“Bang bang, I shot you down…” or How Europe Fights the Others

I have a feeling that I start to specialize in posts about the EU promo videos. Well, there’s a lot to say/write about this genre! Once in a while a new bizarre propaganda movie comes out and just asks for a commentary. So here it is — the new masterpiece about European identity-building practice that happens on the expense of fortifying yourself from the Others:

So, where do I start?

1. The space

The scene is set up in an industrial space of a railway station. Historically Europe has a special relation to this location. Let me notice that the symbolics of the train station is a crucial trope of modernity: on the one hand it is the gate to the city, a place of intense traffic in people and magnificent machines of transportation that increased the mobility of the moderns, while on the other hand it creates an opportunity for various ‘unwanted others’ to enter the city. Thus, the crowded and anonymous space of the public railway station becomes potentially dangerous. It is here, where the agents of the moral panic of the 19th and 20th century will look for the “perverts”, “degenerates” and “inverts” lurking behind every corner. Even in late modernity the train station is recognized as ” a site of vice and sin“. It is here, where progress, technological advancement, rationality, movement and increased mobility all mix with masses of human bodies, the gazes of strangers, social friction and potential mixing across hierarchies and classes. It is here, where you can gain a temporary identity of a traveler, a passenger. It is here, where time and space gain new meaning. But is also here, where you enter a risk zone, because the democratization of that space makes it easily accessible for intruders.

Coming back to the movie, the railway station here is empty. It’s rather an abandoned metropolitan post-industrial setting. It might be agoraphobic in this way. A lonely woman wanders aroundempty platforms. She soon realizes she is not alone.

2. The main protagonist

Here she is. A beautiful, young woman in a sport-suit. The reference to the classic Kill Bill movie series hits the viewer with its obviousness. More importantly though, she is supposed to symbolize Europe. It is not surprising at all that a white woman in her reproductive age is here to convince me that Europe is a great place to live in. The glorification of white womanhood, elevated to the role of a civilizing trademark has a long history in both Europe and the US. Back in the 19th century “the cult of true womanhood” was an ideology that enabled upper and middle class women to enter the public political scene with a mission of promoting the ideals of domesticity, piety and submissiveness. Paradoxical? Well, of course at the same time it persistently excluded non-white, immigrant and lower class women from the category of a “true woman”, to which those radically “Others” could only aspire. Fueling the heterosexist ideology of the nuclear family, capitalist values and the separation of the public and private spheres the bourgeois True Lady figure was an ideal symbol for the nation state. Female body has been used as a fleshy metaphor for the nation for ages now.

Let’s not forget the mythical Europe who was kidnapped and raped by Zeus in a form of a white bull. Interestingly, the EU often uses this myth, as a kind of ancient story of origin. Problematic? Extremely!

3. The Threat 

We learn from the video that Europe is threatened by various foreign warriors who attack her for no reason, demonstrating their power through elaborate martial arts performances. The first one is an Asian fighter, who shows off in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” style. The next invader is a levitating Arab or Indian man equipped with a kind of scimitar. He looks more like a character from One Thousand and One Nights tale — necessarily bearded and wearing a turban. Last but not least, a black guy enters the scene forcing the door and demonstrating his advanced capoiera skills. All men’s faces look angry and they are ready to fight. This extremely stereotypical, orientalist and racist representation of Otherness is just striking. A perfect classification of Others from a European perspective: the threat  comes from the East, the Middle East and the colonies. The gender dynamics is also notable — female Europe is attacked on her own territory (the railway station looks western) by a group of foreign men. One can just suspect how her integrity and dignity is endangered by that situation. But no worries, not only the villains have superpowers in this story.

4. The Solution

While the barbarian and brutal attackers jump around, Europe remains peaceful, rational and controlled. She knows exactly what to do! Her superpower is… multiplication! In other words, reproduction! With her many cloned selves she surrounds the Others and just peacefully sits down, making them drop their weapons. Although the filmmakers probably wanted to show some kind of assimilation policy, the result is a bit different. In my reading Europe creates a wall, a fortification, a border that makes the Others perish in the dust of the abandoned railway station, annihilates them.  Building fences is supposed to be a solution to neutralize the dangerous outsiders. Well, Europe already does that job pretty well …

Ceuta border fence

The women turn into 12 EU stars. As the music in the background (clearly taken from a western movie) fades away, instead of the classic “The end” or “Fin” the viewers are left with a different message: “The more we are, the stronger we are” says the moral of this story. Needless to say, the whole rhetoric of this video is extremely orientalizing, and it also shows (even if unconsciously) one of Europe’s biggest fears: “the is not enough of us and we need to multiply in order to outnumber the Others”. Imperialism in its finest, again realized through biolopolitical machinery of demographics. Although the method of reproduction represented in the movie seems interesting (parthenogenesis? why not!), it confines the female body into a task of reproducing the new forces of EU citizens. The rhetoric of the clash of civilizations still seems to be appealing to some.

