The Counterrevolutionary Potential of the Video Selfie

The most interesting experiment in subverting the Communicational Hegemony in Venezuela today is Henrique Capriles's video selfie campaign. Yes, really.

If you have Facebook, odds are you have seen this video. It shows Yuraima Rondón, a working-class woman with a Chávez signature tattooed on her arm, showing the middle finger to the Maduro government. This is not your usual self-serving, loyally deranged, Aporrea-type rant. Behind the camera is none other than Mr. Henrique Capriles himself, putative leader of the Opposition and selfie pro. Filmed about two weeks ago, it’s his most popular online video to date: 2.2 million views and counting.

Why is the video so successful? Apart from the picturesque quality of a middle-finger to Maduro protruding from the very forearm of a Chávez tatoo, the opposition Yuraima embodies is refreshing. She’s no stiff Prados-del-Este type, no self-serving Caraqueño pundit, but pueblo — and pueblo chavista at that. And even though Capriles is no protagonist, prone as always to gaffes and lost threads of thought, his presence in the video says enough. He is with el pueblo, deep in Barlovento and Chirimena and Cúa, arm-to-arm with the intimacy of a selfie.  

As you can tell from this other video, selfies have a peculiar authenticity. Just compare them for a second to a staged political ad, fake smiles and all. The limited extension of the arm from which they are filmed usually forces the cast to get close together, as is the case with this family in Chirimena. There is no film crew, no script, no formality. It’s all live, spontaneous, candid. Capriles finds himself in this house in the first place because he had to use the bathroom. There’s plenty of banter, the conversation feels honest.

When at minute 3:37 Capriles tells Pedro:

It is for el pueblo… What I do I do not for any political colour. We have talked before and you know I also work for the pueblo follower of Chávez. I also work for them. That is why, when I ran against Maduro, almost a million Venezuelans who before had voted for Chávez then voted for me. Many people know me and they know I work pa’ tol’ mundo.

he drives the point home powerfully.

Another reason these videos have gone viral is, of course, that they feed off from social media. Capriles doesn’t hide that this is his goal, telling Pedro’s grandchildren to look for their video on féijbu. For, surely — who doesn’t have Facebook these days? By moving the focus of his online campaign from Twitter to Facebook, which is of much wider use in Venezuela, Capriles has hit the jackpot.

Here’s another. Filmed a day after the one with Yuraima, it refers back to it (while mentioning the triquiñuelas of the 6D voting card) with this wonderful slogan: “el seis de diciembre, usted le pinta la paloma, pero busca la manito”. It is set in a small-business in Cúa amidst the women –each more coqueteshly echanted than the next of being filmed by Capriles– in charge of its running. Here’s the knack: the lead female repeatedly addresses the viewer. And in this instance the viewer is not the Maduro government , but us the audience. She tells us to bet on change, to not fall for the electoral trap of the sudden raise in the minimum wage, to be united, and so on, all the while somehow thinking that we, the future viewers of the video, will, like herself, be del pueblo: “A strategic raise, pueblo… This is the way, this is the solution, pueblo…”. For a sifrino like myself saying something like that would be awkward, but you get my point.

What makes these videos enthralling is that the people being filmed are communicating with a voice that has only just been given to them. The voice of grassroots protest coming at last from the organized medium of the Opposition. JulioCoco famously quipped about the failure of #LaSalida that “we could not take on some outsiders’ protest”. Now, we are not only sharing this protest, but also voicing it in selfie form. By making it public, we make take ownership of it.

These videos are all the more potent for two reasons. Not only do they breach the total media blackout the Opposition in general and Capriles in particular face, but also they dislocate the myth that Opposition types are but oddities in the barrio. Even those that only flicker for a second in front of the camera seem, through their complacent smiles, to want change; all working-class but stemming from different Mirandino towns, each tell the same story. They are fed up with the government and Capriles is at home in their dwellings.

What’s more, they are not afraid of saying it all in public.

This matters. However much the opposition’s bloviators go on about how we lack a ‘historical narrative’ or ‘intellectual dimension’ with which to face ‘Bolivarianism’ –whatever that is– truth is what we have truly lacked all these years is a certain ‘touch’ with the grassroots.

Our country, doomed with clientelism and demagoguery (as exemplified by Yuraima’s fixation of getting her car back) often associates socioeconomic background with culture, and assumes the populist falsehood that only people of the same background can overcome the same burden of injustice.

Throughout the sixteen years of Chavismo, this claim to cultural fellowship has been their most powerful monopoly. It is now clear that monopoly is crumbling. Turns out even our awkward Capriles can deliver good jokes with punch-lines that land, that he is culturally (if not socioeconomically) in his element in such a setting. And more — that he’s actually welcomed there.

These selfie-videos ultimately disprove the idea, held by chavistas (through distrust) and by us (through embarrassment) that we, the opposition, are altogether too awkward, too culturally foreign, too socioeconomically detached, to strike a convincing populist tone. To be ordinary, that is, and celebrated. And this, believe me, is not only good news for the 6D elections. It is encouraging in a much deeper sense of Venezuelanhood.

Andrés Miguel Rondón

M.A. in Economics from the University of Edinburgh. Madrid based. Wealth management, roots in banking and microfinance. Voracious reader of Classics, specially the Russians, and History. Caraqueño and Caraquista, inescapably a lover of Salsa, wheat talk and Rum. Fascinated by South America's indigestion of modernity, owes his political understanding mostly to Octavio Paz, Ivan Karamazov and dad.