“Io sono Giorgia” – Italy 2021

When the Italian Right goes viral

Themes: International politics Migration Populism Social movements

Humour form/genre: Meme

Humour mechanisms: Juxtaposition of text and image Recontextualization

Country: Italy

Author: Delia Chiaro

Affiliation: University of Bologna

What do we see here?

This meme is based on a photograph featuring Richard Gere that was taken on board the NGO rescue boat Open Arms that on August 9th 2019 was blocked off the coast of Lampedusa, Sicily carrying 147 refugees. We see the actor talking to an asylum seeker who is asking him who he is, to which the actor replies, “I’m Richard, I’m a Buddhist, I’m a father and I’m American”.

Which public issue is being addressed here?

First, the caption in the meme echoes a quote by Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the right wing, nationalist Fratelli d’Italia / Brothers of Italy party. At a public demonstration in Rome in 2019 Meloni notoriously stated “Io sono Giorgia, sono una donna, sono una madre, sono cristiana” – ‘I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I am a Christian”. Rallying against migration, Islam and LGBTQ+ rights, Meloni claimed “Noi difenderemo Dio, patria e famiglia, dall’islamizzazione, e fatevene una ragione” – ‘We will defend God, our nation and the family against Islamization, get used to it’. Subsequently, two young Italian DJs, Mem and J, well-known for their trash refrains, created a musical techno-remix of Meloni’s speech “Io sono Giorgia” that went viral both in Italy and in Spain with a Spanish version of the same track.

Second, this meme addresses the issue of migration. Hundreds of refugees arrive on the Italian coasts on makeshift vessels every day. According to figures from the Italian home office, on November 21st 2021 alone, 1,033 people landed in Italy, on the 22nd 295   – the stream of asylum seekers is continuous. In 2019, Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister and far-right leader of La Lega/ The League, had introduced a security decree that aimed to put an end to NGO rescue missions in the central Mediterranean by imposing heavy fines for boats that brought migrants to Italy without permission. Currently, Salvini is on trial for having forced the 147 asylum seekers to remain on deck of the Open Arms for 19 days without receiving medical attention before eventually being allowed to disembark. Richard Gere, who happened to be in Italy during the summer of 2019, together with his son had taken food and water out to the ship. The actor is now preparing to testify as a witness against Salvini.

In late October 2021, when Gere arrived in Italy to testify, Salvini accused the actor of grandstanding while Meloni declared that Gere was just an “actor seeking visibility”.

What does the humour do?

The internet meme is a straight parody of Meloni’s quote. However, and more significantly, not only did the issue generate dozens of memes that exploited irony by intertextually pointing at stills from Gere’s filmic back catalogue, but above all, Meloni used the memes, especially the remix, to her own advantage. In interviews, she is quoted as saying how much she liked the song, at a rally in Spain she translated the motto into Spanish spawning a Spanish version of the mash and she even sang the song on a TV chat show.  Meloni has also written “Io sono Giorgia” an eponymous autobiography.