Dark Brandon is proof the Left can’t meme
Plagiarising Right-wing humour points to a lack of originality
After a couple of legislative wins during the week, Joe Biden’s supporters sought to capitalise on the sudden turnaround in his fortunes by doing a little light shitposting. This meant widespread sharing of “Dark Brandon” memes, images of Biden ominously threatening to end the “Malarkey”, with eyes aglow and lightning coming out of his fingers. They’re a direct rip-off of similar Trump-related memes that have been popping up on the internet over the last few months.
This illustrates two important points about meme culture in 2022. The first, as we know, is that the Left Can’t Meme. The second is that, in 2022, innovations in meme culture flow from Right to Left and never in the other direction. Why is that?
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
First, some terminology. The “Brandon” nickname comes from an incident at a Nascar Rally in 2021 where an NBC reporter tried to pretend that the crowd was chanting “Let’s Go Brandon” (the driver she was interviewing) instead of “Fuck Joe Biden”.
Earlier this year, Right-wing posters on forums and social media began producing Dark MAGA memes — pictures of Donald Trump with vengeful, triumphalist overtones, implying that the former president was ready to return for a second term to purge his enemies. The defining Dark MAGA meme is a degraded digital image of Trump on flag bedecked stage, toting a machine gun.
So every element of the Dark Brandon meme is a limp imitation of something created on the Right. It’s impossible to trace these things but there’s some justification for thinking that the Dark Brandon meme itself originated on the Right, where posters often produce images of Biden looking deranged or malevolent albeit in a pathetic way.
It’s not the first time that this has happened in Biden’s presidency. As the inflation crisis began to bite, and Americans started noticing that their visit to the petrol pump was costing them a lot more than it used to, they would notice a sticker of Biden pointing to the escalating price gleefully announcing “I did that!”
In response (as the Biden presidency tried to retrospectively label the inflation crisis the Putin Price Hike) some nameless Left-wing agitators began putting up Putin “I did that” stickers, or ones with Putin and Trump together (“we did that!”). This week, the @POTUS Twitter account released a video listing the President’s accomplishments with an “I did that” sticker pointing to them.
As this Slate piece notes, as soon as “Brandon” was coined and popularised by the Right, it came into ironic usage on the Left as a way of describing Biden and his presidency. In that, it joins phrases like cuck or SJW which were coined on the Right before gradually creeping into Left-wing usage.
What explains the crossover of language themes and memes from Right to Left and not vice versa?
The defining attitude of Left-wing popular culture — music, comedy, journalism — since the 60s has been Fuck the Man: be the outsider, punching up against power instead of down against the powerless. But over time Left-wingers have embraced technocracy and taken over establishment institutions, which includes the organs of cultural production that embody their values. So it becomes harder and harder to think of yourself as the insurgent outsider when the CIA is explicitly recruiting based on your values. It’s a loss that gnaws at them.
Now the artistic energy has swung to the Right, as represented by a boom in successful self-published books, small publishing houses, boutique magazines and prizes.
Meanwhile on the Left, you only need to look as far as Late Night comedy — that most embarrassing of American institutions — to see how culturally deprived it has become. Since Trump, we’ve had Stephen Colbert cavorting around with dancers dressed up as Syringes in support of vaccine mandates, and the cast of Saturday Night Live standing around the piano serenading Hilary Clinton and Robert Mueller like glassy-eyed North Koreans performing for Kim Jong Un. That’s the kind of necrotic cultural artefact the mainstream produces now; it’s no surprise they reach to steal some of frog Twitter’s evil vigour.
Whether creators, usually of the Right, can make a greater lasting impact on the wider culture is unknown but the signs are positive. If they were to do so, it would be much more significant that some stolen memes.
The left, and their hijacked political and cultural institutions, speak power to truth.
The left can’t meme. It takes logic and a sense of humor. Also, there are all types of memes, but there has to be some truth in there. The left doesn’t waste time on truth. The lack of humor can be seen on SNL in the last decade. The Trump attacks were unfounded and unfunny. It played to a base of the left, but was not universally funny. There was simply no truth in it.
You’ve clearly given this a lot of thought.
It’s hard to have a sense of humor when you are terrified of offending someone. And it’s hard to meme when you have no sense of humor.
The Left has become goose-stepping, humorless, soviet style apparatchiks, more vested in the existing institutions and systems they managed to usurp, from academia to corporate (especially big tech) America and all the three letter government agencies. The Left wants to strengthen the IRS and give the IRS more latitude to conduct audits that overwhelmingly burden middle class and low income tax payers. That’s really all you need to know about the modern Left. I’m surprised they haven’t all decided to wear gray jumpsuits and live in shipping containers.
Too bad they don’t have a sense of humor, like yours.
“Brandon with eyes aglow and lightning coming out of his fingers. They’re a direct rip-off of similar Trump-related memes that have been popping up on the internet over the last few months.”
I bought a TRUMP t-shirt THREE YEARS AGO with that meme…not only can’t the Left create memes, they’re eons late ripping off the Right’s memes. LOL
“The defining attitude of Left-wing popular culture — music, comedy, journalism — since the 60s has been f**k the Man: be the outsider, punching up against power instead of down against the powerless. But over time Left-wingers have embraced technocracy and taken over establishment institutions, which includes the organs of cultural production that embody their values.”
