have the perfect storm to run a political social media campaign.

Yes I am referring to you Mr Kevin Rudd.

Post election, the question had been raised in other blogs, how did Labor lost the election despite owning social media throughout the period leading to the election? After all, didn’t Rudd replicated elements of the highly successful Obama campaign and even hired some of Obama’s own political strategists?

Although Rudd employed some of Obama’s campaign tactics, when comparing the two campaigns side-by-side it’s like comparing a sardine to a whale. The Australian election was run within a 4 weeks sprint and a number of the tactics the Obama campaign invested in took months of rigorous data mining. More on this in a future post, so stay tuned!

In my last post, you kind readers voted that the reason the Liberal party won was because the media influenced the election result. This made me question the assumption that social media mirrors our reality and that just maybe the traditional media still plays a part in forming public opinion. That or as the playwright David Williamson said in tonight’s episode of Q&A, it’s not an election about Liberal vs Labor, the public had already made up their mind not to vote Labor.

Did Kevin’s election campaign messaging inspire you? Did his intent to engage hit the mark?

5 thoughts on “A Roman thumbs up to Kevin Rudd’s election campaign

  1. Love your post! Great blog this!
    Amazing how one small icon can mean so much – and have a meaning that’s transformed over time. Do you think the word K-Rudd will have the same iconic force as the Like symbol in say 100 years to come? Or have his inconsistencies doomed him to a future of obscurity, where he will be little understood and much forgotten? Let’s invent a social media widget thing for a link to a politican who makes sense, and one to a polly who doesn’t. I think a sinking ship would be good for the latter.

    • Thanks Avril Love the idea of the widget, would make a fantastic infographic of pollies through time!

      I would love to see in 20 years time whether the catch phrase Kevin’07 or KRudd has a meaning for a future generation or whether it is his inconsistencies that will mark him time in office. I also wonder if his social media campaign will be a benchmark on what you should or shouldn’t do, considering that he tried to ape the Obama campaign and failed!

  2. thank you for sharing a such interesting post. I’ve got confused at the beginning,haha. So surprised that a small icon can make such complex meaning. Reminds me a traditional Chinese old saying, there is no absolutely black or white, sometimes black can be white, and white and be black. They all depends on the situation.
    There is my link, please comment on it if you have any thoughts. thank you.

    • Hi Nadia, apologies for the slow post, I’ve been away on leave so going back to the swing of this! Exactly, meaning changes over time and is not concrete and whatever the “truth” is it all depends on the context of the situation as well as the time.

  3. Great post Yasinta – and I love the history on the thumbs down. No, Kevin never had me at ‘hello’, or even’ fair shake of the sauce bottle’, if I saw that boyish flick of the hair one more time I think I may have personally driven all the way to Canberra to offer him a haircut. You know what they say – there are a few Golden rules in Life and one of them is … Never trust a Hair Flickerer!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IanMc

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