The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 9, No 3 (2021)

Power and satire in the front-page images of Mariano Rajoy: visual motifs as political humour

Manuel Garin,Daniel Pérez-Pamies


This article explores the use of photography and visual motifs as forms of political humour in contemporary media. By studying the representation of former Prime Minister of Spain Mariano Rajoy in the front pages of three Spanish newspapers (El Mundo, El País and La Vanguardia) between 2011 and 2017, the paper identifies and questions the liaisons between power and satire present in the so-called “serious” press, focusing on how different photographic traits concerning layout, composition and gestures reflect ideological choices. This photographic satire developed by printed media is then framed within a figurative tradition that goes back to Spanish royal portraiture, from Velázquez to Goya, which employs common strategies for the visual depiction of power, including satirical and humorous attributes to push specific political agendas. This examination, based on the quantified study and the visual analysis of more than 7,500 front pages, is part of the national research project Visual Motifs in the Public Sphere: Production and Circulation of Images of Power in Spain, 2011-2017. In order to determine a useful procedural approach to satirical expressions in photographs, defining which front pages invoke a remarkable satirical content, this article also presents a comparative study and a categorisation based on formal (im)balances related to the concepts of visual motif and humour.


Agamben, G. (2000). Means without End: Notes on Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Agamben, G. (2007). Profanations. New York: Zone Books.

Agamben, G. (2011a). The Kingdom and the Glory. For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Agamben, G. (2011b). ‘Nymphs’, in Khalip, J. & Mitchell, R. (eds.), Releasing the Image. From Literature to New Media. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Arnheim, R. (2009). The Power of the Centre: A Study of Composition in the Visual Arts. California: University of California Press.

Balló, J. & Bergala, A. (eds.). (2016). Motivos visuales del cine. Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg.

Banks, M. & Mayer, V. (2009). Production Studies: Cultural Studies of Media Industries. London: Routledge.

Banks, M. & Mayer, V. (2015). Production Studies, The Sequel! Cultural Studies of Media Industries. London: Routledge.

Barthes, R. (1981). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang.

Barthes, R. (2012). Mythologies: The Complete Edition, in a New Translation. New York: Hill and Wang.

Baudelaire, C. (1981). Selected Writings on Art and Artists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Benjamin, W. (1968). Illuminations. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Berger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.

Berger, J. (2013). Understanding a Photograph. London: Penguin

Bergson, H. (1911). Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Berlant, L. & Ngai, S. (2017). ‘Comedy has issues’. Critical Inquiry 43, pp. 233-249.

Booth, W. C. (1975). A Rhetoric of Irony. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Brown, J. (2008). Escritos Completos sobre Velázquez. Madrid: Centro Estudios Europa Hispánica.

Carroll, N. (1991). ‘Notes on the sight gag’, in Horton, A. (ed.), Comedy/Cinema/Theory. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Casero-Ripollés, A. (2020). ‘Political influencers in the digital sphere’. Communication & Society 33 (2).

Davis, J. M. (2018). (ed.). Satire and Politics: The Interplay of Heritage and Practice. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Debord, G. (1970). The Society of Spectacle. Detroit: Black & Red.

Didi-Huberman, G. (2016). The Surviving Image. Phantoms of Time and Time of Phantoms: Aby Warburg’s History of Art. Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press.

Foster Wallace, D. (1998). ‘Laughing with Kafka’. Harper’s Magazine, pp. 23-27.

Foucault, M. (1970). The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Pantheon Books.

Frye, N. (1957). Anatomy of Criticism. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Garin, M. (2014). El gag visual. De Buster Keaton a Super Mario. Madrid: Cátedra.

Garin, M. & Elduque, A. (2016). ‘Quantitative meta-analysis of visual motifs throughout film history’. El Profesional de la Información 25 (6), pp. 883-892.

González, J. J, Rodríguez, R. & Castromil, A. R. (2010). ‘A case of polarized pluralism in a Mediterranean country. The media and politics in Spain’. Global Media Journal: Mediterranean Edition 5 (1/2), pp. 1-9.

Gunning, T. (1995). ‘Crazy machines in the garden of forking paths: Mischief gags and the origins of American film comedy’, in Jenkins, H. & Brunovska, K. (eds.), Classical Hollywood Comedy. London: Routledge.

Harris, E. (2003). Velázquez. Madrid: Akal.

Higgie, R. (2017). ‘Under the guise of humour and critique: The political co-option of popular contemporary satire’, in Milner Davis, J. (ed.), Satire and Politics: The Interplay of Heritage and Practice. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hofmann, W. (2003). Goya: To Every Story There Belongs Another. London: Thames & Hudson.

Holm, N. (2017). Humour as Politics: The Political Aesthetics of Contemporary Comedy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hutcheon, L. (2000). A Theory of Parody: The Teaching of Twentieth-Century Art Forms. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Jenkins, H., Ford, S. & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: New York University Press.

Kaplan, L. (2017). Photography and Humour. London: Reaktion Books.

King, R. (2017). Hokum! The Early Sound Slapstick Short and Depression-Era Mass Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kress, G. R. & van Leeuwen, T. (2006). Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge.

Kress, G. R. & van Leeuwen, T. (1998). ‘Front pages: The critical analysis of newspaper layout’, in Bell, A. & Garrett, P. (eds.), Approaches to Media Discourse. New Jersey: Blackwell.

Mitchell, W. J. T. (2005). What do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Ngai, S. (2012). Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Ngai, S. (2017). ‘Theory of the gimmick’. Critical Inquiry (4). Chicago: University of Chicago, pp. 466-505.

Ortega y Gasset, J. (1983). Papeles sobre Velázquez y Goya. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.

Panofsky, E. (1982). Meaning in the Visual Arts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pérez-Royo, J. (2020). ‘Porque me da la gana’.

Polo, D. & Cárdenas M. L. (2014). ‘Infoxicación y Tweets. Análisis del Caso Bárcenas a través del Twitter de Mariano Rajoy’. Ámbitos. Revista Internacional de Comunicación 26.

Ramírez, P. J. (2014). ‘El estafermo. Carta de un Arponero Ingenuo’. Medium.

Rancière, J. (2004). Malaise dans l’esthétique. Paris: Galilée.

Rolfe, M. (2017). ‘The populist elements of Australian political satire and the debt to the Americans and the Augustans’, in Milner Davis, J. (ed.), Satire and Politics: The Interplay of Heritage and Practice. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sloterdijk, P. (1988). Critique of Cynical Reason. Chicago: University of Minnesota Press.

Sola-Morales, S. & Hernández-Santaolalla, V. (2013). ‘Identity, politics and authentic leadership. Spanish youngsters’ perceptions of J. L. Rodríguez Zapatero and M. Rajoy’. Estudos en Comunicação 13, pp. 107-134.

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. London: Penguin.