Denmark Hastily Killed This Epic Voter “Education” Video

May 15, 2014 at 2:08 PM ET

There is nothing more boring than the European elections. Nothing. No matter how hard states try to energize the population, voting for the European Parliament is as exciting as picking a flavor of ice cream when every option is vanilla. So when the Danish Parliament tried a new tactic in the battle for youth engagement, the only surprise was that it worked. And it worked so well, they had to pull down the campaign and issue official apologies. Wait, what?

The insanely NSFW animated video commissioned by the Danish Parliament involved a naked, muscled hardass called Voteman riding dolphins as if they were Harley Davidsons, decapitating hipsters and beating voters into the voting booth.

Voteman, however, was not so well received by the rest of the population, and parliament spent less than a day attempting to defend it before pulling the animation from their site and attempting to brush their heinous creation under the carpet.

The speaker of the Danish parliament, Mogens Lykketoft, said they would “show more caution in terms of what we put our name to,” despite having previously defended the video. “Many people whose opinions I deeply respect have perceived the cartoon from the EU information center as far more serious and offensive than it was intended and believe it talks down to young people.”

That response had the opposite of the desired effect, sending the video stratospherically viral. There’s merchandise in the works, a crowdfunding campaign to create “Voteman 2” and the still-trending #Voteman hashtag. The video would probably have been celebrated as laughable, cartooning perfection were it not so completely indefensible in the political realm.

The cartoonists behind the video are mildly amused, albeit somewhat shocked at all the attention. They say they simply wanted to make a fun, attention-getting video to get young people to vote.

“If you really think it’s important to get first-time voters, and you have done everything else, then you have to be prepared to do something different,” says Thomas Thorhauge, the consultant and cartoonist who spearheaded the creation of the video.

An earlier concept based on the Simpsons, with each member of the family representing a country, bombed when they tested it with Copenhagen high school students. A month from deadline, Thorhauge says co-creator Jan Rahbek came up with the idea for Voteman “like lightning from the sky.”

“The whole concept was there in one moment. I made a fast analysis of his concept, trying to see how it worked, and I thought: This concept is great—it can do what we want and say something intelligent underneath these controversial images of violence and sex.”

After three or four weeks of creative madness, they brought a newly minted Voteman to the students at the Copenhagen high school.

“We realized that the reaction was—I’m not sure of the word—but it really divided them,” Thorhauge says. “Some people thought it was funny and some thought it was offensive. But it was really engaging. They had lots of discussion, and we were impressed by that. We thought: We have something that is very controversial and probably inappropriate, but it engages young people.”

So they went ahead and published the video. “You have to keep in mind that when we put this out, we thought maybe 500 people will see it,” Rahbek says. “You never know. It’s beyond anything we could have imagined.”

Thorhauge compares Voteman to the “Vote or Die” campaign that featured a South Park animated video and lyrics like, “Get out there and vote, or I will motherfucking kill you!”

“That was actually more offensive than Voteman,” says Thorhauge, “but it was not, of course, issued by Congress.” Chuckling, Thorhauge adds, “But that film really worked!”

As the Washington Post reported at the time, the percentage of U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 who voted jumped from 42 percent in 2000 to more than 51 percent in 2004. Direct correlation to the South Park video has not yet been fully established.

“Among communications experts in Denmark, this film has already been debated a great deal,” Thorhauge says. “Clearly the film was a success in terms of distribution. But did it actually raise awareness? Of course, that is very hard to measure. But one criterion is, will participation of first-time voters be higher?”

Answers on the ballot paper.