The attacks launched by the press loyal to the current government in Spain against the new left-wing political group Podemos are starting to border on surreal. The mayor of a small town outside of Madrid said in an interview published February 17 in newspaper ABC that Pablo Iglesias, secretary general of Podemos and a former political science professor at the Complutense University, had failed her three times for dressing casually in Zara brand clothing and wearing pearls.
2015 is an election year in Spain. Spaniards will choose their local and autonomous governments soon, with general elections being held by the end of the year. The conservative People's Party (PP), currently governing the country with a comfortable absolute majority, has suffered a dramatic decline in expected votes, a result of the unpopular austerity measures it has imposed and the corruption scandals that have plagued its politicians.
So it isn't surprising that PP members are intensifying their attacks against new political groups. Traditional media outlets also have an interest in maintaining the country's de facto two-party system, dominated by PP and the socialist PSOE party: the government passed the widely criticized “Google News tax,” a law that Spain's major newspapers lobbied for.
It seems, however, that in the absence of actual crimes comparable to those committed by the politicians in power, certain media outlets are willing to turn anything into news. That is what the very conservative newspaper ABC did when it decided to dedicate an entire page to a story about María de las Mercedes Pérez, PP mayor of Redueña. Under the headline “He failed me three times for wearing pearls,” Pérez stated that Pablo Iglesias treated students of a certain ideology offensively, used his classes to indoctrinate, and “was very in favor” of Basque militant organization ETA‘s fight.
What Mercedes Peréz and ABC perhaps didn't calculate was the impact that this interview would have on social networks. Within hours of its publication, many online newspapers were talking about the news, and hundreds of tweets and comments mocked the mayor and ABC. Many were convinced Pérez failed for other reasons:
Es increíble que una excusa que no serviría para justificar 3 suspensos seguidos ante ningún padre cuele entre determinada prensa #Perlitas
— Karlos (@casymo) February 17, 2015
It's amazing an excuse that no parent would accept as justification for three back-to-back failures could make it past certain media. #Pearls
De los creadores d “el perro se comió mis deberes” y “el profe me tiene manía” llega “P.Iglesias me suspendió por llevar collar de perlitas”
— elena núñez (@nez_elenuru) February 17, 2015
From the creators of “the dog ate my homework” and “the teacher hates me” comes “P.Iglesias failed me for wearing a pearl necklace.”
Writer Juan Gómez-Jurado took a look at the mayor's Twitter account and pointed out her grammatical errors and typos:
— Juan Gómez-Jurado (@JuanGomezJurado) February 17, 2015
My dear @perezgonzalezm, one question, in your third year of high school did you also wear pearls? Thank you in advance.
Others invented excuses inspired by the mayor's accusations:
Pablo Iglesias me suspendió por llevar los calzoncillos por encima de los pantalones.
— Deathmann (@DidakMortisanti) February 17, 2015
Pablos Iglesias failed me for wearing underwear over my pants.
“Me suspendió por ir a clase con Perlitas, mi tigre de Bengala albino”.
— Petete Potemkin (@Petetekin) February 17, 2015
He failed me for going to class with Pearls, my white Bengali tiger.
“Pablo Iglesias me suspendió por llevar un descompotronizador de escafurcias”.
— [Gelat] (@Gaphelion) February 17, 2015
“Pablo Iglesias gave me bad grades for taking a descompotronizator of escafurcias* to class”.
Pablo Iglesias me suspendió por darle pienso vegano a mi perro.
— Proscojoncio (@Proscojoncio) February 17, 2015
Pablo Iglesias failed me for giving my dog vegan food.
Twitter user PascÜ sarcastically reminded people of the accusations regarding the relationship of Podemos’ leadership with the Venezuelan government:
A mi Pablo Iglesias me suspendió tres veces por decir que el bigote de Maduro no era hipster.
— PascÜ (@pascu55) February 17, 2015
Pablo Iglesias failed me three times for saying that Maduro's mustache wasn't hipster.
Comments on news websites also exuded sarcasm about the mayor – now dubbed “Pearls” – and ABC's selection criteria. Dexys wrote in news site El Diario:
Tremendo drama humano que compite en intensidad con las decapitaciones del ISIS. Documento impactante sobre la decadencia de la patria y los peligros que la acechan en manos de aventureros sin escrúpulos. Me ha hecho llorar.
Tremendous human drama competing in intensity with the ISIS beheadings. Shocking document on the decline of the country and the dangers that lurk in the hands of unscrupulous adventurers. It has made me cry.
On popular website forocoches, user 917 made this harsh comment:
Verás cuando se descubra que Pablo Iglesias mató y se comió a un gatito para no morirse de hambre una vez que se perdió en la selva venezolana…
You will see when they discover that Pablo Iglesias once killed and ate a kitten to avoid dying of hunger after getting lost in the Venezuelan jungle…
Blogger Félix Población wrote on his blog Diario del Aire:
Hay noticias que resaltan en toda su evidencia el ridículo que están haciendo algunos medios de comunicación con tal de poner a sus equipos de reporteros a la busca y captura de alguna incidencia que pueda afectar al buen nombre de los promotores de Podemos, sin que hasta ahora consigan sus objetivos, antes bien al contrario.
There are news stories that clearly highlight the fools that certain media outlets are making of themselves just to send their teams of reporters to hunt for any incident that could affect the good name of Podemos supporters, and until now they haven't achieved their objectives, but rather the opposite.
Journalist and blogger Suanzes said he had the Podemos leader as a professor. While recognizing the ideological difference between Iglesias and himself, Suanzes defended his skills as a professor on his blog:
El debate en el aula era absolutamente libre y él disfrutaba mucho cuando le llevaban la contraria. Mi impresión es que no adoctrinaba. Su postura, sus ideas, su cosmovisión, estaba clarísima. (…) Y lejos de ser un problema, fue un aliciente. Para ambos.
En las clases me lo pasé realmente bien. Discutiendo, llevando la contraria y provocando. Y jamás hubo el más mínimo problema. Ni conmigo ni con nadie, que yo viera.
The classroom discussion was absolutely free and he really enjoyed it when people opposed him. My impression was not that he was indoctrinating. His position, his ideas, his worldview, were crystal clear. (…) And far from being a problem, it was an incentive. For both.
I had a really good time in class. Discussing, bringing forth opposing viewpoints, provoking. And there was never the slightest problem. Not with me nor with anyone else that I saw.
At night, the mayor made an appearance on the “El cascabel” television program, a political gathering on 13Tv with ultraconservative tendencies, not suspecting the “bashing” she was about to receive by people with her same beliefs. There she acknowledged that she had only failed the class twice, that there had been two different professors who failed her, and that perhaps she was not well prepared (video by Prodigi0Tv on YouTube):
After recognizing that she had not requested that her exam be reviewed either, one of the commentators suggested that she was making a grave accusation against a professor without having any evidence of misconduct. Another commentator stressed:
Ya no me puedo creer lo de las perlitas. (…) A mí, esto me parecen los 15 minutos de fama que todos necesitamos en la vida.
When it comes to the pearls, I cannot believe anything anymore. […] To me, it looks like the 15 minutes of fame that each of us needs in life.
*The intention of the twitter user was to write an excuse that made no sense, which is why the phrase was not translated.