Left Party Chuck Norris sticker. Berlin, August 2012.

This sticker, the third in a series Souciant has been documenting, is a pre-emptive strike against its creator’s public image. Earnestness has long been a problem for the Left. Whether your idea of a “leftist” is a Volvo-driving vegan devoted to Democracy Now, or a labor organizer whose idea of fun is to explain, over too many drinks, why Leon Trotsky was a true hero of the proletariat, the unbearable heavyness of their being is not hard to imagine.

This is why conservatives frequently adopt the humorist’s pose, making people laugh at the Left’s expense.

In the 1960s, the situation was typically reversed, with young people mocking the straight-laced seriousness of their parents’ generation. But ever since the specter of political correctness started haunting mainstream political discourse, the Right has decisively turned the tables.

To be fair, the term “political correctness” was first invoked in the West by progressives making fun of themselves, fully aware of the dangers in taking themselves too seriously. Somehow, though, that spirit of self-critique was never properly communicated to the outside world. As a consequence, a great many people believe that the Left is the domain of those too conceited or clueless to maintain distance from their own ideological convictions.

That’s where this sticker comes in. By playing off the wildly popular Internet meme devoted to outlandish Chuck Norris facts, the Left Party’s youth outreach campaign clearly hopes to establish its ironic bona fides. The arresting image is enough to stop passersby in their tracks. The text does the rest.

Significantly, the full implication of “Chuck Norris makes nuclear power safe” will only be apparent to those who know the meme. Someone ignorant of Internet history might well figure out that the sticker’s message is meant to be taken with a ton of salt, but that person wouldn’t realize the extent to which the Left Party wants to be perceived as au courant.

It must be noted, however, that the Chuck Norris facts meme is nearly as old as YouTube — ancient, in internet years — and its subject, though undoubtedly popular among certain demographics, a man well past retirement age. In other words, the sticker threatens to communicate precisely the message that the Left Party wishes to avoid, namely its creator’s datedness and concomitant irrelevance.

If this worst-case scenario doesn’t come into play, the reason may be the Moebius-strip like character of Internet history. Every day, young people who weren’t even using computers five years ago delightedly discover classics like Charlie the Unicorn, often blissfully unaware of how long they have been around. Indeed, there are surely quite a few of them who have stumbled with pleasure upon Chuck Norris facts, without knowing who their namesake is. For those youth, this sticker campaign might prove perfectly suited after all.

 

Commentary and translation from the German by Charlie Bertsch. Photographed in Berlin by Joel Schalit.