Wednesday 22 May 2024

Tone deaf with a complete lack of self-awareness

This article first appeared on Malta Today

Let me preface this by saying that, no, this is not intended to be a “hateful attack” on Michelle Muscat, so her fervent fans do not need to get their knickers in a twist. However, I do have to say that I often wonder what is going on in her head.

I regularly see Instagram photos being shared by the wife of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of what appears to be her new jet set lifestyle and ask myself: does she know (or even care) how she is coming across? I tend to lean towards the second possibility, that she simply does not care, and that is what I find utterly incomprehensible.

After undergoing what looks like a complete makeover, the now blonde Mrs Muscat looks very different to her former self (and even her worst critics admit she is looking better than ever). But sharp-eyed observers who know how much these things cost point out that she has also had cosmetic surgery which costs tens of thousands. Her supporters might say, but so what if she did? So many women go under the knife to look better, doesn’t she have the right to do so? If she were just anyone else, yes of course, it’s a free country. But she isn’t just “anyone”, is she? She is someone who until a few years ago recently occupied a very powerful role in the country, making her a politically exposed person by simple virtue of the fact that her husband was Prime Minister. So yes, expensive surgeries (so soon after her husband was forced to resign) are bound to draw the public’s attention even though she is now technically a private citizen.

But it’s not just the physical transformation which has done the rounds of the rumour mill, but the branded clothing and handbags, and the trips around the world which we know about because – she flaunts them herself.

Now, when one leaves office, it does free you up somewhat to live your life as you wish but the public gaze will still notice if you suddenly seem to have tonnes of money to splurge. It would already raise eyebrows if while in office there had not been even a whisper of suspicion, but when you are the wife of Joseph Muscat, whose two terms as Prime Minister were (and are still) haunted by scandalous deals and accusations of corruption, then showing off your wealth is just …ill-advised and well, bonkers (for want of a better word).

Her latest Instagram story, which has now became a meme, is a classic example of what not to do if you don’t want a public backlash.She is seen wearing the ostentatious Satlada Necklace, also known as the Seven Layer Necklace, which is one of Shiv Narayan’s award-winning “masterpieces”. It holds two Guinness World Records for the most emeralds (315) and the most fine diamonds (1,971). In the video, Michelle gushes about how, “It’s weighty and it’s also very light at the same time. It’s so shiny making you so special.” She was apparently allowed to try on this highly expensive piece of jewellery earlier this month in London where it was being showcased at the iconic Wallace Collection Museum. If she had a PR person (or even a good friend) worth their salt, they would have told her, “nope, don’t do it.” It should have been obvious that she was going to be the butt of jokes and a wave of online criticism for how she raved about the necklace and there it is was, right on cue, as my news feed was flooded with mockery of the “weighty but light” comment.

Granted, she had simply tried on the necklace but still; the perception was once again reinforced that Michelle Muscat is obsessed with money and (literally, in this case) anything that glitters. There are really not enough face palms, and my cringes had cringes on her behalf.

I cannot decide whether it is audacity, brazenness, indifference or simply being oblivious to what a good chunk of the public thinks about her. What it certainly shows is a complete lack of self-awareness that when one has been bombarded by allegations of money laundering and corruption, common sense would tell you to keep a low profile. But not Michelle Muscat – she has gone completely the other way, almost in a display of deliberate defiance. Maybe she thinks ‘I’m going to be criticised no matter what I do, so to hell with it?” That would be fine if she were a celebrity, but political positions are very different and a degree of decorum is required (even after one leaves office), something I find many politicians these days fail to grasp.

It also does not seem to occur to her that when you are one of the figureheads of the Labour Party, the workers’ party, representing the “common man” so to speak, it is very contradictory to be constantly showing off the fact that you are living the good life. This is especially tone deaf from someone in the public eye at a time when so many are struggling with the cost of living and rising inflation.

All these Instagram posts become even more galling in the light of the very prevalent suspicions that the source of one’s wealth is questionable (and that is putting it mildly). The Opposition regularly accuses Muscat of plundering the public’s coffers for his own benefit (an accusation which is given further weight every time one of the agreements signed during the Muscat administration is found to have been tarred by something shady). The fact that he is now a consultant for the very people whom he dealt with while he was PM is another red flag. So one would think that, given all this, the least Mrs Muscat could do is to not throw her lifestyle in our face. Is she even aware how much her every post rankles with the general public (save for those who still, inexplicably, adore her)?

There is also something infra dig about her behaviour which further alienates a lot of people; it is the behaviour of the nouveau riche who do not know how to be discreet but feel the need to flash their money around to prove that they have it. It reminds me of rappers who grew up in poverty-stricken neighbourhoods who insist on wearing ten chunky gold necklaces to show they have made it. Whereas those with “old money”, the truly wealthy, do not talk about material possessions at all, as it’s considered vulgar.

As I said at the beginning, I honestly don’t know what she is thinking, but this behaviour only continues to perpetuate the ill feeling the Muscats have left behind them after sweeping into power with so much promise only to end up disappointing so many true Labour voters. The disappointment, which over the years has turned into disillusionment, anger, bitterness and now disdain and contempt, can be felt every time you speak to level-headed people who are not impressed by fancy necklaces or a Gucci handbag. These are the people who want to raise their children to be good, decent human beings, rather than soulless mercenaries who would sell their own mother if they had a chance to make more filthy lucre. That kind of upbringing is becoming more and more difficult when everywhere you look the emphasis is on consumption and acquisition, where frivolous “social influencers” become household names and one’s life only has meaning if you post photos about it on social media.

As for Michelle Muscat…would it be so unthinkable for her to be low-key and stay out of the limelight? I guess that is really up to her – but then she cannot complain if she keeps being mercilessly pilloried.