“My favorite porn genre is Pedro Sanchez in Brussels and I didn’t know it,” says one of the most famous tweets from the Mr. Handsome account, which shamelessly celebrates the physique and presence of the Prime Minister on Twitter. “The truth is that he is a hottie,” replies a user. “A has been born latin lover”, writes another, among dozens of approval messages.
The creator of Mr. Handsome remains anonymous. She only assured on March 8 that she was a woman: “I get asked a lot ‘who is behind Mr. Handsome’ and I don’t know to what extent it is relevant. In the end, I am just a person who one day was at his house and had an idea on the networks that has worked, ”she says. He explained to EL PAIS by email what the objective of an account like his is: “More than creating a meme, my intention was to take advantage of an existing one to give it a positive touch and to allow the political message to be easily conveyed,” he adds. This idea of filtering political messages through a mixture of humor, lack of complexity and messages for insiders is the basis of the influence made meme.
Mr. Handsome, with his more than 75,000 followers between Twitter and TikTok, is just one example of the prominent role of memes in Spanish politics. On Instagram and TikTok, the Ayusopasion accounts do something similar for their 175,000 followers with the “prisoner” or “boss” or “lady Madrid” Isabel Diaz Ayuso: “How beautiful!”, they write in one of their latest publications, which is They focus on the physical. In the last municipal elections, “Que te vote Txapote” became popular, a phrase by Ayuso that became a meme back and forth: It went from the networks to real scenes, which then went viral again.
What affects the most is what happens closer. To not miss anything, .
In this pre-campaign, Vox tweeted the number “33” when there were “33” days left before the elections. It was a tweet along with a video that just said that: “Yes 33 haha.” It was viewed 1.5 million times, more than triple the tweet with the video. Days later, their leader appears in a video saying “33”. It had 2.6 million views. The “33” has become a number of support for Fernando Alonso, the F1 driver. The explanation of why is too complex, but knowing that is enough: with the 33 meme, Vox is joining a current in networks that ironically implies support for the Spanish runner and nostalgia for when he won World Cups. That this year it could happen again is a return to the past, which is what many Vox voters want.
Like it or not, memes are a growing part of the Spanish political debate.
Memes, fast-circulating bits of popular culture, are not new. Nor his role in politics. But their incredible popularity means that they are becoming essential to understand each electoral cycle. The traditional idea of the voter was someone rational, informed and who votes to reward or punish politicians, says Clara Juarez, a researcher at the University of Vienna, who in her dissertation compared the behavior on the Internet of followers of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Vox and Podemos. “Now we’re starting to see that, first, people aren’t as interested or reading as much news, and second, politicians are sometimes rewarded or punished for things outside of their control. There is a hole there that we don’t quite understand”, summarizes Juarez.
This hole forces us to look for other theories that explain why someone chooses a party, candidate or ideology: “Something called social identity theory has emerged, which understands the world based on groups and our belonging to them, which leads us to develop attitudes consistent with these affiliations”, explains Juarez. It is a more social way of looking at politics and in which the role of the networks fits.
He teamfacha It is one of the phenomena that has best exploited the presence of the Internet in politics. With memes and jokes, they have been placing in the national debate issues that would not have entered otherwise and that have favored the growth of Vox. “He teamfacha it exemplifies very well the discourse of the extreme right present in the youth”, says Juan Manuel Gonzalez Aguilar, professor at the International University of La Rioja. “Acid messages, without any kind of cover, in some cases satirizing themselves in order to humiliate the opponent.” Both the unofficial leader of the teamfacha, Espanabola, like the people behind Ayusopasion have not responded to messages from this newspaper. PP sources in Madrid claim not to know who is behind this latest account.
Memes circulate through networks faster than other types of content. Its use to popularize political ideas is evident: “They allow an easy and quick approach to the electorate, sometimes with messages that are superfluous or loaded with stereotypes,” explains Guillermo Suarez-Tangil, a researcher at Imdea Networks in Madrid. And he elaborates: “They tend to be very effective in conveying simple messages, but loaded with irony.” Here, for example, Espanabola openly explains how they use 33 to carry “normies” [usuarios incautos] towards Vox thanks to admiring Fernando Alonso:
F1 normies discovering that they have been in a fandom of looks for a long time.
— Spainball ✞ (@Espball) June 23, 2023
The common idea of the meme is an image with text above it, but that conception is outdated. “Although we tend to think of a meme as an image with text overlaid on it, memes actually appear in many different formats, including audio and video, which have grown a lot with TikTok,” says Ioana Literat, a professor at Columbia University (EE USA). “Memes also often borrow images or clips from mainstream media, with the goal of mixing or recombining them to generate new, and often subversive meanings,” she describes.
The fan phenomenon in politics
The extension of the meme concept allows them to be an optimal vehicle for politics. “A meme is only a meme when it inhabits many bodies. It is not limited to a format or a design”, defines Marco Lopez Paredes, director of the Communication Observatory of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador.
