Populism as Parody: The Visual Self-Presentation of Jair Bolsonaro on Instagram

Mendonça, Ricardo F.; Caetano, Renato Duarte
The International Journal of Press/Politics

This study analyzes the visual self-representation of current Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is considered to be one of the exponents of the recent rise of rightwing neopopulism. Despite the growing body of literature analyzing contemporary populism, little has been said about the deployment of images in the construction of public meanings relevant to popular understandings of populist leaders. This research draws from the social media analysis of Casullo to investigate how the images posted on Bolsonaro’s Instagram account show him (1) as a mirror of the people, (2) someone extraordinary, and (3) quick to appropriate symbols of power. Referencing the work of Butler, we document how the visual self-representation of Bolsonaro is marked by eccentricity and unsophistication, which makes his demeanor, body, and appropriation of institutional power function as a series of parodies. His performance hyperbolizes the transgressive aspect of populism, producing a vertiginous and pleasurable ambiguity toward the figure of the leader. In emptying the presidency from its extraordinary dimension, the parody paradoxically does something extraordinary by reestablishing the distance that it seeks to eliminate. His eccentric rejection of basic social standards, over-the-top masculinity, and impromptu use of everyday objects as props work to construct an image that he is just an ordinary man, extraordinarily occupying the presidency.