Brian Hioe was one of the founding editors of New Bloom, a freelance writer on social movements and politics, and an occasional translator.
As old political slogans and tropes lose their cache, viral fame has become the coin of the realm for politicians and politically-minded comedians alike.
As the primary season began in Taiwan, Retina, a YouTuber whose real name is Chen Tzu-chien, poked fun at the country’s vacuous political advertisements in a recent video. Chen is best known as the host of EyeCTV, a show that parodies the style and sensationalism of pan-Blue news networks. Retina’s show particularly evokes the imagery of CtiTV, a news channel stripped of its license and exiled to YouTube in 2020.
At the beginning of the video, Retina, acting as a candidate for Taipei city councilor representing the seventh electoral district, claims that with many hotels and restaurants closed, the capital city has darkened. While the seventh electoral district for city councilor elections exists, consisting of Xinyi and a part of Songshan, the shortened form of its name, “North Seven,” sounds the same as “idiot” in Taiwanese.
Claiming that Taipei is economically stagnating, Retina declares his candidacy as a young person living in the electoral district, or North Seven District youth (“idiotic youth”), for six months and four days. With this, he takes aim at how many political candidates move to an area only in preparation for running for office there and claim to be invested in social issues there, but have no prior history of living in the area. He goes on to emphasize that he will “light up” the dark city as lights on him brighten to cast him in a comically overexposed light.
Retina next is shown greeting local residents in a market, playing up an everyman image by eating a lunchbox. Standing on a soapbox, he waves to people on the streets with an overly large white glove, with a voice-over saying “I have heard all your voices.” Building on the promise of the “rebirth of Retina,” he vows to “make illegal structures legal,” combat the declining birth rate by giving newly married couples a golden shovel, and investigate smelly coriander as though this were a problem like fighting illicit drug use. Retina finishes with a campaign slogan emphasizing his youthfulness, while holding a basketball with the Kuomintang’s logo on it, and gyrating his hips awkwardly. 
But the seemingly political ad takes a new turn when Retina starts criticizing the poor image quality of the ad. At this moment, It becomes clear that the video is sponsored content for advertising audio/visual equipment. But his criticism of the puzzlingly poor sound mastering, bad lighting, and blurry visuals found in many political ads in Taiwan – even from wealthy politicians or political parties – rings true.
Poor advertising has often been associated with the KMT. The opposition party has been mocked for an ad advertising a dance competition, with KMT chair Eric Chu and other middle aged and above politicians trying to show off awkward dance moves. This follows on the rich tradition of awkward KMT dance videos featuring Chu or other KMT politicians, or campaign advertisements that inadvertently call attention to how geriatric their politicians are, such as wearing high-waisted grandpa pants.
In his videos, Retina is known to parody pan-Blue politicians (sort of like Stephen Colbert during the era of the Colbert Report). But what this parodic ad-commercial points to is the parallels between election advertising and commercial advertising, as well as the apparent vacuousness of political slogans. Voters are likely to see much grandstanding in this vein during the primary season, well before the start of actual campaigning between the respective candidates of the pan-Green and pan-Blue camps.
While political slogans seem out of date, young politicians have built their fame on gaffes caught on camera. DPP’s lawmaker Lai Pin-yu accidentally knocked the cover off of the microphone during the press conference where she announced her candidacy for legislature and independent legislator Huang Jie rolled her eyes in response to the continued deflection of her cross-examination by Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu. These clips went viral as the politicians became known to their electorate.
This illustrates some of the vicissitudes of Taiwanese politics in the present. Politicians have always faced the challenge of drawing the attention of the public if they hope to be elected. But as old political slogans and tropes appear past their expiration date, sometimes viral fame is what politicians instead turn toward. Yet the question then is whether that, too, reflects its own form of vacuous politics — or an art of a entirely different sort.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)
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