Last week, European Parliament became the site of impromptu protest art created by an unlikely source. Seb Dance, a member of the EU governing body, was growing increasingly agitated with hearing nationalist speeches and anticipated more inflammatory remarks as Nigel Farage rose to speak. The former leader of the far-right U.K. Independence Party (Ukip) and supporter of Donald Trump did not disappoint. Farage heralded the U.S. President’s Muslim travel ban as a heroic step towards “defeating terrorism.”
But with Farage’s back turned, Dance, sitting just a few rows back, revealed a crude handwritten sign to his audience; it read, in all caps, “he’s lying to you,” with an arrow pointing to Farage. Perhaps unwittingly, the frustrated MEP was tapping into a basic tactic of protest art: the manipulation of text and image to undermine the original intent of a given message.
“I had a ‘screw it’ moment,” Dance later told The Guardian
. He was frustrated with the platform EU Parliament was providing for Farage, who was blaming immigration and the refugee crisis for the divisions in British society. The beauty of Dance’s sign lies in its simplicity. Dance had in effect acted as a real-time meme generator, intervening with honesty and humor to undermine the pomp that might come with a speech before EU Parliament. Like with memes, Farage’s image (or, in this case, speech) was co-opted and an entirely new meaning was ascribed through the addition of Dance’s text. It clearly struck a chord, and by the next day the video of the parliamentary session had gone viral, being shared thousands of times on social media.
In recent internet history, politicians have set themselves up for ridicule by providing the perfect conditions for their memeification. More than just humorous interventions, these memes undermine the pretensions of power and respect politicians use as a de-facto method for quieting dissent and broadcasting their often contemptuous messages. A recent viral example comes via President Trump himself, who has paraded his signed executive orders proudly before the cameras. Taking their cue, internet saboteurs let loose, spawning multitudes of scathing iterations wherein the President shows off a child’s sketchbook to the American people. “i’m the president and i like to draw,” reads the tagline of @TrumpDraws
, a Twitter account dedicated to Trump’s executive order memes. It has already amassed over 350,000 followers, thanks to scrawled drawings of “kat,” “dinosar,” and “Spongebob Sqarepants, my friend.”