By: Monica Landrove
While the road to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio has received the lion’s share of network news coverage across North America, it is not the only significant tournament sports fans can look forward to this summer. June will mark the start of the one hundredth Copa America, Copa America Centenario, a competition between the best men’s association football teams in North, Central, and South America for intercontinental bragging rights and FIFA world ranking consideration. Staunch soccer fans in the Western hemisphere will be tuning into Copa America, the top choice competition for national A-team squads (traditionally, countries tend to send their younger, newer male players to the Olympics, rather than the Copa America). As enthusiasm mounts, advertisement for the tournament has begun to pervade even the most soccer-ambivalent news markets, thanks in some part to a clever commercial by TyC Sports (Torneos y Competencias), an Argentine sports channel based in Buenos Aires. Earlier this month TyC aired a cheeky, attention-grabbing promotional video for the tournament. The video depicts action shots of the stars of the Argentinian national team, Copa America 2015 runners up and current FIFA-ranked number one team in the world, all while the voice of Donald Trump, presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States, resonates in the background. The ad plays on the words of Trump’s now-infamous border wall speech, turning his warning against the “hundred of thousands” South Americans crossing the US border, unchecked, on its head by reappropriating them to discussion of strategy to be used against the formidable Argentinian squad. While both advertising strategy and international football commentary have a symbiotic relationship with sociopolitical commentary, it was the video’s tongue-in-cheek humor that grabbed the attention, particularly on social media, of international sports fans and politicos alike.
Latin America has a longstanding tradition of sociopolitical humor and satire, dating well back into the early nineteenth century. Mexican comedians of the twentieth century, most notably world-renowned satirical actor Cantinflas, who in his time was described as the Mexican Charlie Chaplin, exerted great influence in the manner in which they commented on social ills and political corruption. Cantinflas’ whip smart wordplay critiquing sociopolitical issues garnered him broad adoration in Mexico and inspired a generation of comedians, journalists, and activists throughout Latin America. Cantinflas, whose work has made a recent resurgence thanks to video streaming platforms such as YouTube and a 2015 dramatization of his life now available for view on Netflix, was just one influencer in a storied tradition of political humor in Latin America.
In the late 1990s, comedian and social activist Jaime Garzón, captured the hearts and minds of many Colombians with his radio and television sketch series. Garzón’s endearing wit and inventive characters playfully cast aspersions on the deeply corrupt ruling elites in Colombia at the time. His most famous role was as a shoe shine who interviewed celebrities and politicians of his day – a recurring sketch similar in concept to Stephen Colbert’s nine-year run as a pseudo-political conservative talk show host on the Colbert Report. At one point, Garzón’s character asked 1998 Colombian presidential election candidate Noemi Sanin, “don’t you ever get sick of spouting the same nonsense every day?” Garzón’s searing social commentary, coupled with his role as peace activist throughout Colombia’s protracted Civil War landed him in hot water with the powers-that-be and in August of 1999, he was tragically murdered by right-wing paramilitary factions. Garzón’s death shook the country and thousands of Colombians took to the streets of Bogota to express outrage and mourning over the loss of a much-beloved national figure and humorous voice political dissent. More recently, with the growth of citizen media, Jaime Garzón’s legacy of humor and political activism have seen renewed reverence, particularly among a generation of young Colombians old enough to clearly remember the events of 1999, and now finding themselves stewards of a transition to new media in a country that overall appears to be making strides toward lasting peace, social stability, and freedom of speech and press.
New media – by which I mean content made available digitally on platforms such as websites, blogs, video, mobile apps, and, importantly, social media – is often touted as a means for democratizing political discourse. Much of new media hinges on the interactions and collaborations of those consuming it. Anyone with access to a computer can start a blog, their readers can leave comments, or are invited to react with a myriad of emotions on their social media pages, and most notably, across all media types, users are encouraged to share widely that which they have watched or read and subsequently connected with. The role social media plays in galvanizing sociopolitical change – most notably during the 2011 Arab Spring is no longer a new story. In fact, shrewd media analysts have outgrown their initial awe for social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and have proceeded to discuss the manner in which the platforms’ significant pitfalls and shortcomings have hampered revolutionary efforts and undermined lasting social change. However, in January of this year, ComScore, a New York-based global media analytics company, announced that 2015 data indicated that internet users in Latin America spend more of their online time on social media platforms than anyone else in the world. While commentary on social media has shifted dramatically in recent years, that is not to say it should be eschewed entirely – particularly given the media platforms’ unique power to engaged audiences throughout Latin America.
Advances in new media are crucial for providing an outlet for the underrepresented and the disenfranchised. The ease with which an amateur political analyst or an enterprising citizen journalist can set up a blog or create an Instagram account is astounding in its ability to give voice to alternative opinions. But it is new media’s emphasis on interaction and user feedback that is its most beguiling characteristic. This reliance on stakeholder engagement through shared user experience means that new media can be used to breath fresh life into into longstanding Latin American traditions of political humor and satirical social commentary. In that same vein, the globalization of digital media means that sociopolitical commentary can ignite political discourse beyond local borders. In the case of Argentina’s topical Copa America promotional video, users were given a glimpse into the global implications of the United States political process, in a way that employed Argentinian satirical tradition.
It remains evident: while new media might not be the silver bullet by which social movements take lasting effect, it is proving itself to be the vehicle by which poignant social commentary is not only galvanized, but nurtured and sustained.
Schmidt, Samuel, Seriously Funny: Mexican Political Jokes as Social Resistance; University of Arizona Press, 2014.