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Poland, personified as a countryball using an upside-down Polish flag.

Countryballs, also known as Polandball,[a] is a geopolitical satirical art style, genre, and internet meme, predominantly used in online comics strips in which countries or political entities are personified as balls[b] with eyes without pupils, decorated with their national flags. Comics feature the characters in various scenarios, generally poking fun at national stereotypes, international relations, and historical events, with the balls moving about by walking or jumping. Other common features in Countryball strips include non-English countries speaking in broken English — with vocabularies of their national languages included — political incorrectness, and black comedy. Strips are generally created using Microsoft Paint or more advanced graphic art software, often made to intentionally look crudely drawn.

Countryballs date back to an August 2009 incident on drawball.com, where thousands of Polish internet users swarmed the website to transform the illustration into the Polish flag (a literal "Poland ball"). However, Falco, a British user of the German imageboard Krautchan.net, is often credited with creating the modern Countryballs comic format. This user created the first countryball comic strips to ridicule Polish internet troll Wojak, who used broken English on the same board. Falco created the strips using Microsoft Paint in September 2009 and posted them to Kratuchan, where they gained popularity among other users on the board, particularly Russians. The meme gained further notoriety following the death of Lech Kaczyński, president of Poland, in the Smolensk air disaster in April 2010.

Countryballs continue to be popular on the internet, with the Facebook community reaching over 215,000 members by July 2015,[1] and the subreddit r/Polandball reaching over 650,000 by 2024. Several other communities are active on VK, Telegram, YouTube, Twitter, and Bilibili. It has also been the subject of research by various institutions, as well as positive and negative commentary for both their simplistic and offensive nature, with some feeling they could allow readers to learn about unknown events. Various video games and alternate history works have been based on the meme.

Background history

Origin

Screenshot of Drawball.com from August 2009

The origin of Countryballs can be traced back to drawball.com. On the website, users could freely draw on a circular canvas called a "drawball".[2][3][4] In August 2009, thousands of Polish netizens from Wykop.pl, PokazyWarka, and various other sites took over the entire drawball with an illustration of the Polish flag with the word "POLSKA" in the middle. The circular canvas constrained the flag in such a way that it became a literal "Poland ball".[5][6]

Other users on the website attempted to sabotage the artwork by changing the color scheme to match a Poké Ball, or drawing a giant swastika over it.[4][5][7] Eventually, hackers attacked NK.pl and Wykop.pl on August 18, which withstood them but ended up running a lot slower for the rest of the day.[5]

First Countryball strips and spread

Circa 2012 comic showing Poland being forced by the UK to clean the toilets after vandalizing Wikipedia

The creator of the modern Countryballs format is often attributed to Falco, a British user of the German imageboard Krautchan.net who drew the first strips in Microsoft Paint, before posting them in September 2009 to the /int/ board. Notably, Poland was drawn with an inverted Polish flag (making it look like the flag of Indonesia or Monaco), which some have debated on whether or not was intentional, or Falco being unaware of its color pattern.[4][8][9] Poland being drawn upside-down grew in popularity as a way to antagonize Polish Krautchan user Wojak, for whom the internet meme Wojak is named. The two meme formats grew out of the same message boards.

British magazine The Shortlisted noted the strips were likely inspired by the works of Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto, particularly the 1999 animated web short Europe VS Italy, which acted as political satire on Italian and European Union cultural differences, and which also featured the characters as spherical.[10] Unlike Europe VS Italy, however, the original strips were apolitical and were made to troll Wojak, a Polish user on the same board who often spoke in broken English.[5][7][11]

After the initial strips, creating Countryballs cartoons became popular among other users on the board, particularly Russians who started adding several new characters to the comics.[5][11][12] As a result of its increasing popularity, a separate Countryballs community was created on 15 October 2009.[13] The comics would continue to gain notoriety following the Smolensk air disaster on 10 April 2010, in which the president of Poland Lech Kaczyński was killed.[11][14]

Popularity

The style became widely popular as a meme and gained dedicated communities on internet platforms such as Reddit[12][15] and Facebook.[16] One reason for the popularity of this art style is its ability to convey short stories about different cultures simply and humorously. In addition, the group's characterization also lends itself well to a shorter comic format.[8][17] Another common format for Countryballs are alternate history videos, often involving maps of the world changing depending on the event.[18][19]

As of July 2015, the Facebook community has over 215,000 members,[1] although the main community has been occasionally banned due to the constant usage of hate symbols including the swastika.[20][21] The r/polandball subreddit reached over 250,000 subscribers at around the same time, growing to over 650,000 by 2024.[8][22] while the Polandball Wiki had 480,159 edits.[8]

Themes

A 2012 comic featuring an extension of the "Poland cannot into space" [sic] catchphrase. The comic references Poland joining the European Space Agency in 2012.

