The Angry Birds Movie is a forthcoming animated children's film based, as its name suggests, on the popular video game series Angry Birds. A theatrical trailer elaborating a bit on the plot of the film was released on January 27.
Since the trailer for this children's film was released, far-right internet users have been locked in a heated debate: Is this movie secretly an extended metaphor for the current political climate in Europe, one that slyly supports the racist and Islamophobic views of the archest internet conservatives?
The arguments in support of the theory that the movie is a right-wing immigration allegory, an alt-right Animal Farm, rely on a very flexible interpretation of a largely unknown plot; the movie won't be released until late May.
The broad strokes of the plot are this: Red is a bird with anger issues who has spent his life living on an island of other happy birds. The other birds spurn him, and mock him for various reasons—including, apparently his bushy eyebrows. When a group of green pigs arrive the other birds welcome them with open arms, but Red is suspicious of their motives. He suspects they want to steal eggs.
And so, with the help of other misfit birds, he sets out to save the island.
Armed with the trailer and these scant plot details, the right-wing detectives began looking for hints that the movie's creators subscribe to their ideas about contemporary geopolitics. In their reading, the fact that the lead pig has a beard and some TNT makes him a stand-in for All Muslims; the colors of the lead birds correspond to those of the German flag; a pig jumping at a female bird is a metaphor for sexual assault.
Taken together, some see these bits of visual minutiae as confirmation of their main theory: that the plot, centered on the arrival of an unknown group with unknown motives, is a definite allegory for their views.
The image below, which collects a number of these pieces of cobbled together visual argumentation, has been passed around:
The discussion is taking place largely on 4chan, 8chan, and other internet message boards that have served as a home to the alt right. The alt right, a broad set of internet-native, identity-obsessed provocative far-right wingers of varying stripes is very much at home on these boards, as are other right-wing ideologues.
The idea of fixating, even jokingly, on a movie for children being a covert vehicle for a message about white nationalism may seem surprising. But bear in mind that some of the people on these boards spent part of last year developing an elaborate and absurd theory that the Nickelodeon show "Bella and the Bulldogs" was propaganda meant to encourage "cuckoldry." Ideas about the secret meaning of culture that are all technically plausible, but by a standard of evidence in which almost anything is plausible, are their wheelhouse.
Once the idea was planted, excitement about and elaboration on the theory were quick to follow, both from the original anonymous posters and others (the orange-red posts come from 4chan, the purple ones from 8chan):
Despite the fact that much of the footage used in the trailer was on display in an earlier teaser trailer released last September, before the New Year's attacks in Cologne and the Paris attacks in November, the piling on of alleged visual "evidence" continues in the 8chan /pol/ thread. The meme has spread: On the boards for far-right website The Right Stuff, for example, a thread title gets right to the point: "The angry birds movie is a allegory of the islamic invasion of europe."
But there is also a fair deal of skepticism about the idea that the movie, which is for children, reflects the anti-immigrant views of the far-right. Some posters have suggested that original ideas were floated by "Sony marketing shills":
Others are less excited because they suspect (almost certainly correctly) that the plot of a children's movie based on a smartphone game won't bear out an argument for the virtues of xenophobia and nationalism.
Some are just laughing:
And, since this is a discussion about a Hollywood movie among a number of far-right individuals, several have floated the idea —seriously or otherwise— that the Jews are behind it all:
The conversation has also, inevitably, generated offensive memes. One such image depicts ISIS fighters with green pig heads, standing above the hooded bird heads of their redbird hostages; another superimposes the title of Mein Kampf over the face of Red, a bird:
In 2015 the alt right received more attention than it had before by a lot; some of its members saw their views reflected more explicitly in mainstream American politics through Donald Trump's anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim rhetoric. BuzzFeed's Joe Bernstein described the scene as a "racist, reactionary, offense-embracing, meme-savvy internet" in an alt-right 2015 year-in-review. When I profiled popular racist song parodist UncuckTheRight in October he told me that he was "making memes, not writing political treatises" and that because of that he was "more concerned with being funny and relevant than expressing my ideas as accurately as possible."
These memes, meanwhile, have indeed become relevant; they are responsible, in part, for spreading the discussion beyond a single board. UncuckTheRight seems to be enjoying the 8chan interpretation of the movie, but taking it with a large grain of salt:
Finally, as the meme spread, panic set in. Some true believers on 8chan and 4chan warned that talking about the metaphor will ruin the efficacy of the so-called propaganda. There is a fear that if the liberal media discovers that The Angry Birds Movie is, indeed, an allegory for Islamophobia, the studio will be forced to change it. (Sony Pictures did not respond to a request for comment.)
At times it can be hard to reconcile that all of these people are talking about a movie none of them have seen yet, one that is almost certainly not preaching the message some of them very seriously think it is, and which is largely a pretext to sell movie tickets to mobile game fans and branded merchandise to children. But in light of the past year, the whole frenetic discussion dovetails with the broader currents of thought and behavior in the online far-right, and especially the alt right.
It's a state of discourse that's very tricky to deal with. It's also a state of discourse that leads to taking obviously false ideas about The Angry Birds Movie very seriously.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org