President Joe Biden, for those fortunate enough to have missed it, made a “Dark Brandon” joke Saturday night at the White House Correspondent’s dinner. This was no surprise. Biden’s reelection campaign already references this meme through a picture of the president with laser eyeballs. But the 80-year old president’s reference completes a process through which Biden’s team ruined what was once an ironic meme of the Right by making it lame, earnest, and left-leaning.
Dark Brandon made an appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. pic.twitter.com/lNfWrNXj0i
— President Biden (@POTUS) April 30, 2023
My colleague Ali Breland wrote a “requiem for a Dark Brandon,” last August, declaring that Biden had killed the meme by adopting it. He explained the backstory this way:
If you’re not terminally online, Dark Brandon is a riff on Dark MAGA, a short-lived meme about Trump. Dark MAGA’s few proponents said that Trump would return (probably in 2024) with the gloves off, ready to punish his enemies. To demonstrate this new more authoritarian Trump, a few supporters photoshopped Trump and created art that looked “fashwave.” (It was lame and Dark MAGA, as I wrote before, barely existed.)
From there, Dark Brandon emerged as a joke on top of a joke. It was a play on “Let’s Go Brandon,” the Trump rallying cry spawned from a NASCAR reporter either trying to sidestep or genuinely mishearing the crowd around her yelling “Fuck Joe Biden.” The idea of Biden—a tired, extremely gaffe-prone older man—rounding up his political enemies for public executions is funny. Dark Brandon was able to be more successful than its predecessor because it had the key meme ingredient: irony.
After Biden won passage of his climate and spending bill, Democrats began posting Dark Brandon memes to assert that instead of “bumbling Biden, he was actually Dark Brandon: the competent leader playing 3D chess to pass the IRA,” Breland wrote. “The meme went from being a joke about him being so hapless that he could never possibly look in control to him actually looking in control as his signature legislation passed.”
This is all super lame, grandpa-stealing-the-kids’-jokes stuff, but that’s sort of the point. As Breland noted: “Earnest Democrats like Biden might have a hard time being cool on the internet,” but they can stop right wing jokes from being the least bit edgy. Biden’s joke was sure cringe-worthy. But it was a stake in the right’s Dark Brandon meme. Now Joe Biden owns it. Which is almost cool.