Informations and abstract
Keywords: meme, cult of personality, pandemic, politicians, digital methods
Our contribution aims at conceptualising the notion of «memetic cult of personality», which originates from the memetic production surrounding political figures, especially during periods of intense media coverage, like that triggered by the Coronavirus outbreak. To do so, we focus on two case studies from the Italian political sphere: former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Governor of Campania Region Vincenzo De Luca, both prominent media figures during the first lockdown. Relying on digital methods for the data collection, our empirical inquiry focuses on a corpus of static image memes, memetic videos and newspaper articles collected across different platforms. By adopting a combination of automated visual analysis and discourse analysis, we demonstrate that memetic cults show some of the traits traditionally attributed to personality cults, while displaying unique features as well. At a general level, it is maintained that memetic cults are co-constructed by users participating in the collaborative practices of memetic production and circulation. Leveraging the ambiguous logic of meme culture, we also illustrate how these cults fuel doppelganger characters and alternative narratives, in which support and mockery are blended together.