Poland

The premise of Countryballs is that they represent the country and its history, foreign relations, and stereotypes,[11][23] focusing on megalomania and national complexes.[6][24] Except for Anglophone countries, the dialogue of Countryballs tends to be written in broken English and Internet slang, reminiscent of the lolcat meme. By the end of a cartoon, Poland is typically seen weeping.[5][6] The representation of Poland in Polandball often relies on stereotypes. This can include portraying Poles as having poor English skills, frequently blaming others for their past failures due to repeated invasions by neighboring countries, having a tendency to glorify their history, and being perceived as unintelligent and overly religious.[4]

Some Polandball comics arise from the premise that some countries can go to space while Poland cannot.[25][26] One of the earliest Polandball comics begins with the premise that Earth will suffer an impact event, leading to all countries with space technology leaving Earth and going into orbit around the planet. At the end of the cartoon, Poland, still on Earth, is crying and says the phrase "Poland cannot into space".[c][11][28] In this humorous way, other Countryballs halt all discussions with Poles on which country is superior.[5][11][23]

Other countries

Countryballs graffiti art depicting the European Union–Ukraine Association Agreement during Euromaidan in Kyiv, 2013

Countryballs usually include comics from other countries: these comics are sometimes still referred to as Polandball comics.[5] However, they are more commonly referred to as Countryballs.[12] States, provinces, other subdivisions, multinational organizations (such as the European Union, NATO, and the United Nations), and former countries (such as the Roman Empire) are also used.[29] Other countries are typically seen recalling their glory days or individual events of success, including Russia repelling the Axis Powers' invasion of the country.[30]

There are various other established conventions in Countryball comics. The United Kingdom usually wears a monocle and a top hat while holding a cup of tea.[22][31] He is often portrayed as an old gentleman sadly reminiscing about his glory days as an empire. The United States wears big black sunglasses and is usually depicted as having an egocentric personality.[31] Japan is occasionally drawn with catgirl characteristics and is portrayed as being obsessed with anime, particularly hentai. Canada is often drawn with a coonskin cap, and is portrayed as a relatively friendly country who apologizes excessively, but is known for clubbing seals to death in his spare time. In a more bizarre example, Israel is usually depicted as a cube. A common joke is that Israel is depicted this way because of "Jewish physics". Coats of arms in the upper hoist side are most often depicted as eyepatches; the civil ensign, which depicts Austria-Hungary in the comics, has two coats of arms, rendering the country either blind or wearing tinted glasses.[32] The r/polandball community on reddit requires many of these tropes (e.g. UK's top hat, the US's sunglasses, and Israel as a hypercube) as official rules.

A common character in the comics is the Reichtangle, a tall rectangle decorated with the flag of the German Empire and expressionless white dots for eyes; it often scares other countries (particularly Poland) by standing behind them, saying the phrase "guten tag" and threatening to eat them.[2][33] Depending on the comic, it either represents the German military or German imperialism, although it is officially a fictitious "4th Reich".[20] Nepal and the U.S. state of Ohio are drawn as monsters with jagged teeth (known as "rawrs"), in reference to the unusual shape of their flags,[18] while Singapore is depicted as a triangle. The reason for this is unknown, but is assumed to be either a pun ("Singa" is similar to "Trianga"), as well as a reference to the Indonesia–Malaysia–Singapore Growth Triangle. Montenegro is frequently depicted as very sleepy and lazy, referring to what is called the "Lazy Olympics".[32] In instances where a county or character does not have an official flag, they are drawn as billiard balls.[3]

The simplicity of Countryballs, together with its recognition of world history and a focus on current affairs, makes the meme suited to commenting on international events.[29] Among the events that have been covered by Countryballs and have been noted in the media are the Senkaku Islands dispute,[34] the 2013 papal conclave (which saw Jorge Mario Bergoglio being elected the new Pope),[35] the Revolution of Dignity,[28][29][36] the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation,[15] and issues relating to Filipino workers in Taiwan.[37] In the prelude to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine and after the invasion, Ukraine and Russia saw an increase in comic appearances.

