By Scott DeJong
Posted across social media platforms on October 3, 2019, this meme shows both of Trudeau’s campaign planes, one for him and another for the ‘baggage’ that Trudeau brings with him.
The baggage plane contains images of scandals, conspiracies or critiques of the Prime Minister, collage together to give the appearance of some unity. Images range from the ‘embarrasing’ India trip (Clark, 2018), the removal of female cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott (Kalvapalle & Connolly, 2019) and the more recent blackface scandal (Cecco, 2019) to the downright conspiratorial theory of Trudeau being Fidel Castro’s son (Hopper, 2017) and groping allegations (Oved, 2019).
The Trudeau plane contains just two images, Trudeau and Gerald Butts. As an allusion to the SNC- Lavalin scandal, Trudeau and Butts were major faces in the news during the affair, with Butts recently returning to the liberal campaign team.
The meme is meant to highlight the ‘baggage’ that comes with a vote for Trudeau. Complaints of the two planes had frequented election news, especially with environmental sustainability being a core issue of the election. Taking advantage of the coverage, the meme uses the ambiguity of the visual form to pack the second place with scandals and conspiracies around Trudeau. A meme doesn’t need to make a coherent argument, the graphics give the look of coherence instead.
The second plane alludes to the SNC-Lavalin affair and Trudeau’s removal of cabinet ministers are grouped with the conspiracy theory that attempts to biologically link Trudeau to Castro. The meme attempts to embody various points of attack including long-standing questions of Trudeau’s sexual past as well as the Trudeau-Fidel conspiracy popular in right-wing forums in Canada.
Diverting two campaigns to circulate a bunch of old conspiracies is a good example of how memes can de-contextualize images and events. A key element of meme formats is to take an image away from its original context and reimbue it with new meaning (Milner & Phillips, 2017). Despite conversation and images of the two planes was typically used to critique Trudeau as a climate hypocrite, this meme focused on personal and political attacks against Trudeau. While still posted under the hashtag #highcarbonhypocrite, the images in the meme painted a different picture. By presenting Trudeau and Gerald Butts together on one plane, the meme revisits critiques that arose during the SNC-Lavalin affair. Additionally, blackface, the India trip and the older image of Trudeau associated with groping allegations all attack his character.
Notably, by invoking conspiracy theory alongside media fact, the meme attempts to normalize or provide truth to these claims through association. The relationship between Trudeau and Castro remains a claim of fiction, where facial comparisons are being used to propagate the idea. Despite the lack of proof, the conspiracy remains, making it an interesting element of this meme format. Unlike the other images in the meme, the conspiracy theory has no evidence or strong claims. In this manner, the meme template helps propagate ideas, potentially re-affirming suspicions but providing no additional proof.
Cecco, L. (2019, September 20). Trudeau says he can’t recall how many times he wore blackface makeup. The Guardian.
Clark, C. (2018, December 3). Report shows embarrassment in India was a comedy of Canadian errors. The Globe and Mail.
Hopper, T. (2017, February 14). No, internet, Fidel Castro isn’t Trudeau’s real father. The Canadian prime minister just really, really looks like him. National Post.
Kalvapalle, R., & Connolly, A. (2019). Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott kicked out of Liberal Party caucus. Global News.
Milner, R. M., & Phillips, W. (2017). The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online. Polity.
Oved, M. C. (2019, October 10). Anatomy of a manufactured election scandal. The Hamilton Spectator.