J.B. Pritzker, conquerer? Twitter memes reimagine the governor – Chicago Tribune

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Among the lesser discussed subjects of the 2022 midterm elections has been a quiet campaign to elect J.B. Pritzker to the position of Great Khan of the Midwest and — well, who knows what the borders of his empire shall resemble once he conquers? As you’re probably aware, Pritzker is currently governor of Illinois, seeking a second term. He has made no formal announcement of his intent to deliver a horde into battle and crush Wisconsin or anywhere else. But that has not stopped Nomadic Warriors for Pritzker.

It is, at the moment, a Twitter account.

But then as satiric, clever and strangely apolitical as Nomadic Warriors for Pritzker comes across, it’s no less nuts than a lot of social media about contemporary politics. It’s an account slavishly devoted to memeing “J.B. Pritzker on to the throne of a mighty Khanate that spans from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico.” (A Khanate being a vast empire.) That Oct. 4 statement came paired with an image of Pritzker on horseback, waving a sword and shooting lasers from his eyes, before a map of a Pritzker-ruled America in which Springfield is now the “winter capital” and Chicago “summer capital.” Nomadic Warriors for Pritzker dream of an Illinois without borders, so vast even the Big Ten includes the Illinois Wolverines, the Illinois Cornhuskers, the Illinois Badgers ….

Confused? Take a number.

Despite the name of the account, which was created by Trip Venturella of Champaign-Urbana, it’s not really for or against Pritzker.

Rather, it’s tirelessly committed to a weird joke that no one can follow — and its healthy but meager 6,700 followers suggest that joke is pretty inside. It’s followed by Illinois campaign staff, journalists, pundits and political watchers, many of whom had wondered who is behind the account and if they took one too many Mongolian history courses. It features battle plans for a Pritzker-led military campaign across Iowa, faux polls, “fun facts” (J.B. Pritzker is the only governor recognizable from space) and Pritzker’s face swapped into paintings of Genghis Khan promising “Kneel or be broken.”

Well, mystery solved.

Venturella, 32, works as an advertising copywriter for health care companies. Last summer, he said he was eager “to blow off some creative steam” when he noticed semi-ironic Twitter accounts — such as Socialists for Pritzker, which has 13,000 followers. He read a David Weigel piece in the Washington Post referring to these “joking-but-not-really” accounts as “Pritzker’s pals.” Venturella wanted in. He considered it “a funny take on American political expression.”

An image created by Trip Venturella for his satirical Twitter account Nomadic Warriors for Pritzker.

An image created by Trip Venturella for his satirical Twitter account Nomadic Warriors for Pritzker. (Provided by Trip Venturella)

For as long as there has been American politics, there’s been a nonsensical strain of commentary, meant to underline the absurdity and big personalities of politics itself. A dozen years ago, former Columbia College journalism teacher Dan Sinker had an online sensation with @MayorEmanuel on Twitter, a foul-mouthed parody of Rahm Emanuel. Nomadic Warriors for Pritzker is more on a timeline that includes the Yippies who flooded Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, nominating a 145-pound pig for president, intending their spectacle to be as meaningless as (in their eyes) presidential conventions. But even Yippies were protesting Democratic Party support of the Vietnam War. Nomadic Warriors for Pritzker is more of a winking argument for nothing but an alternate reality, closer to the tradition of running cats and dogs for office.

Indeed, Twitter offers Anarchists for JB Pritzker, Real Housewives for JB Pritzker, Swiss Farmers for Pritzker, Frat Bros for Pritzker, Post-Impressionists for Pritzker. About the accounts, the governor told Vanity Fair: “I guess I’m a good straight man.” In a statement to the Tribune, his campaign said it does keep up with Nomadic Warriors: “Nomadic Warriors and Frat Bros alike know Governor Pritzker is the strong leader we need during these challenging times.” The campaign has even played along, posting an image of the governor transposed on the cover of Taylor Swift’s new album, “Midnights,” with a reminder of how many midnights were left until Election Day. And though Darren Bailey, Pritzker’s main opponent, has not inspired the same amount of online memeing, his campaign joined a recent social media trend, photoshopping the packaging for a Spirit Halloween J.B. Pritzker costume, along with a promise: “Going out of style after November 8.” As a reporter for the Daily Beast tweeted: “Pritzker has a remarkably robust and self-sustaining meme ecosystem.”

Which was sort of the point of Nomadic Warriors for Pritzker.

Why Nomadic Warriors?

“It seemed like every ideology already had a Twitter account,” Venturella said, “so I thought, ‘What ideology is so out there and random no one could have claimed it yet?’” He liked playing off the idea of a billionaire politician reaching beyond Springfield. (Many of these satirical accounts obliquely refer to Pritzker as possible a presidential contender.) He’d also studied Central and South Asian history in college, and when the account took off, he gave himself “a crash course on Central Asian pre-Islamic nomadic empires.” He never donated to the Pritzker campaign (“I’m too broke”), though he did create a small line of Nomadic Warriors for Pritzker T-shirts and coffee mugs. Most of the Twitterverse response to Venturella’s gag has been a mix of laughter and cosplay.

“May his glorious reign encompass all of the Midwest,” wrote one fan.

Venturella figures none of this will matter after Election Day.

“But as silly as it is, I like that someday someone will look at a Nomadic Warriors for Pritzker mug and think, ‘Right! That was 2022! Before Pritzker was made emperor.’”

cborrelli@chicagotribune.com

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November 4, 2022 at 06:59AM

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