Assessment

A Countryballs comic which satirises Sweden–Finland

Wojciech Oleksiak, writing on culture.pl (a project of the Polish government-funded Adam Mickiewicz Institute which has the aim of promoting the Polish language and culture abroad), noted that, due to anyone being able to create a Polandball comic, the existence of the meme has created new opportunities for people to express their personal views on race, religion, and history. In describing Polandball as the internet meme par excellence, he further stated that comic plots could be "rude, impolite, racist, abusive, or just plain dumb", while also noting that the politically incorrect nature of the comics adds to the attractiveness of the meme.[38]

At the same time, Oleksiak notes that Polandball comics often employ exaggerated Polish stereotypes, such as Poles not being as proficient in English as other nationalities and Poland itself being a country full of dull-witted hyper-Catholics. On the other hand, he admits that some stereotypes employed in Polandball comics, such as Poles telling stories about the nation's glorious history and dwelling on a deep-rooted martyrdom, are mostly true. In contrast, the stereotype that Poles hold many national complexes and blame external forces for their failures is true but somewhat justified. Oleksiak further notes that from Polandball, Poles can learn to have "a sense of humour about our long-time grudges".[38]

A report on the Russian radio station Vesti FM noted a Livejournal post asking readers to list five images that come to mind when thinking of Poland or Poles. The five pages of responses, illustrating the complex and often difficult historical ties between Russia and Poland, recalled subjects including False Dmitriy I, Tomek in the Land of the Kangaroos by Polish author Alfred Szklarski, Czterej pancerni i pies ("Four tank-men and a dog"), Russophobia, and Polandball.[39][unreliable source?]

In popular culture

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (February 2023)

An online multiplayer third-person shooter called Countryballs: Modern Ballfare was released on Steam in June 2021 for Microsoft Windows.[40] CountryBalls Heroes, a strategy game, was released on Steam in November 2021 for Microsoft Windows. The game later won the 38th Fan Favorite weekly vote at the Game Development World Championship 2021.[41]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ The term "Polandball" is often used interchangeably, regardless on whether or not Poland appears.
  2. ^ Exceptions are Kazakhstan, Nepal, Singapore, Israel, Chile, and others, who are drawn with other shapes.
  3. ^ As of May 2023, Mirosław Hermaszewski is the only Polish national to have flown into space, onboard the Soyuz 30 spacecraft in 1978.[27]

