Tuesday 23 April 2019

I can’t believe it’s hot butter


It was actually quite a poetic turn of phrase.

By now I suppose everyone has heard about football commentator Sandro Micallef and his getting all upset over a meme which poked fun at his flowery comparison of an agile footballer running past the rival team to a “hot knife slicing through butter”. Micallef claimed that the mockery was putting his job as a commentator in jeopardy, which I find hard to believe since it is not as if he had called a footballer by the wrong name or something equally tragic.

(For another take on this issue, you have to read Wayne Flask’s excellent piece yesterday).

Meanwhile, I thought I would offer a public service to help Sandro and other public figures who have yet to develop a sense of when they should get into a huff and take offence and when they should just take things in their stride. Basically, they should ask themselves the following questions:

1. Did I actually say it? (if you answered yes, then just leave it alone)

2. Is that really me in that picture, did I pose for it or upload it on FB myself? (if yes, see above)

3. How many people have seen it/are talking about it? (If it is less than 1000, again, leave it alone)

4. And finally, am I making things worse or better by threatening legal action?

Well, let’s see, when the meme first appeared on the satirical page Zbalji tal-kommentaturi Maltin, I reckon only those who had joined the relatively new page knew about it. By Friday afternoon, after Micallef had sent his ill-advised letter warning the administrators of the page that they were facing a lawsuit if they did not remove the photo immediately, it was his letter and its implicit attack on the freedom to use satire which was being talked about. Those who had not seen the meme or knew the context wanted to know what was so offensive about the buttery phrase – after all, butter is good, butter is delicious and Sandro’s description just made many of us suddenly crave a piece of hot, buttered toast.

Inevitably, the photo has now been shared so many times that he will have to spend his whole life in court to sue everyone who has shared it. Yeah, Facebook is viral that way.

As I write, the number of people who have joined the Zbalji page has shot up (so they should actually thank Sandro) and the funny anecdotes and gaffes by local commentators who love to sprinkle their commentary with over-excited hyperbole a la taljana and come up with the most absurd inanities, keep pouring in. If you have heard of the Streisand effect*, this was a classic example. By drawing attention to it, Micallef has ensured that the meme which upset him so much has become part of Maltese meme notoriety.

Now if Sandro (and everyone else who has ever threatened a lawsuit over satire) had an ounce of self-irony, he would have been wiser just to laugh it off. After all, that is what happened with these infamous memes:

Texts from Hillary


A glum looking, unamused Hillary Clinton snapped by Times photographer Diana Walker looking at her phone led to a series of memes where famous people were supposedly texting her, while she texted them back with terse one-liners. She not only laughed it off but even posed with the guys who created the meme “texts from Hillary” .


Hillary Clinton posing with the creators of the texts from Hillary tmblr

Hillary Clinton posing with the creators of                            “Texts from Hillary”


Unimpressed Face


During the 2012 Olympics, US gymnast McKayla Maroney was disappointed when she only ended up winning the silver medal for the competition. While on the winner’s podium, Bryan Snyder from Reuters took a photograph of Maroney making a scowling expression which became known as “unimpressed face”. It became so famous that she even posed with President Obama who made the same face (incidentally, these are the kind of pop culture references only Obama can get away with; any other world leader would fail miserably).


Closer to home we have had our own share of memes, using now famous quotes, starting from Charles “It’s in their DNA” Mangion  to Simon “wicc ta’ Nazzjonalista” Busuttil .  To their credit, while they might not have liked it, they know it comes with the territory and accepted the criticism. And anyway, if they said it, they said it, so don’t blame us if we find it satire-worthy.

In fact,  if he had only stopped to think about it before firing off that letter, there was a lot of marketing potential in Sandro’s use of the butter analogy and he could have easily turned it around and make it work in his favour. I admire anyone who can take a joke. Unfortunately for Micallef, not only has he demonstrated a complete lack of humor but has, ironically, provided even more fodder for those who claim that many sports commentators in Malta really deserve to be ridiculed. If he had let it go, the buttery phrase would have provided a few chuckles at most until something better came along, but now that Sandro has chosen to prove that he is completely devoid of humour, the mockery has become merciless.

And finally, something else must be pointed out: some Maltese commentators end up in these kind of fixes because they try too hard to imitate the kind of OTT commentary that Italians indulge in (but which the latter can get away with because the language lends itself to longwinded descriptions). The result is an affected anything-but-Maltese type of football commentary which provides so much unintentional hilarity. For example, I used to dissolve into fits of laughter whenever I used to hear George Micallef pronounce “Monaco” with a heavy accent on the “o”. (Am I going to be sued for saying that?)

Really, the upshot is that if you are going to be on TV (whether to comment on football or anything else) you should just be yourself, and if you mess up, you really need to take it on the chin and laugh it off. Most of all, please just stop with all these letters threatening libel whenever satire is used – it’s a futile battle in this age of the Internet when photos and memes can be shared in milliseconds throughout the whole country and beyond.

After all, if someone like Hillary Clinton can take a joke, surely you can too?


*The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. It got its name after Barbra Streisand attempted to suppress photos of her residence in Malibu which generated further publicity.



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