Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Explaining the Bernie Meme Phenomenon


It's been exactly a week since Joe Biden's inauguration and in classic internet fashion one image from the event has taken the world by storm. No, it has nothing to do with Joe, or Kamala, or Trump - it's Bernie baby. In his jacket, mask on, rocking some old school 70's style mittens as he looks on at the proceedings. His hands are folded and his face, while we can't fully see it, seems unimpressed and reserved. His legs are crossed as he rocks some humble-looking brown shoes, and to top it all off he's sitting in a basic folding chair. It really is an iconic image.

But the more I see the picture, as it gets more and more meme-ified online, the more I can't help but wonder what it means. Why do the people love this so much?

Now obviously explaining an internet phenomenon isn't an easy endeavor. It's impossible to perfectly pinpoint the reasoning of millions of people collectively moving in a direction. But with this Bernie meme it seems obvious that behind the comedic surface, there is something going on. I think the meme circulation falls into two camps:

1.) The basic liberal whitewashing camp

This is the camp that didn't support Bernie and is butchering the meme. Your classic Hollywood/suburban housewife types that have little connection to everyday people and are behind some of the worst memes in the history of the internet (elf on a shelf is a recent one that comes to mind). These people think it's funny and are delighted to make a jester out of Sanders. It's a way to feign support for the man while not actually having to back any of his policies or ideas. Classic neolib bullshit.

2.) The Bernie supporter "wish it was you up there" camp

This is the community that yearns for Bernie to be up on that stage instead of Joe. I get a real sense of sadness behind the jokes that are infused in the meme. Sanders seems sort of upset in the picture, or at least a little bummed. He also has a modest outfit and is sitting in a fucking fold up chair lol. It's very representative of the "not me, us" mentality that the Senator ran on in '16 and '20. I admittedly fall into this camp. Just the fact that Bernie is the prom queen of the inauguration he couldn't even participate in is a small victory. A depressing victory, but a victory nonetheless lol.

Anyways, just sort of rambling here and wanted to get my thoughts out on the moment before it inevitably dies in the bowels of the world wide web. I will say that beyond those two camps there's of course the camp of people who hate it and won't give it the time of day. There's always that group online. But on a more positive note I think the biggest thing that unites everybody in fascination around the picture is how identifiable he is in it. Most of us never go to fancy galas or balls, which is basically what the inauguration is. A lot of times we are the ones that have to sit on the sidelines while other, more douchey people are praised - whether it's at work, or school, or a social gathering (remember those?). And just in terms of his get-up, it's so unassuming and humble. Like a grandfather or your friendly elderly neighbor. There's also big time "watching your kids soccer game" energy behind it lol. We've all been at that game.

Love him or hate him, there's something very heartwarming about Bernie in that shot. As if he's sitting there as a proxy for the American people.

- ZB James