References

  1. ^ a b Procházka, Ondřej (2016). "Cohesive Aspects of Humor in Internet Memes on Facebook: a Multimodal Sociolinguistic Analysis" (PDF). Ostrava Journal of English Philology. 8. University of Ostrava: 9.
  2. ^ a b Tietkonekulttuurin erikoislehti (PDF) (in Finnish). Skrolli. February 2018. p. 38. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 January 2021. Retrieved 19 May 2023.
  3. ^ a b Форум молодых ученых [Forum of Young Scientists] (PDF) (in Russian). March 2018. p. 121. ISSN 2500-4050. Retrieved 19 May 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d Oleksiak, Wojciech (9 June 2014). "Polandball – A Case Study". Culture.pl. Archived from the original on 28 September 2019. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Orliński, Wojciech (16 January 2010). "Wyniosłe lol zaborców, czyli Polandball". Komentarze (in Polish). gazeta. Archived from the original on 1 January 2012. Retrieved 18 March 2022.
  6. ^ a b c Zapałowski, Radosław (15 February 2010). "Znowu lecą z nami w... kulki" (in Polish). Cooltura. Archived from the original on 11 October 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  7. ^ a b Zulkarnain, Bachtiar (30 August 2016). "English Language Variation in Countryballs Cartoons". Language Horizon. 4 (4). State University of Surabaya. Archived from the original on 11 May 2023. Retrieved 18 May 2023.
  8. ^ a b c d Hagen, Sal (15 November 2017). "Polandball is of Reddit: How r/polandball Transcends Memes through Carefully Curated Geopolitical Satire". Institute of Network Cultures. Archived from the original on 28 September 2020. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  9. ^ Wilson, Lam. "HB Herald: May 2017" (PDF). IB Herald. p. 42. Retrieved 18 May 2023.
  10. ^ Pingitore, Silvia (23 May 2022). "Interview with Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Short Film movie director Bruno Bozzetto". The Shortlisted. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Kapiszewski, Kuba (5 April 2010). "Fenomem — Polska nie umieć kosmos" (in Polish). Przegląd. Archived from the original on 3 November 2014. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  12. ^ a b c Erlehmann; Plomlompom (22 July 2013). "MS-Paint-Comics". Internet-Meme - kurz & geek (ebook) (in German). O'Reilly Verlag. pp. 86–88. ISBN 978-3-86899-806-1. Archived from the original on 28 August 2021. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  13. ^ Lindenbergová, Jana (2018). Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster and its impact on American and British popular culture (PDF). Czech Republic: University of West Bohemia. pp. 45–46.
  14. ^ Ceglieski, Tomek (12 April 2011). "Legendy Internetu" [Internet Legends]. Hiro.pl (in Polish). Archived from the original on 15 April 2011. Retrieved 18 May 2023.
  15. ^ a b Ryan, Emmet (4 March 2014). "Polandball is Reddit's answer to Crimea crisis". Business Post. Archived from the original on 6 December 2019. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  16. ^ "Ostrava Journal of English Philology" (PDF). dokumenty.osu.cz. University of Ostrava. 2016. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 April 2021. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
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  18. ^ a b Snezhkova, Irina; Shalygina, eds. (2020). Образы России и Беларуси в представлении молодежи двух стран в XXI веке [Images of Russia and Belarus as Seen by Youth in the Twenty-First Century] (PDF) (in Russian). Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology. p. 143. ISBN 978-5-4211-0254-0.
  19. ^ Ertanowska, Delfina (13–14 August 2021). Професійне становлення журналіста: традиції та нові підходи [Professional development of a journalist: traditions and new approaches] (PDF). University of Lviv. Retrieved 6 February 2024.
  20. ^ a b Procházka, Ondřej (2018). ""Learn English before you start posting...": The sociolinguistics of inequality in a translocal Czech Facebook meme page". Tilburg University. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  21. ^ Žnidaršič, Marjetka (October 2015). "Uporaba Memov kot Orodja Komuniciranja na Spletu" [Using Memes as an Online Communication Tool] (PDF). University of Ljubljana. Retrieved 6 February 2024.
  22. ^ a b Hoffman, Steven (2 May 2015). "How Polandball can of taking over internets". Krakow Post. Archived from the original on 1 April 2016. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  23. ^ a b Cegielski, Tomek (12 April 2011). "MEMY LEGENDY INTERNETU". Hiro (in Polish). Hiro.pl. Archived from the original on 15 April 2011. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
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  26. ^ Chiaro, Delia (23 November 2017). The Language of Jokes in the Digital Age: Viral Humour. Routledge. ISBN 9781351379953. Archived from the original on 28 August 2021. Retrieved 28 August 2021 – via Google Books.
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  28. ^ a b Камышин «может в кантриболз». Infokam (in Russian). 7 August 2014. Archived from the original on 8 November 2014. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  29. ^ a b c Fisher, Max (25 July 2014). "Everything you need to know about the Ukraine crisis". Vox Media. Archived from the original on 22 January 2022. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  30. ^ Procházka, Ondřej (2019). "Making Sense of Facebook's Content Moderation: A Posthumanist Perspective on Communicative Competence and Internet Memes". Signs and Society. 7 (3). University of Ostrava: 362–397. doi:10.1086/704763.
  31. ^ a b Chiaro, Delia (5 December 2017). The Language of Jokes in the Digital Age: #Like #share #lol. London: Routledge. p. 150. doi:10.4324/9781315146348. ISBN 978-1-315-14634-8.
  32. ^ a b Beswick, Emma; Burnett, Stephanie (22 August 2018). "Sleepy Montenegrins win 'Lazy Olympics'". Euronews. Archived from the original on 6 December 2021. Retrieved 6 December 2021.
  33. ^ Procházka, Ondřej (2020). Negotiating ludic normativity in Facebook meme pages. ISBN 978-94-6416-307-0. ((cite book)): |website= ignored (help)
  34. ^ "Japon, Chine, vers une nouvelle guerre froide". France Culture (in French). 9 March 2013. Archived from the original on 9 December 2014. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  35. ^ "Wybór Franciszka okiem internautów" (in Polish). Onet.pl. 14 March 2013. Archived from the original on 17 September 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2014. Alt URL Archived 18 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  36. ^ Аниматор из Камышина нарисовал мультфильм о «заболевшей» Украине. Argumenty i Fakty (in Russian). Volgograd. 6 August 2014. Archived from the original on 8 November 2014. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  37. ^ "Apple Daily" 台灣最美麗的風景是人 真的嗎? [The most beautiful scenery in Taiwan is the people. Really?] (in Chinese). Apple Daily (Taiwanese edition). 31 July 2014. Archived from the original on 4 April 2015. Retrieved 6 August 2023.
  38. ^ a b Oleksiak, Wojciech (9 June 2014). "Polandball — A Case Study". Culture.pl. Adam Mickiewicz Institute. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  39. ^ Klava, P. (25 August 2013). Польша у россиян ассоциируется с Лжедмитрием и Польшаром. Vesti FM (in Russian). Archived from the original on 8 November 2014. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  40. ^ "Countryballs: Modern Ballfare Review". GamesMojo. 25 November 2021. Archived from the original on 25 November 2021. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  41. ^ Miller, George (14 December 2021). "CountryBalls Heroes, a strategy game, won the Fan Favorite vote 38 at GDWC 2021!". European Gaming Industry News. Retrieved 7 April 2023.