President Joe Biden has been the subject of a variety of meme personas over his political career. Dark Brandon, a new persona for Biden, is now rising, seemingly with endorsement from the White House itself.
“Dark Brandon” is a kind of antihero with glowing eyes that doesn’t take any shit. Brandon, of course, is a play on “Let’s Go Brandon,” originating from a post-race NASCAR interview with racer Brandon Brown in which the crowd cheering “Fuck Joe Biden” was misheard as “Let’s go, Brandon” by a newscaster, and “Brandon” is now widely used by the MAGA set to signal their feelings on the guy.
“Dark Brandon” takes the meme and turns it on his head—you only hate Brandon because you fear his dark power. Often, images of Joe Biden with glowing, red eyes appear alongside the phrase “Dark Brandon Rising,” implying that Joe Biden is only now ascending to the full power of the presidency. Dark Brandon has taken off during an uncharacteristically productive period of Biden’s presidency, as if Biden took off his power limiters and is now suddenly able to get shit done. In the last two weeks, Democrats have passed a major microchip manufacturing law, killed an Al Qaeda leader, and, most importantly and most shockingly, have managed to pass historic (but imperfect) legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and a wide-ranging climate bill that will reduce emissions and raise corporate taxes.
As with lots of memes, Dark Brandon has its origins in dark parts of the internet. Biden depicted as having glowing red eyes is definitely a mirror image of the Dark MAGA memes that depict Trump as a god emperor returning to power in 2024. But it’s also an image that has made Joe Biden more appealing than he has ever been, mostly because Dark Brandon is depicted as a person with a plan, and who is willing to play hardball to get things done. It’s also true that a lot of right wing memes, like the phrase “fake news” have their origins in Democratic party messaging and were then co-opted by the right. Right wing anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters also used the phrase “my body, my choice,” which has its origins in the left wing fight for abortion rights.
Over his many decades-long political career, memes have often made Joe Biden likable and supplanted his actual persona. When Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president, The Onion created the persona “Diamond Joe,” portraying Joe Biden as a lackadaisical, beer drinking, Trans-Am driving deadbeat. The Onion revived the character once during Biden’s 2020 presidential run, but has otherwise retired Diamond Joe. The creator of the character wrote an essay for VICE saying he regretted that the joke didn’t scrutinize Biden’s record hard enough. Biden’s fondness for trains was also an earlier meme that now only exists in fuzzy, pixelated impact font memes and defunct tumblr pages. Biden also became highly memed during the transition between Obama and Donald Trump (as a sort of Diamond Joe-esque enforcer), and, after saying on a hot mic that healthcare reform was a “Big Fuckin’ Deal,” that phrase has become widely memed.
Perhaps it’s easy to meme Biden because he’s sort of a blank canvas—Biden won the Democratic primary in part because he was one of the most generic possible candidates at a time that many people wanted to simply vote for someone who was not Donald Trump. Much has been written about Biden as being old, white, male, centrist, a sort of “return to normal” after the Trump presidency. In that sense, it’s easy to memeify Joe Biden because there’s not much to him. Prior to Dark Brandon, the most enduring commentary about Biden’s presidency is that it feels like he’s not getting much done. Even dyed in the wool liberals like Stephen Colbert have called him “sleepy” in his monologues (Sleepy Joe is a nickname given to Biden by Trump, another meme to supplant Biden’s actual record). According to Reuters, Biden’s approval rating is at 38 percent. Biden is unpopular. Some on the far right have wildly speculated that he is literally already dead. Dark Brandon, on the other hand, is beloved.
Dark Brandon is a guy with a plan, one that he has been executing since he stepped into office. He’s the guy who is willing to cut out the bullshit, or malarkey, in the terminology the Dark Brandon memes often use. One Dark Brandon meme has the president’s face appear before a list of political goals. “Shinzo Abe: Neutralized,” it reads. “Gas Prices: Neutralized. COVID-19: Neutralized. ANTIFA: Fully Armed.” Dark Brandon doesn’t sleepwalk his way through the presidency—there is a method to his madness that his enemies will understand in time.
Dark Brandon makes Joe Biden likable, and it seems like the Democratic party is recognizing this as well. After Biden’s health care and climate bill passed in the Senate yesterday, White House director of Digital Strategy Rob Flaherty, White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates, and senator Chris Murphy posted Dark Brandon memes on Twitter.
All these memes don’t exactly make up for the complaints many still have about Biden’s presidency. But at least this is an image of a party that understands that they need to appear to have a sense of urgency. Democrats are looking for a leader, and in lieu of a real one, Dark Brandon will do.
Correction: This story previously said that Joe Biden referred to gay marriage as a “big fucking deal.” Biden was actually referring to healthcare reform. Motherboard regrets the error.