This offensive video has been withdrawn by the European Commission after obtaining severe criticism. However, the fact that it has been realized in the first place is outrageous.

Shit People Say. Applied Meme-Genealogy

This meme inevitably went viral and with its endless iterations proved to be a dangerously mutable one. The epidemic of “funny” videos titled “Shit …… say” (and later “Shit X people say to Y people”) spreads fast, but it’s fairly easy to guess the trajectory of its development. Why? Because its driving force is stereotypes. Let’s track them:

1. The root: Sexism

The first one I saw was “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls” and I have to admit, I found it hilarious and witty. Then I realized it was a parody of “Shit Girls Say“, that has now over 11 million views. Created by Kyle Humphrey & Graydon Sheppard the video shows a guy in drag who performs a helpless (especially with technology) , needy, and kind of dumb “girlish” girl. I find this representation not only very annoying, but also extremely sexist. As Samhita noted: Why the hell do you call adult women “girls”?! That’s just another good old misogynist tactic —  making women seem stupid by representing them as infantile. It’s like creating a stick-figure woman — a stereotypical and essentialized representation of many different women’s behaviours observed by two men.

That’s an important question: who is representing who? Notice: two white guys make use of their undeniably privileged position. This is how they responded to the criticism in an interview:

You can’t really respond to it, other than positively. We respect women; we love women; we grew up around women; the people who helped us on the project were women. Obviously we can’t critique anyone for critiquing us in this way. Everyone has the right to critique it. It’s a really interesting dialogue that has come up because of the people criticizing it. It’s tricky territory. It’s sensitive territory. But people have the right to be offended. It’s par for the course, especially if something goes this big, which we never thought it would.

But I’m gay, and Kyle’s gay, and people put things out there about gay people. There are television shows about gay people, and I think we try to not let that define us. We know they don’t necessarily speak for us. I think it’s a really interesting topic. We’ve been learning a lot.

No worries Graydon, the wave of gay-related videos is coming. Anyway, their response is a classic one in many ways:

  • “I know many women/ I love my mother/I respect women, therefore I am not sexist when I mock women’s behaviour.”
  • “A woman said she’s not offended by it, therefore it’s not sexist.”
  • “I’m gay, therefore I cannot be sexist.”

All the above: WRONG! One might think that being part of a marginalized group, makes you understand the oppression of others better, but unfortunately this seemingly insignificant example of a “joke” shows it doesn’t really work this way. Sexism is a pervasive problem in the gay community, and often different levels of discrimination and oppression gain a hierarchical structure.

2. Second iteration: Racism 

When some people noticed that the video that started the madness does not represent all women, the epidemic took another predictable turn, a racist one. Probably one of the first ones in that category was the parody by a comedian Billy Sorrells “Shit Black Girls Say“. It’s actually not so much different from the original video — it still shows a character called Peaches, that is as helpless, silly and needy as her prototype (megaproblematic relation being drawn between the two, by the way). However, she’s more exaggerated and even more confused with technology. Naima Ramos-Chapman notes:

When the meme got a racialized twist with Billy Sorrell’s “Shit Black Girls Say” version, I choked mid-chuckle. Both videos refer to adult women as “girls,” and portray them as weak, stupid, silly, bad with technology, and helpless.  And in Sorrell’s version, a part about black women being stuck in abusive relationships is too disturbing given that they are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than white women.

This started an new avalanche of videos perpetuating racist stereotypes, but still mostly about women. So the internet was flooded by extremely problematic “Shit Asian Girls Say“, “Shit Spanish Girls Say“, “Shit Latina Girls Say” performed by Asian and Latino guys accordingly. This is again not surprising at all the racist iterations of the meme sticks to a female body (or rather a male body in drag). Latoya Peterson comments on that on Racialicious:

But while there are some interesting interpretations of racial stereotypes (white girls eat chips, black girls eat Cheetos, Asian girls eat Pocky, and I couldn’t quite make out what was on the bag in the Spanish video) and some annoyingly persistent gender stereotypes (CAN NO ONE USE A COMPUTER WITHOUT ASSISTANCE?!?! Oh wait, Spanish girls can.) I’m a bit more interested in the aftermath when people started using the meme for social commentary. While there were definitely people using the meme to advance their racist opinions of certain groups of people say, without the wink-nudge insider cred that the above videos rely on to be funny, the meme started mutating, turning the stereotypes in on themselves.

3. The Backlash Effect vol. 1

The time for revenge has come. Many women were seriously pissed off by these idiotic videos, so that another version of the meme emerged. This time the idea was to reverse the roles and mock the stereotypes (or those who perpetuate them). So there’s “Shit Guys Say“, “Shit Black Guys Say“, etc.

