US Presidential campaign 2016 in a metaphorical mirror of the Russian media


Evgeniya Malenova

Candidate of Philological Sciences, Associate Professor at F.M. Dostoyevsky Omsk State University, Omsk, Russia


US2016 - Section 5

Section 5: Overseas Perspectives

We live by metaphors. They help us understand the world around us, form opinions, represent the ideas cognized and digested. Many researchers argue that metaphors have always been the major way to conceptualize, categorize, and organize human experience. What is more important, these metaphors do not only shape our perception of the reality, but they also define the way we think and act. People behind the media know that very well and use metaphors as a powerful tool of persuasion used to manipulate public opinion. Thus, the media becomes a kind of metaphorical mirror, on the one hand, reflecting public views and experiences, on the other hand, creating a certain attitude towards some key problems and events.

Every major development that happens in the world today gets its unique reflection in this metaphorical mirror. The US presidential campaign was not an exception. Russian media, as well as people all over Russia, were monitoring the situation with the United States presidential election of 2016. This heightened interest in the results of the campaign is totally understandable: the outcome of the elections would have dramatically influenced the relationships between Russia and the United States. So many people, despite not usually taking a keen interest in politics, were tracking the news, reading and discussing different prognoses, making assumptions and forecasts. So how was this campaign and the candidates reflected in the metaphorical mirror of the Russian media?

The whole campaign was referred to as an adventure TV-series, because everything happened very quickly, with many sensational revelations, and ended in an unexpected way. People were quite anxious to watch the next episode of this nail-biting sequel, waiting for its denouement. Sometimes the campaign was perceived as a circus, where each candidate, as a magician, pulled a new rabbit out of his or her hat. An interesting metaphor was used by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, who metaphorically called the US presidential election “a tango of three”, because each time the candidates were talking to the electorate they couldn’t help but mention Russia and Vladimir Putin.

Talking about the Democrat and Republican presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, their metaphorical portrayals, created by the Russian media, were extremely contradictory. On the one hand, Hillary Clinton was referred to as a lady, very stylish and self-assured, a role model for young and ambitious women who know what they want and how they can get it. She was also compared with a brood hen that takes care of her nation, especially children and women. On the other hand, her mixed feelings about Russia and open criticism of Vladimir Putin led to the formation of a negative metaphorical image in the Russian media. Hillary Clinton was portrayed as pig in a poke, a queen of chaos, a former teacher whom you still hate even being an adult. Her sharp rhetoric was responsible for picturing Hillary as a road roller, which devours everything in its path. She was even compared to a Russian fairy-tale character of Baba-Yaga, an old witch that steals, cooks, and eats her victims, usually children. However, in many papers the authors were trying to explain this kind of behavior and justify Hillary by using a metaphor of an honours student, a perfectionist who always struggles to be the first in everything.

As for Donald Trump, his metaphorical reflection was much more vivid and diverse. On the one hand, he was pictured as a narcissist who loves himself and is afraid to ‘loose face’, a Koshei-the Immortal – a famous Russian fairy-tale character, who is extremely rich and spends all his time counting his treasures. On the other hand, many negative metaphors connected with Donald Trump were used in a positive way, for example, he was seen as a devil in a good way because he can convince anyone of anything. It is interesting, but the authors use mostly zoomorphic metaphors to describe Donald Trump and his campaign. He was often called a notorious and stubborn bull, putting the heat on his campaign, a rooster, who is loud, provoking and battailous, a red stallion, who is ready to win the American rodeo. The media also compared him to a Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken party leader in Russia’s parliament, who is, in his turn, sometimes compared to Donald Trump. 

Nevertheless, let us hope that all these images will be perceived merely as reflections in the mirror. Are they true or distorted? Can Russians really judge a leader upon these metaphorical reflections? Only time will tell their accuracy. Though never forget that actions make the person, not his or her reflection in the mirror.