How to Make Sense of Nonsense: Political Absurdity and Parodic Memes in the #Sharpiegate Affair

Christian Pentzold, Conrad Zuber, Florian Osterloh, Denise J. Fechner


This article interrogates the memetic reactions triggered by #Sharpiegate. The affair was a moment of political absurdity that provoked critical engagement with the irrationalities of Trump’s performance. Analyzing the imbroglio around a doctored map of Hurricane Dorian in 2019, we show how parodic memes offered a response to publicly displayed unreasonableness. Our analysis characterizes the renditions shared on Twitter as clumsy corrections. In the tradition of political jamming and its tactic of détournement, this memetic genre works by emulating the distortion of images with bold scribbles. The renditions took the form of prospective or retrospective interventions that hoped to draw a desirable condition into being. This gesture of point-blank meddling stood in opposition to the populist truth-tampering that became evident in the affair. The meme provided a rallying point for spontaneous resonance and collective self-ascertainment while acknowledging its limited ability to correct political pretensions out of touch with reality.


memes; parody; political jamming; détournement; Trump; Twitter; Hurricane Dorian; Sharpiegate

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