There’s no way to explain the “Dark Brandon” meme without sounding insane so we might as well just embrace it.
In October 2021, during an interview at the Sparks 300 NASCAR race, the crowd began to chant “Fuck Joe Biden.” The interviewer, whose subject was Brandon Brown, optimistically suggested that the crowd was chanting “Let’s go Brandon.”
“Let’s go Brandon” became a cheeky means of mocking President Biden among Republicans. Even Ted Cruz could be seen with a “Let’s Go Brandon” sign, and Biden playfully acknowledged the meme when he said at the 2022 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, “Republicans seem to support one fella, some guy named Brandon. He’s having a good year. I’m kind of happy for him.”
At the same time, edgy Trumpists on 4Chan and Twitter were envisaging the “Dark MAGA” meme, imagining that a spurned and vilified Donald Trump would return meaning business. His great flaw, they decided, was being too kind and conciliatory. “Dark MAGA” would not repeat those mistakes.
“Dark Brandon” was a humorous and absurdist combination of memes. Biden, as a sinister, red-eyed antihero, could be found threatening old ladies or decriminalizing driving under the influence. This phenomenon took energy from Chinese propaganda that portrays Biden as some sort of supervillain, with a demonic glowing stare and a throne made of guns.
This week, Democrats decided to claim the meme as their own. With al-Qaeda boss Ayman al-Zawahiri obliterated in a drone strike while President Biden was quarantining, a young liberal posted an image that showed a grimacing Trump and a grinning Biden with the captions “GETS COVID CAN’T BREATHE” and “GETS COVID KILLS TOP AL-QAEDA LEADER.” The meme was retweeted over 4,000 times.
Now, each instance of good news for Biden — like a dip in inflation or the passing of a bill to address climate change — is greeted with cries of “Dark Brandon does it again!” White House officials are posting Dark Brandon memes. It is quite the coup.
The FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago has been another opportunity to roll out Dark Brandon memes. “In two weeks,” raves one popular tweet, “Dark Brandon beat covid, he beat climate change, he beat gas prices, he beat Manchin, he beat McConnell, he beat Al Queda [sic]… and now he’s on the last level of Mar-a-Lago beating the final boss.”
Hey, it’s a funny meme. The problem is that it’s funny because it’s ludicrous. Joe Biden is clearly a fragile old man — and one who, quite endearingly, wears his heart on his sleeve. The chance that he engineering things behind the scenes is somewhere between “nil” and “zero.”
Granted, I think some left-wing posters know this — and are doing a kind of meta-ironic parody of MAGA enthusiasts talking up Trump as some ultra-masculine Rambo type — but White House officials who seriously think Biden can be memed into a Marvel-esque strongman will have their hopes crushed the next time the president mumbles his way through a speech and potters off as if in search of a comfortable chair.
But I feel like there is a more symbolic meaning to the use of “Dark Brandon.” In general, explicitly political memes — “virgin versus chad” being a classic archetype — are based on dominance and humiliation. “Dark MAGA,” like old memes about “Electric Pence,” revels in fantasies about Trump punishing his foes. Is “Dark Brandon” stoking similar temptations in Democrats?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that Democrats think Joe Biden will personally hunt down and eliminate his rivals. But jubilant responses to the raid on Mar-a-Lago are a sign that liberals are not especially optimistic about beating Trump and his supporters in debates and at the ballot box. They want him taken out. Maybe there are legal grounds on which to take him out. Maybe there are not. But they want him gone one way or the other.
During the Trump administration, liberals were similarly keen to have him removed. Back then, though, the likes of Robert Mueller were portrayed as superheroes. “Mueller is like Batman, putting together The Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman to create the Obstruction of Justice League,” raved Stephen Colbert.
Well, we all know how that turned out. Perhaps the failure of their champions of truth and justice — as they saw them anyway — has led some liberals to self-consciously embrace the dark side. Claiming “Dark Brandon” could be a sign that pious, often hypocritical appeals to “norms” and “standards” will be ditched in favor of more open political conflict or pursuit of power.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps “Dark Brandon” will be forgotten by September. You never know with memes. Some of them come and go like novelty pop songs. Others change history — or at least represent that change.