Political memes are now a global phenomenon, and Brazil is no exception. The country’s recent political turmoil involving the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff has inspired a huge outpouring of humor and commentary on social media, and this in turn has launched a national conversation about the role of political memes in Brazilian democracy. Writing for Nexo Journal, journalist Ana Freitas suggests that “memes help deal with frustrations and make policy more ‘cool’, but the debate may be shallow.” I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Freitas for the article, and you can check it out here (in Portuguese, but Google Translate can help). Basically, the point I make in the interview is that political memes have the potential to make politics both more accessible and more simplified and polarizing, as politicians like Rousseff are interpreted through the lens of popular culture and cast as Hollywood heroes and villains (mostly villains, in Rousseff’s case).
A think piece by Gigi Trabasso for Affinity Magazine (in English) comes to a very similar conclusion. Trabasso argues that Brazilian teens in particular are missing something important when their understanding of politics is limited to the circulation of memes:
Social media has been the main source of information regarding Brazil’s political state, not television outlets. Following the natural order, the young adult, teen population leads social media and, predominant on every culture, memes. For many, memes are currently the main (sometimes only) source of political information and updates on the nation’s political, economic, and social crisis. Now, one might assure that memes, the most recent form of comedy and humor, would be the greatest way to deal with such tragic times. It is true that Brazilians always seem to find a joke to crack, the silver lining, but once the topic at hand is a corrupt government, memes are not enough. The problem the country has encountered among its teenagers is poor interpretation an laziness. Through memes, one image becomes the representation of a political ideology, one nickname defines a politician, and no one is efficient enough to investigate the nature behind said jokes.
Now, I don’t entirely agree with the notion that political memes will always lead to “poor interpretation” of issues – in fact, sometimes it may be the opposite, as popular culture can become a resource for making resonant meanings out of complex political and social realities. However, it is quite clear that Brazil’s political media landscape, memes included, is currently experiencing many of the same tensions between style and substance that we’ve seen in the U.S., the U.K, and many other countries. Just as in these other national contexts, the phenomenon of political memes in Brazil is bound to have an impact, for better or for worse.