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O Magazine

The rains of
(Castamere) Lesbos

By Aarón Rodríguez Serrano

Pop culture is developing its marketing strategies under the rain along the European coast. Now that the brief perfumed by climatic change spring is here, the declarations of Alex Chung, founder of web Giphy, when he says no less that, “on the Internet there’s a lack of humanity and gifs fill that void”, seem quite surprising. On the contrary, Internet is humanity, and that’s what makes it quite un-human. If Chung had taken the trouble to invest fifteen minutes of his life to analysing the contents of the GIFs exchanged in 4chan, instead of appealing to good minds and general solidary plastic hearts, he would have realised that the Internet is a never-ending red wedding, a clerk wanking with golden rains in the clean toilet of his company before kicking people out, the technological yawning of a soon to be corpse… Je suis 4chan.

Other rains, this time in Castamere, roll down the skin of the greyish children escaped from the brutal merchandising of the Islamic State that are queuing up to sniff capitalist glue in Europe’s neighbourhoods. Pop culture, as I said earlier, does its marketing under the rain. There you have the Helly Luv revolutionaries, already mentioned on these pages not long ago by Ben Tuthill. We also have Anoushka Shankar’s last album, the amazing Land Of Gold, and its impossible reconstruction in opera-rock-sitar form of the epic, the escape, and the humanitarian disaster. Good old Ravi, her father, erected with George Harrison a mausoleum of celebrities in Bangladesh that inaugurated what would later become the charity deliriums of Geldof & his associates. His daughter, on the contrary, has created an intimate proposal, a sort of little gem with no more than five instruments and three invited voices, a portable LP so beautiful that it runs the risk of becoming forgotten. In this side of the planet we went from being ‘The World’ and ‘The Children’ to becoming Paris, or Aylan –our dead child turned pop icon–, to being anything but ourselves.

The refugee looks in the mirror of pop culture and doesn’t know whether he’s stylised or erased. The refugee, as it happened before with the Arab Spring, writes its help messages in perfect English and these become viral in social networks. If they speak English, of course, then they are a bit more like us, more Western, and more accessible in the Vaughan sense. They have learned it thanks to the crash course taught by Al Baghdadi between beheadings. It’s the good thing about learning languages: you develop business opportunities around the world, meet interesting people and you can even send death threats to your neighbouring countries with an impeccable accent while you hoist a rifle, or, on the other extreme, beg for food for your children. Alex Chung, in his defence of GIFs as exercises of humanity, seems to have forgotten that the Islamic State uses that format precisely as a way to highlight torture and horror and to improve their virality in Twitter.

That’s why refugees tend to be tamed by GIFs. Tamed meaning, in this context, turned into a kind of pulp that is easy to digest for search engines and into forms of expression in social networks that don’t become a problem for the flow of contents of these mass portals. They’re portrayed in ways that connect them with other touching viral images, other gestures of pity easily identifiable by those surfing the net. After all, after a few seconds of their faces invading our screen, they have to share the space with things like “This orphan blind girl found an abandoned dog… And you wouldn’t believe what happened afterwards!” or “If you really care about children victims of [INSERT HERE YOUR FAVOURITE ILLNESS], share this image.” The refugee is always under the rain of this simulacrum of humanity that Alex Chung defended, soaked to the bone, but necessarily blocked by the politics of European countries. This politician received a call from his colleagues at the Eurozone… And you wouldn’t believe what happened afterwards!” Deep down, GIFs work as the opposite of a simulacrum of a human act, as an ethic bandage you can throw away; a disposable face; a gesture devoid of any meaning. On GIFs, the body of the refugee is turned into an anecdote: the boy showing the adorable puppy he has at the refugee camp to the camera, the one who doesn’t know how to take off the security equipment after he’s been rescued and stumbles on the floor, the one who plays violin in front of the security forces that are trying to kick him out. Refugees are fighting in real time against the incidental-aesthetic empire of the Holocaust, against the traumas of well-behaved citizens who share pictures of sick children on their walls, against their own traumatic truth that is –let’s put it clearly– too awful to be translated into a GIF. Refugees speak the language of European news agencies, pose for us, and become the masks that we demand.

We’ve still to know what the GIF representing the moment of failure and sincerity, of distance and loneliness beyond European, North-American or Canadian cameras, would be really like. We’ve still to learn how they write in their own language, eyes wide open, their own tragedy. We’ve still to know the real GIF portraying their never-ending exile in Castamere.