Absolutely spot on!
Ted Gioia says that we are living in a society without a counter-culture.
Maybe one is arising on where the media still calls ‘the right’? Needs more than just memes, though. I’d like some better music ….
“We are all pawns, controlled by something greater: Memes, the DNA of the soul. They shape our will. They are the culture. They are everything we pass on. Expose someone to anger long enough, they will learn to hate. They become a carrier. Envy, greed, despair: all memes, all passed on. You can’t fight nature. Wind blows, rain falls, and the strong prey upon the weak.”
Can’t fight nature, you say? You must be a climate denier. There will be calls for you to be de-platformed very soon.
Do memes shape Your will?
Do adults care about memes? Am I missing something vital here? Can you get memes on Thick Tok?
I see what you did there, you witty card you.
As a Leftist, this article and these comments are hilarious to me. The Dark Brandon meme is spread almost exclusively by Social Democrats, Bernie Bros, and other Leftists who are disillusioned with the Democratic establishment. The Dark Brandon meme is meant to imitate and mock Right wing memes that paint Donald Trump, an absolute failure of a President, as some sort of Dark powerful character. We on the far left also see Joe Biden as a complete failure and a raving lunatic. So us spreading “Dark Brandon” memes is a way to poke fun at anyone that portrays lousy, corrupt politicians as anything more than pathetic. It’s a mockery of memes made by Trumpies, and if you think they’re stupid that’s the whole point. It seems you have all fallen for our trap. Perhaps take a better look in the mirror next time and examine your own beliefs.
Right, left – a plague on both your houses, frankly.
This is a lightweight propaganda piece, drawing general conclusions from a blinkered US-centric view of the world.
This article permits an inference that many people either are left or right.
It hasn’t yet grasped the possibility that many of us “boring centrists” view both left wing / liberal people and right wing people with mingled boredom and pity, as one views all blinkered extremists.
If you’re left, or right, your positions rarely convince. Invariably, your positions are compromised by your fealty to your own group-think. If one of your heroes says or does something dumb, you are psychologically incapable of criticising it. Your objectivity is compromised by your sense of yourself as being part of a group. You will find a way to mitigate, to explain, to excuse. You will indulge in whataboutery. Obviously, if you’re right or left, you haven’t been wrong about anything for many years lol. Perhaps you consider you’ve never been wrong about anything. And, if you’re left or right, it’s equally obvious to you that your enemies (and, boy, do you folk have enemies!) are always wrong.
Whether it’s bug-eyed left wing clowns preaching about trans rights or telling us that NATO is to blame for Russian aggression, or bug-eyed right wing clowns preaching about climate denial or that Trump won the last election, whatever about the differences in policy, all of you share a fundamental similarity, namely a quasi-religious mindset, one that is drawn to extremism.
As Eric Hoffer noted in the 1950s:
“All movements, however different in doctrine and aspiration, draw their early adherents from the same types of humanity; they all appeal to the same types of mind.”
Hoffer hypothesised that low self-esteem and a sense of personal frustration are the key ingredients for ideological extremity.
Yes it’s all rather childish, isn’t it? I joined Unherd because it seemed a cut above the usual ‘below the line’ comments. Now it seems even the articles are sinking into the gutter.
What is your beef exactly with this article?. Haven’t you noticed an enormous change in TV comedy, say, in the UK, over the past few years? Left wing values (to be simplistic) are now completely culturally dominant, despite the election of Conservative governments, and right wing ones insurgent or whispered (eg. you can’t say that but…..) . And how extraordinary it is that you can’t seemingly get such an important figure as the Leader of the Opposition to simply recognise that women exist and are not precisely the same as ‘transwomen’? Most ordinary people would consider this insane, but it is a very counter cultural to say so.
On a political rather than cultural issue, Brexit is the obvious example. The vast majority of the Left liberal establishment is universally opposed to this, sometimes almost to an unhinged degree,
The whole phenomenon of populist rebellion in the West has been well and analytically observed by Matthew Collins and others, that there is now a huge gulf between prestige metropolitan culture and that of most ordinary people outside these metropolises.
None of this means that right wing populists are always or even mostly right on specific issues, but this is one of the defining issues of our time.
Hmm, putting aside the point for a minute that Left and Right have hugely changed their meanings on recent years, with, for example, in the US the Democrats being the party of the progressive wealthy, and the Republicans that of the ‘deplorable’ white working class (at least to a significant extent), I’ve not quite sure you’ve followed your own advice here. This was not a ‘lightweight propaganda’ piece but a commentary on an example of almost total Left wing domination of institutions (which wasn’t always the case) so that “right wing “ideas have become the insurgent, rebellious ones.
You can observe a similar phenomenon, though perhaps not so extreme, in the UK. Just look how TV comedy has changed in just a few years. Now, anti-Boris, anti Brexit jibes are for example almost universal, on the BBC, plus the outright censorship of what were once mainstream comedy shows like Little Britain, not political but very much against the dominant ‘identitarian left’ cultural values.
What is most relevant about the Dark MAGA / Brandon meme is that it is explicitly authoritarian and accelerationist. The adoption of this meme is more significant than the others because it shows that the post-democratic argument is winning on both sides of the aisle. As well it should be: the time for democracy is over.
Democracy dies in Dark Brandonness.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe