Populism and Melodrama: Mobilization, Engagement and Political Discourse.
Usually used to name typical Latin American socio-cultural and political phenomena, populism and melodrama can shed light on the most controversial currently sociopolitical events – (1) the rise of far-right leaders and movements in different nations and regions, and (2) the massive support to their openly authoritarian discourses. Through the theoretical debate and partial results of a virtual ethnography on YouTube official channel of Jair Bolsonaro, the paper proposal aims to bring a conceptual discussion on the affective appeals of the political storytelling and the leadership figure of radical right-wing politicians. In line with the so-called performative turn in studies on populism, the focus is on the affinities between leaders' role and forms of mobilization and political engagement that have led them to surprising and overwhelming electoral results.
Although the myriad definitions of the concept of populism, the most recent analyzes converge in understanding as its core aspect the triad formed by the leader, the antagonism between the people and the elite, and the forms of communication between the leader and his followers. Like politicians of the most different styles and ideological nuances, right-wing populist leaders face the challenge of building a discourse that, while increasing a high political engagement among those who identify themselves ideologically with them, is also able to emotionally move and rationally convince broader sections of the electorate that do not share many aspects of their worldviews.
Traditional literary genre and with a successful trajectory in theater, cinema, television programs and also new media, theories of melodrama have been mobilized to understanding ideological aspects of dispute and consolidation of political hegemony (Anker, 2014; Rincón and Uribe, 2015; Illouz, 2016; Loren, 2016; Williams, 2019; Diehl, 2014). Characterized as a mode of excess in narratives, in emotions, in gestures and spectacles, melodramas deal not only with traditional models of narratives and incredible plot twists, but it should also be explored to investigate the feelings, passions, and stories on moral battles between good and evil that symbolize the most controversial political events and phenomena in recent years.
Furthermore, as a body genre (Williams, 1991), the melodrama provides concepts and theoretical tools to understand how the performed emotions and sensations by radical right-wing politicians on the computers or cellphones screens register effects – almost an involuntary mimicry, as put Williams – in the body of their followers. Analyzing the stage, the plot, and the characters represented by them are a fruitful way to grasp aspects of that constellation of phenomena.