The creator of Mr. Handsome saw that option clearly when starting her profile: “It all starts from the fact that, as a person on the left, I wanted to try to spread the political message that I believe in as widely as possible in an honest and entertaining way.” The anonymous author recounts that during the pandemic she realized that content such as fancam (videos with music and images) worked very well and that people are more likely to capture and share the political message from emotion: “I thought it was worth exploring this path and that the figure of Pedro Sanchez also has an almost epicalmost of protagonist of a film that confronts everything and everyone”, he adds. This role opens Sanchez’s appeal as a candidate and the way to convey it is simple:
Something similar happens with Ayuso, who fascinates meme creators as a heroine. Or with Abascal, who often goes out on his typical Spanish lord horse. The potential memetic of a candidate is something that the parties will take more and more into account: that is why there is now a bullfighter vice president in Valencia. Send an obvious message without doing anything and make your rivals angry.
The meme puts you on your team
Another essential role of the meme is its ability to distinguish between “you” and “us”: who understands and disseminates our meme is ours. This also makes participating in the group gratifying: “There are two basic ideas,” sums up Juarez, “one, that more people join your team and, two, indicate how you must be to belong to that team, what should be funny to you. Social identity theory defines who belongs and who doesn’t.
Memes don’t always have a clear goal, they often start with an inside joke. “Then more people get involved in the creative process,” describes Christina Neumayer, a professor at the University of Copenhagen, “and probably not all of them have a political goal in mind, but they think it’s fun to create something or be part of that joke. internal. With those memes we can express a shared political identity, of us against them, often criticizing and mocking the political elite, which inversely reinforces the polarization”, she points out.
The charos It is perhaps the original Spanish political meme that most fulfills all these traits. In this case it has served to denigrate a political rival. The pejorative term charo managed to crawl from the underworld of the forums, where it originated in 2011, to the present day: “Those girls aged 40 and over, mahogany shades, a cazallera voice, and pro-Palestinian and ‘No to War’ badges. Those who are staunch followers of IU, or of the PSOE anywhere in the provinces and who seek to maintain their beach bar”, said the original post, which has the category of legend in its environment. The stereotype, similar to the one already in decline marujaanother Spanish classic (or the Karen of the Anglo-Saxon internet) has become popular thanks to the Vox campaign on networks, specifically in those places where politics is done informally.
The popularity of the qualifier is due to the turn of politics towards pop culture in the field of communication in recent years. This has allowed Santiago Abascal’s party to use extremist memes no problem, like Pepe the frog, a well-known symbol of the American extreme right, in the Congress of Deputies. This use is common among new parties to be noticed: “We have investigated the use of memes by political parties (unfortunately not in Spain), and they are also used by their official accounts; but they are used more often by newly arrived parties, which are trying to enter the political arena and gain visibility”, Neumayer analyzes.
The concept of charo It has of course had a graphic evolution, like a good meme. After years of being used in forums or small groups on networks, the term is now known by the majority of network users interested in politics. The ability to name ideas is a remarkable power. A determining moment was when users insulted a Spanish journalist from New York Times in 2019. The strategic use of non-public social networks by Vox, especially to attract young voters, motivated the Ministry of Equality to title its last Christmas campaign as “Charo”. Mas Madrid also used it to refute the mockery, with a spots advertising for the regional elections on May 28.
Some people use ‘Charo’ as an insult. The Charos are the ones who build a better world every day. Long live the Charos! 🙌🏽💘 pic.twitter.com/9wuDEWHdid
— More Madrid (@MasMadrid__) March 7, 2023
The success of a specific meme is difficult to predict, but it does have some clear features. “They are a popular form of political communication in the digital realm and can have a significant impact on political debate. And although there is no exact formula to create successful political memes, they do have certain characteristics: topicality, humor, simplicity, emotional connection and shareability”, lists Andrea Carrillo Andrade, consultant and researcher at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Ecuador.
Humor plays a key role in the spread of memes. Politics, if it makes you laugh, goes better. “But not only humor, but also the limits of what you find offensive. The right-wing participants told me that the left could not do humor because, of course, everyone was so sensitive,” suggests Juarez. Laughing at that sensitivity of the other team is like a victory, which unites and causes satisfaction.
Humor gives, however, the option of treading on risky territory or trolling too much (and, if someone is shocked or reproached, excuse themselves with the fact that it was all a joke). But the message reaches whoever it should reach: “They can tell you that you thought they were Francoists, when it was all a joke,” says Juarez. “You never know. These examples occur a lot in Forocoches. It’s hard to do investigative or journalism when you don’t know if they’re serious or if they’re laughing at you.” This ambiguity, so typical of the networks, is perfect for politics: everything remains under a funny cloudy shadow, but whoever must understand, understands it.
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Source: EL PAIS