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VP Leni is a Street Fighter: What Makes a Meme Powerful Like a Dragonball?

Rule number one: Context is key.
by Erwin Colcol
Dec 1, 2021
Photo/s: Ibanag in the City/TikTok

Vice President Leni Robredo fed the meme machine when she channeled "Dragon Ball Z" and "Street Fighter" to blast thieves and traitors into space dust, leaving voters either amused at its campiness or scratching their heads.

Regardless of the reactions, the Robredo memes on TikTok, Facebook and Twitter showed a more fun side to the presidential contender, showing the power of memes as a novel way to get engagements that will hopefully translate to votes, an analyst said.

“It's a different way to capture yung attention ng mga tao, to increase engagement,” University of the Philippines sociologist Samuel Cabbuag, whose research interests focus on online groups and digital cultures, told reportr.

“Whether it's positive or negative, the fact that it's a visual thing na isang image lang yan, ilang texts lang yan, pero gets mo agad yung ibig sabihin. The messaging comes across,” he added.

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Former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV defended Robredo against those who poked fun at the meme, saying that while campaign politics is a “hit or miss,” the post was a “bullseye” as it penetrated the Gen Z crowd and provided an opening for future conversation.


Para sa bashers ni VP Leni ##TeamLeni ##DapatSiLeni ##SonnyTrillanes ##Trillanes

? original sound  - Sonny Trillanes


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Why memes abound during the elections

As the biggest social media consumers around the world, Filipinos readily embraced the meme culture. It’s no wonder why in the run-up to the 2022 elections, memes also become a favorite tool for netizens to show their support for the candidate of their choice.

“Memes are really part of Internet culture, whatever context it is, whatever geographic location or political context or regional, religious,” Cabbuag said.

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“It gives us more opportunity to express, more opportunity to be creative din in some way to present an issue or a situation or even personal lives. Nape-present yun through memes,” he added.

For campaign strategist Gerardo Eusebio, memes are the online counterparts of traditional campaign paraphernalia like posters, streamers, and banners, which serve as communication tools for candidates to reach out to the voters.

“Memes are mediums of candidates wherein they can air or project themselves. They are actually literary vehicles where you provide color and words to project yourself,” Eusebio, who also teaches political science at the De La Salle University, told reportr.

“It shouldn't be too long, it shouldn't be too short. It should be catchy and there should be an art in creating these memes,” he added.

While election memes are created to boost a candidate’s popularity, it can also be used to attack other aspirants.

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Think of all the posts that came out after the former Sen. Bongbong Marcos announced his presidential bid in the 2022 elections, where netizens picked on his family’s atrocities and his supposed lack of qualifications to lead the country for the next six years.

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“Sometimes you have to do that, I believe. That's why it's called a game. In the game of politics, you have to practice all sorts of things, basta hindi lang para pumatay o [gumawa ng] illegal,” Eusebio said.


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How to make election memes effective?

Much like in the traditional way of campaigning, the key to an winning election meme is knowing your target audience and choosing the right message, according to Cabbuag, the sociologist.

While it’s good to inject humor in these memes, it’s also essential to ensure that those who will see these memes will understand their context, he added.

“Meme culture and memes in general, grounded siya not just on the Internet but also on humor. But even humor is contextual, humor is referential,” Cabbuag said.

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“So kailangan nage-gets mo talaga yung ibig sabihin, saan nanggagaling. Bakit yun ang post na yun? Na-gets ba yun ng tao? Baka ikaw lang natatawa,” he added.

In the case of Robredo’s viral meme, it’s possible that some netizens found it confusing, or even ridiculous, because they weren’t fully aware of its context, Cabbuag said.

Natuwa raw yung mas nakakatanda nang konti, yung talagang lumaki with that culture of Street Fighter, if yun talaga yung reference, or kung kamehameha wave ng Dragon Balls. If yun talaga ang target audience, then okay,” he said.

Pero how about those people na hindi lumaki o hindi familiar with those video games or manga or anime? Hindi nila maintindihan yan,” he added.

As memes are viewed and consumed by the public in general, those who create them, whether part of a candidate’s campaign team or just an ordinary supporter, should be prepared at how people will respond to these content, Cabbuag said.

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“Sometimes hit or miss talaga siya. Kahit ano namang meme in general. Sometimes may matutuwa, sometimes may mati-trigger,” he said.

“So it's not really the fault of the audience or nung messaging. The fact that you post it to public, we have no choice but for the public to respond,” he added.

Eusebio also suggested to include one or two of the most remarkable achievements of a candidate that would resonate to the voters.

“Unless that achievement is so strong and so compelling, isa na lang na achievement mo na hindi makakalimutan ng tao,” he added.

As memes are slowly becoming a part of the wide array of campaign materials, Eusebio said they should be created with the goal of truly representing the brand of leadership and platforms of a certain candidate.

“Meme-makers should make the correct memes. They should treat it with respect as a bona fide or a standard campaign paraphernalia. They should treat it with care because it is powerful,” he added.

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