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.”

New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

Updated 2 min 37 sec ago

New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

  • The election of Lori Lightfoot as mayor gives Chicago’s Arabs an opportunity to reverse the damage that Rahm Emanuel has caused
  • Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained against

Plagued by ongoing controversies and criticism that he tried to hide a video of Chicago police killing a black teenager in October 2014, Rahm Emanuel decided he had had enough as the city’s mayor and decided to retire.

Elected in 2011 with a big boost from his former boss, US President Barack Obama — also a Chicago native — Emanuel served two full terms.

But his hopes of reversing the city’s tumbling finances, improving its poorly performing schools, and reversing record gun-related violence and killings, all failed.

However, Emanuel did have one success. He managed to gut the involvement of Chicago’s Arab-American minority in city-sponsored events, responding favorably to its influential Jewish-American community leadership, which complained about Palestinian activists who advocated for statehood and challenged Israeli oppression.

Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained included photographs of Palestinians protesting against Israel. The festival had only been launched four years earlier by his predecessor in 2007.

Emanuel also disbanded the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs, and ended Arab American Heritage Month, which had been held every November since it was recognized by Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor.

Emanuel refused to discuss his reasons for these decisions with leaders of Chicago’s Arab community.

He declined repeated requests by me to interview him, despite my having interviewed seven Chicago mayors. He declined similar requests from other Arab journalists.

While he hosted iftars for Muslims, he never hosted an Arab heritage celebration during his eight years in office.

His father was a leader of the Irgun, which was denounced as a terrorist organization in the 1940s by the British military.

The Irgun murdered British soldiers and thousands of Palestinian civilians, and orchestrated the bloody Deir Yassin massacre on April 9, 1948.

Before becoming mayor, Emanuel volunteered at an Israeli military base repairing damaged vehicles. His pro-Israel stance was never challenged by the mainstream US news media.

But with the election in February of Lori Lightfoot as mayor, Chicago’s Arabs have an opportunity to reverse the damage that Emanuel caused.

Lightfoot was sworn into office on Monday and serves for four years. She has already reached out to Arabs, appointing at least two Palestinians to her 400-person transition team, whose members often remain and assume government positions with new administrations.

The two Palestinians in her transition team are Rush Darwish and Rami Nashashibi. Darwish has organized several successful marathons in Chicago and Bethlehem to raise funds for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Nashashibi is involved with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN).

As an African American, Lightfoot knows what it is like to be the victim of racism, stereotypes and discrimination. That makes her more sensitive to the concerns of Chicago’s Arabs.