Dark Brandon and our crumbling democracy

Natalie Comerford, Opinion Columnist

On Sept. 1, 2022, in Philadelphia, Biden delivered a speech perched between two Marines, warning about current threats to American democracy. The internet responded by turning him into a meme. And so, from the tepid cesspool of the internet, a star is born: Welcome to the world “Dark Brandon.”
Illustration by Megan Suka.

“Dark Brandon” was created from a combination of right-wing dog whistles: “Let’s Go Brandon” (a way of saying F*** Joe Biden) and “dark MAGA” memes (in reference to a new Trump who has more extensively abandoned political norms ahead of 2024). “Dark Brandon’s” inception started, as many memes do, in dark corners of the internet. An image of Biden, standing in front of two Marines with ominous lighting and Photoshopped laser vision, eventually made its way to Twitter. Here, it became the next juvenile political meme, utilized by both the right and the left in a never-ending propaganda war. The meme has since been used by White House Director of Digital Strategy Rob Flaherty and White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates to highlight Biden’s recent policy wins. The Democrats and the White House are now adopting the internet’s juvenile approach to social issues, a distinct shift from Biden’s first few years in office.

Even though the meme was reappropriated by the Biden administration to celebrate his recent policy wins, Biden, the famously reserved public figure, is intrinsically marked by the cynicism of meme culture. It is just as much under the White House’s control as a Florida man on meth, which is to say not at all. “Dark Brandon” demonstrates the horrors of reactionary politics stemming from crumbling democracy. The general public’s impulse to mock in the face of existential threats, present both on the day of “Dark Brandon’s” birth and other occasions, like Jan. 6, merely exemplifies the depth of our dystopia.

To the meme’s credit, in its current iteration, the Biden administration truly seems more productive. And yet, Biden hasn’t changed at all. The only thing that has changed is his public image as “laser-eyed-big-daddy-B.” America mocked him back into relevance, and so far, it has been the only thing that has worked for Biden. His approval ratings have been in the dump since the beginning of his presidency, and while they’re still low, Biden’s public persona has never seemed more powerful. The image of “Dark Brandon” overrules the image of “Sleepy Joe” that he comes across during press conferences and speeches. 

As Democrats and Republicans fight over control of both the Senate and the House during the midterm elections, the dangers of extremism and reactionary politics become more and more glaring. Our democracy is crumbling, and, instead of going out swinging, America is going down laughing. The dramatic polarization of our political structure is exacerbated by the depths of internet meme culture. “Dark Brandon” is the perfect picture of our current political state — we are unable to take even our president warning us about the dangers of our deteriorating democracy seriously. So long as the internet meme cycle matters more than the news, we will continue to be trapped in this endless cycle of doom, despair and agony.