4. The Backlash Effect vol. 2

This way the meme started transforming itself into a social critique that is supposed to be subversive. In this version people X say shit to people Y. The most popular video from this category is the already mentioned “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls” by Franchesca Ramsey, a comedian/actress/blogger/overall renaissance woman. The video is revealing the everyday-racism, that many have to deal with and pass along another “omg, can I touch your hair” comment. For me the only problem with this video is that although it is a legitimate response to the “Shit Girls Say” video, it targets women again. Why the blade of critique is turned to women, instead of blowing up in the faces of those who started the whole stereotype-vicious-wheel — guys, who think they’re funny? Anyway the path has been trodden to give us: “Shit White Girls Say To Arab Girls“, “… to Asian Girls“, “…To Brown Girls“, etc.

Meanwhile, Ramsey has been inundated with hundreds of emails and messages since her video’s release, and thinks that the little changes do matter. A day after her video went viral, she posted a letter on her blog from a white woman who was moved by the video and asked herself, “Have I ever said anything like that?”

“That’s exactly what I wanted,” Ramsey said of the woman’s response. “There’s tons of people who don’t get it and are never gonna get it. But even if just one person thinks twice when they say something—and not just to a black person, but to anyone—then I think I did my job.”


5. “Queering” It Up?

When almost everybody expressed their feelings (or rather poured their frustrations) about all the little things that annoy them in their interactions with friends, the time has come for long awaited sexuality issues to step in! This meme mutated into two lines again: the first one mocking what all the colours of the LGBT rainbow people say (“Shit Gay Guys Says“, “Shit Black Gay Guys Say“, “Shit Southern Gay Guys Say“, “Shit Gay Girls Say“, “Shit Lesbians Say“), and the second one supposedly exposing the prejudice of the first one by again adding another interlocutor of the conversation (“Shit Cis People Say To Trans People“, “Shit Straight Girls Say to Gay Guys“, “Shit Guys Say To Lesbians“, “Shit Girls Say to Lesbians“, “Shit Gay Guys Say To Lesbians“). The LGBTQIA boggle in all possible combinations and configurations. Despite their claim to being ironic, these “subversive” massages function in a similar way the obviously problematic ones do — they still reinforce the stereotypes.

Even though people wearing bad wigs and make-up wink to us with every sentence, the whole “situational” humor of it is based on a shared acknowledgement of some truth of their statements. I understand the parody of it and the idea of irony, but there is something utterly annoying and problematic in all those clumsy attempts of drag performativity. Although I tried to draw a timeline and trace how the meme mutated, this element was present throughout the whole process, even when people where making fun of their own identity. But especially when it was targeting some other gender/racial/sexuality category it turned out to be problematic. Similarly to cross-dressing in classic (and reactionary) movies like Tootsie (1984) or Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), it functions as a symptom of backlash against feminism. That is how it works in the first iteration of sexist videos for sure. However, I think that the “subversive” line of the meme is not that subversive after all. Consider this latest video “Shit (Young, White, Class-privileged, City-based) “Radical Queers” Say to Each Other”

At first I thought I will find this one somewhat more engaged and that I will welcome this kind of irony. Watching it after a meeting of my radical queer group I laughed a lot. Until I talked to someone about it and that person told me that the video makes her feel uncomfortable. I didn’t notice that in the beginning, but now that I think about it, I couldn’t have noticed that. My lack of knowledge about the context and my own privilege blinded me to welcome that friendly fire with open arms. The creators of this video write:

We turned the lens toward ourselves as a way to exhibit how rampant transmasculine-centrism, radical queer snobbery/jargon and extreme anti-lesbian sentiment show up in young white ‘radical queer’ communities. Let’s continue to build inclusive communities of resistance while remembering our many herstories!

The transphobia of this piece remained transparent to me. This just shows how careful one has to be with posting another funny video, or repeating a joke (“you know I’m not racist, you get it”). Although completely unintentionally, people who made this video helped me understand my own position and prejudice.


I honestly hope that this madness will end soon. The template started to get boring, repetitive, not really creative and just tiring. Now there are video about yogis, vegans, new age girls/guys, New Yorkers, or even nobody! There’s even one about feminists:

And again it’s problematic. The idea is that all the shit people say to feminists is wrong. Following this logic the video tries to show false stereotypes about feminists. In that sense unfortunately it falls into a “mainstream feminist” rant about how people confuse the movement with lesbians, women who refuse to conform oppressive norms that bound their bodies to ridiculous social standards of beauty, or just in general radical feminists. Guess what, there are feminists lesbians, feminists who don’t shave their legs, as well as radical feminists. It’s all part of the feminist struggle, so that “funny intervention” ends up shooting yourself in the foot.

Just to conclude:

Outside of “Shit Black Girls Say to White Girls,” none of the other videos got anywhere near the amount of play that “Shit Girls Say” and “Shit Black Girls Say” enjoyed. Maybe that’s because, as a culture, we are accustomed to laughing at stereotypes, but we aren’t prepared to unpack how we perpetuate them.

I think that the fact that this meme’s mutation went through very predictable phases makes it a perfect “trolling meme”. It’s easy and even lazy to use stereotypes in comedy without any effort of twisting them, unfolding, or crushing.