“Macho man, really?” – Spain 2019

The power of humour to ridicule populist leaders

Themes: Gender National politics

Humour form/genre: Meme

Humour mechanisms: Ambiguity Exaggeration Opposition Satire Status reversal Transgression

Country: Spain

Author: Carmen Maíz-Arévalo

Affiliation: Universidad Complutense Madrid

What do we see here?

These images depict Santiago Abascal, the leader of VOX, the far-right Spanish party. Abascal, who is well known for his bearded, macho look, presents himself as a true patriot and Spanish “saviour” who intends to ‘rescue’ Spain from the ‘scourge’ of homosexuality and immigration. Here, Santiago Abascal is depicted as a member of the Pride Parade, his beard helping the audience to remember other public figures like Eurovision Contest winner, drag queen Conchita Wurst. His beard has become one of his most identifying features, which also helps to humorously portray him as a Muslim extremist.

What public issue is addressed here?

Back in November 2019, VOX experienced a dramatic rise on the Spanish political scene, which translated into a high number of MPs at the Parliament. Although part of the Spanish population supports VOX and its ideas, the rest of the public is really concerned about the advance of such radical views. In fact, not only does Abascal and his party reject homosexuality but also other social issues like immigration, by displaying a clearly xenophobic ideology, which goes against democratic ideals and the Spanish Constitution.

What does the humour do?

The meme is mostly visual but there is a blending of the words Luxemburg and VOX, namely Voxemburg. VOX, which is represented by bright green, is also played with not only in the rainbow flag, where we can read VOX in the green line, but also on the shirt Abascal is wearing.

Clearly, the main goal of this kind of humour is not just to entertain viewers and make them laugh but to “punch up” and satirise this political leader by depicting him as those he rejects.

What is the power of memes like these? Can they really ridicule a populist political leader by exaggerating their recognisable features (not only physical but also ideological)? Does this continuous exposure actually “help” this kind of political leaders? As Oscar Wilde wittily pointed out, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”.