Meme humor helps Brazilians cope with grim times

Brazilian President Michel Temer (L) and Brazilian Lower House's president Rodrigo Maia attend a ceremony to launch the Agricultural and Livestock Plan 2017/2018 at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on June 7, 2017. President Michel Temer expressed confidence Wednesday that he will not be toppled by a growing corruption scandal as Brazil's election court debated whether to strip him of his mandate. Temer announced the release of a line of credit for medium and large producers. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2017

Meme humor helps Brazilians cope with grim times

BRAZIL: Political corruption, economic crisis, rampant crime — the headlines in Brazil are grim, so locals have taken to online memes that often go viral to relieve the stress.
A flurry of memes — funny images or video coupled with text that are spread online — making light of the country’s bleak situation have taken the Internet by storm in a country that has the world’s second largest number of Facebook users.
One popular meme has tourists taking pictures next to a leaning Tower of Pisa with the face of the deeply unpopular president Michel Temer on it.
Another has Tite, the coach of the national football team, being proclaimed president.
Sandro Sanfelice says that the meme creators are like the orchestra aboard the Titanic: they’ll keep playing even as the country sinks under a flood of scandal and corruption.
Sanfelice, a 28-year-old who works for a phone company in the southern city of Curitiba, has 1.3 million followers on his specialty Facebook page Capinaremos.
He claims that some of his memes have reached five million users.
To keep up with the fast pace of news in Brazil, Sanfelice last year created “Capina Meme Factory,” a closed Facebook page that gathers meme producers.
Any member can propose a meme, and if it meets the group’s ethical standards and seems funny, one of the group’s 10 volunteer moderators will publish it.
Once in cyberspace, the meme, like a passing comet, will likely have a bright but limited lifespan.
Top news stories “end up becoming memes almost instantly, from something banal to the electoral court decision” that recently cleared Temer of election wrongdoing, said Sanfelice.
One of the group’s biggest nights was on May 17, when the media group O Globo published a recording of Temer supposedly discussing a hush money payment to a jailed politician.
Soon pictures satirizing Temer in every way possible — as well as pictures of his political nemeses, former leftist presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, laughing uproariously — spread online like wildfire.
Not everyone was amused, apparently.
A few days later the meme creators received an e-mail from the presidency “telling us that the official pictures of Temer could not be used for any purpose other than journalism,” Sanfelice said.
That wrist-slapping gave them pause, but the humorists decided nevertheless to continue publishing memes featuring Temer.
The president’s office later sent an e-mail stating that the message was a reminder that they needed prior authorization to use official images for commercial purposes.
For Viktor Chagas, a professor at the Universidad Federal Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro, the message was clear.
“Politicians are not accustomed to losing control over their image. With the Internet it’s increasingly easy for this to happen, and that worries them,” said Chagas, a specialist on the news media.
Chagas, along with a group of students and professors, created in 2015 a “Museum of Memes,” a project dedicated to the study and archiving of this new form of expression.
“We cannot look at this phenomenon only from the point of view of fake news or post-truth, as if all this content deserves to be discarded,” Chagas said.
“People are gaining access to a debate that they previously did not have, and that is also transforming social reality,” he said.
Brazilian humor focuses on tearing down the powerful, with a heavy dash of self-parody, Chagas said.
For humor that is more reality-based, Facebook users can turn to “O Brasil que deu certo” (The Brazil that actually works).
This page, run by a team led by Ciro Hamen, focuses on the quirky, hard to believe and outlandish.
Examples include people taking selfies while they hide waiting for a shooting to end, or a video clip of a woman who cries out “Temer, I love you!” outside the presidential palace.
The page has more than 1.2 million followers.
“Often we receive content that we say, ‘This is not possible, it must be invented.’ But no, it’s true,” Hamen told AFP.
“Here, truth can be much crazier than fiction.”

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

Updated 34 min 52 sec ago

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

  • Afghan government excluded from all rounds of talks
  • Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1

KABUL: Afghanistan said on Saturday it expects the US to share details of a peace deal with the Taliban before it is signed, having been excluded from all rounds of talks.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has led diplomats through at least nine rounds of talks with members of the armed group in Qatar since last summer.

A deal could pave the way for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and end almost two decades of fighting in the country.

But President Ashraf Ghani’s government has been left out of the talks because of objections from the Taliban, which views his regime as a puppet of the West.

The current round of discussions has been described as crucial because, according to present and former Taliban officials, both parties are expected to soon sign a deal.

“The Afghan government expects that it (agreement) will be shared before it is finalized for signing,” Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, told Arab News.

He said Kabul could not say when the deal would be signed, and that troops’ departure would be condition-based and not based on a timeline set by the Taliban.

“Well, force reduction will be based on conditions, the terrorist threat is potential and we must fight it together for our common safety and in order to prevent any major terrorist attacks on the world’s capitals. 

“We must deny terrorists from holding free ground in Afghanistan and turning it into a safe haven. The presence of some forces, and continued and meaningful support to the Afghan security and defense forces, will be key to our success.”

The Taliban wants all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan within a set timetable and, in return, the group says it will not allow Afghan soil to be used against any foreign country or US interests.

Afghan and US officials have warned against a total pullout of troops because, they argue, the Taliban will try to regain power by force and the country will slide back into chaos after troops leave.

But some say a continued presence will prolong the conflict, as neighboring powers oppose the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and see it as a trigger for extremism.

The Taliban could not be reached immediately for comment about media reports, which cited the group’s former and current officials as saying that a deal with Washington was imminent.

“We have an agreement on a timeframe for the withdrawal,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesman for the Qatar talks, told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. “Discussions are now focused on its implementation mechanism. We have had general discussions today,” he added, referring to current discussions in Doha. “Tomorrow, we shall have discussions on the implementation part.”

Another Taliban spokesman said the top US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, had taken part in the current talks which, according to some observers, showed the importance of the discussions and the possibility of a final deal.

Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1, weeks ahead of a crucial and controversial presidential poll in Afghanistan. 

Ghani, who is standing for re-election, says the polls are his priority. Some politicians believe that peace will have to come first and that the vote will have to be delayed.

Abdul Satar Saadat, who served as an adviser to Ghani, said the Taliban and US were racing against time as any delay would damage trust between the two and prompt the Taliban to fight for another five years.

“Because of this both sides are doing their utmost to sign the deal, delay the polls and begin an intra-Afghan dialogue like Oslo,” he told Arab News.