UVic Professor’s ‘garden Spicer’ goes viral

Campus News

Dr. Lisa Kadonaga finds internet stardom with White House correspondent’s “anxious, forlorn” eyes

The printers at Zap Copy in the Student Union Building have no doubt seen plenty of odd material pass through their doors, but it’s not often that they help create something that will spend a weekend making its way through every major news publication and social media outlet around the world.

So what was the reaction in the copy centre when Dr. Lisa Kadonaga first printed her Sean Spicer cut-out?

“People largely ignored it,” says Kadonaga. “Everybody was doing their own thing.”

That kind of reaction didn’t last long. A week later, Kadonaga and her cut-out had made it to every newspaper you could name — from the Times Colonist to the Washington Post. Her original Facebook post has been shared over 100 000 times.

“It’s very surreal,” Kadonaga admits, and  it’s hard to disagree with her.

Dr. Lisa Kadonaga poses with her own Spicer cut-outs.
Dr. Lisa Kadonaga poses with her own Spicer cut-outs. Photo by Cormac O’Brien, Editor-in-Chief

After President Donald Trump fired F.B.I. Director James Comey on May 9, Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, was caught so off-guard by the news that he was forced to counsel with his communications team among some bushes on the White House lawn.

That story, published by the Washington Post, captured a lot of attention. The idea of a member of the Trump team hiding in some shrubbery was too funny to ignore.

That’s when Kadonaga, a sessional lecturer in the Geography department at UVic, decided to do some arts and crafts. She found a photo of Sean Spicer, taken by photojournalist Chip Somodevilla, and decided it was too good not to use.

“This picture was so evocative because Spicer looked so anxious and forlorn. And it was in the eyes. The eyes have to show that,” Kadonaga says. “So I thought, ‘OK, I’ll go with that one.’”

Kadonaga headed to Zap and printed the Spicer photo out. Next, she propped it up in a bush and took a photo, posting it to Facebook. Kadonaga went to bed, and the rest is internet history.

“[The next morning] someone had messaged me saying, ‘I saw you on Twitter!’” Kadonaga says, believing there was some sort of miscommunication. “Well they must mean Facebook, because I don’t have a Twitter account. So that must have been a slip of the tongue.”

But when Kadonaga returned to her computer, she realized that links were being shared on every major news website. The Huffington Post had picked it up, followed quickly by several other social-media-informed-news outlets. When Kadonaga looked at the shares on the initial Facebook photo, she realized over 10  000 people had seen her post.

By the end of that night, the photo had been shared 90  000 times.

“Things began to get a little bit weird then,” laughs Kadonaga.

The weekend saw a plethora of interviews and mentions in publications across the world. The New York Times, the Washington Post, Playboy, and the Canadian Press all ran stories on the cut-out, and Kadonaga also spoke to local outlets like CFAX 1070, CTV, and CBC.

Her friends were having to bring her food, says Kadonaga, due to the amount of time the interviews were taking. The Martlet’s initial interview request — sent over Facebook — was one of thousands of message requests she had received. Kadonaga’s phone broke, leading reporters to contact her friends and coworkers in order to try and get in touch with her.

And the number of shares continues to rise.

“I see the number,” Kadonaga says. “100 000 shares on that post . . . it doesn’t really register at this point.

Despite this, however, it’s not the newfound fame and glory that interests Kadonaga the most.

“My favourite bit of this is how much fun people are having with it. People are running around sticking it in bushes in their neighborhood, outside restaurants, by the highway . . . [and] someone went to the Watergate Hotel in D.C. and stuck one outside there,” Kadonaga says. “[Even] Mother’s Day bouquets!”

Kadonaga laughs. “I don’t know why!”

The Martlet's own attempt at a 'garden spicer'. Photo by Belle White, Contributor
The Martlet’s own attempt at a ‘garden spicer’. Photo by Belle White, Contributor

At its simplest, the cut-out is a light-hearted poke at the absurdity that has been the Trump administration’s first few months in office. But ask Kadonaga, and she’ll happily talk about the merits of sympathizing with Trump’s staffers and the importance of satire.

“I’ve seen a couple of complaints from people and it’s fair game to say, ‘look, this is just a silly meme that’s distracting from serious coverage [and] what’s really going on out there,’” Kadonaga says. “But then I talked to my brother, Tim, who’s a filmmaker in LA . . . and he said, ‘look, satire plays a really helpful role. It helps people express, in visual form, often, what is bothering them or what they see troubling.’

“And so Tim said, ‘often the satire sinks in [and] reading an opinion piece doesn’t really hit a nerve the same way.’ So there’s also the school of thought that satire, done properly and [which] is engaged, then it actually performs a really serious role in getting people to think about what situation we’re in and how we can fix it.”

And as for the man himself?

“I really feel sorry for Spicer,” Kadonaga says, the tone of her voice serious. “I don’t hate the guy, especially since we’re now kind of internet married. This is going to come up on Google for I don’t know how long. But if I did see him, I’d ask him how he is, and honestly I’d take him out to lunch.”

I can hear Kadonaga smiling over the phone.

“Maybe to the Butchart Gardens . . . there’s a lot of cover there.”