Pablo Iglesias, the leader of anti-austerity political party Unidas Podemos and one of Spain’s four deputy prime ministers, enjoys a good TV show. A few years ago, he gave a box set of the HBO hit Game of Thrones to King Felipe VI, and has used his Twitter account to rave about the French series Baron Noir, Italian drama Gomorrah and US classic The Wire. Last Friday, Iglesias took to his Twitter account again to recommend another series by The Wire creator, David Simon, called The Plot Against America.
“I just finished watching The Plot Against America. David Simon and Ed Burns never disappoint but the moment in which the series has come out gives it special meaning. Sometimes, the success of fascism seems inconceivable to us, and yet sympathizers are always close.”
Based on Philip Roth’s novel of the same name and released on HBO in March, the series presents an alternative history of the United States in which Republican candidate Charles Lindbergh wins the election against the Democrat’s Franklin Roosevelt, and ushers in anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi policies. What Iglesias hadn’t bargained for was that his tweet would trigger hours of fiery exchange between David Simon and total strangers on the subjects of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and the referendum on Catalan independence, during which Simon would learn the true meaning of the word “olé.”
The Twitter storm began on Saturday, when Simon discovered that he had been mentioned in hundreds of messages thanks to Iglesias’s tweet recommending The Plot Against America. Retweeting Iglesias’s message, Simon wrote: “So, if my poor Spanish holds, this fellow liked the bent of a miniseries and tagged me. And so now into a second day, my Twitter feed is full of Francoists and Catalunyans screaming at each other in languages not my own. Well okay. It’s 1937 again. Fuck the fascists. No pasaran [sic]” – a reference to the anti-fascist slogan “They shall not pass.”
But this was not the only message The Wire creator shared; he subsequently spent most of Saturday and a good part of Sunday arguing with Twitter users about fascism. He insulted Franco and the Francoists and criticized the United States for having supported dictators during the Cold War. The matter of Catalan independence was also brought up with Simon saying that a referendum, where leaders are “willing to count votes,” was preferable to the coup of July 1936.
One well-intentioned Twitter user suggested that Simon refrain from playing into the hands of the trolls, but Simon intimated that he wasn’t having a bad time. “Mock, block and roll. They only get one boquerone. Then I down my vermouth and walk,” he tweeted back.
Not all the exchanges involved insults. Simon also had a more serious debate with the New York-based Spanish writer Julio Valdeón on the question of Catalan independence; he announced that the script for the drama series A Dry Run, which follows the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, is underway; and recommended his favorite film by the Coen brothers, A Serious Man.
Simon also made it clear that he didn’t mean anything by referring to Iglesias as “fellow,” adding that he agreed with the prime minister’s comments that fascist sympathizers are never very far away. He did, however, admit that he had no idea who Iglesias was when he first saw his tweet. Others bypassed Simon completely to question how Iglesias, as deputy prime minister and the father of three small children, had time to watch so much TV.
The most amusing moment was when one Twitter user addressed Simon with: “Olé tus cojones,” which the Twitter translator gave Simon to believe meant “go smell your balls.” He promptly shot back with “tu madre” – your mother, believing this to be an insult. Twitter users rushed to Simon’s aid, however, and clarified that the word olé does not come from the verb to smell but is rather like saying “bravo” – with the phrase meaning something more like: “Wow, you’ve got balls.”
Finally, Simon wound the exchange up by declaring: “Okay, so I’ve wasted the entire morning insulting the mothers and rhetorical paucity of Spanish fascists and Francoists on Twitter. But I have learned that ‘smell your balls’ is actually a compliment. So it’s a bit of a break-even.”
Meanwhile, Iglesias apologized to Simon for “messing up his Twitter feed,” but said that it was at least an opportunity to ask about A Dry Run. Judging from the recent ruckus, Simon will have to set aside a good chunk of time to responding to messages on Twitter when the show finally comes out.
English version by Heather Galloway.