Since the beginning of his term, President Biden has adopted what can only be called an ‘anti-malarkey’ approach to official social media use. Facing a nation weary of presidential tweets and extremist messages on Facebook, the Biden administration has traditionally followed the formal examples of Bush and Obama when it comes to White House social media accounts: the occasional legislative update, promotion of blue events and rallies, and, of course, pictures of the first pups. But with midterm season well underway and with an increasingly apathetic voter base to galvanize, how does the Biden administration maintain online relevancy and appeal to new Gen Z voters?
Originally based off the viral right-wing meme ‘Let’s Go Brandon’—a not-so-secret conservative code for the phrase ‘F*ck Joe Biden’—Dark Brandon offers a different kind of Joe Biden, complete with red laser eyes and ‘deep fried’ resolution. He’s the opposite of the bumbling geriatric mocked by conservative pundits. This Biden passes bipartisan legislation with ease, is quick with a sarcastic comeback, and perseveres as our sedulous leader, even when diagnosed with COVID. But perhaps most of all, Dark Brandon does not tolerate malarkey.
The use of the term ‘dark’ in political meme circles began to gain popularity in March of this year after Rep. Madison Cawthorn lost his primary and posted a call for “Dark Maga to truly take command.” Trump followers quickly adopted the phrase. #DarkMaga began to trend on Twitter as supporters speculated on a 2024 Trump campaign that defied political norms. However, the phrase also became popular online with Nazi propagandists and white supremacist groups. By April, #DarkMaga was recognized as an umbrella term for an explosive medley of pro-Trump propaganda, hate speech, and anti-Biden memes. In many circles, it remains a symbol of alt-right and white supremacist propaganda.
However, soon after the White House’s targeted strike against Ayman al-Zawahiri in early August, ‘dark’ pro-Biden memes began to emerge. Among the first of those to share them were White House Digital Director Rob Flaherty and White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates, who posted pictures of Biden overlaid with ‘roasted’ filters and poorly edited to include laser eyes. Bates’ rendition even included the phrase, “Your malarkey has been going on for long enough, kiddo”. Many smaller meme accounts followed suit with manga-style portraits of Dark Biden created by Chinese WeiBo artist Yang Quan following the 2020 election. These so-called ‘Dark pro-Biden’ memes celebrated Biden’s unexpected succession of legislative wins: lower gas prices, the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (and subsequent cancellation of up to $20,000 per person in student loans), and a bipartisan gun law. On August 8th, White House Staff Secretary Neera Tanden jokingly tweeted that “lasers shooting out of Joe Biden’s eyes” was “an official position”.
Unsurprisingly, conservative commentators were unimpressed by Democratic Twitter’s ability to transform ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ mockery into a viral meme. RNC spokesperson Emma Vaughn spoke against the White House for sharing “Chinese propaganda to celebrate the fact they raised taxes during a recession and gave away billions of dollars for electric vehicles that depend on China for parts”. The popularity of the meme seemed to signal the beginning of a reclamation of ‘dark’ humor for the Biden team.
Yet reposts and variations have only gained further traction after Biden’s biting humor and sharp rhetoric at recent public appearances. The President recently made comments in Maryland comparing modern conservatism to “semi-fascism”. He also mocked MAGA Republicans by saying they “thrive on chaos” while in Philadelphia, and when addressing a heckler in Milwaukee, Biden riffed that “everyone’s entitled to be an idiot”. It seems Dark Biden has been unleashed on the public.
The meme’s increased popularity and its apparent support from the administration’s social media signals a shift in the administration’s outreach strategy targeting Gen Z. It connects with both the political pundits who have followed its evolution from ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ and a younger generation obsessed with online dadaist humor. As midterms loom, Dark Brandon’s popularity might mean good things for Biden-friendly Democrats, especially among younger voters. As a generation that receives a vast amount of their political information online, it seems as if Dark Brandon and its easily meme-able application is tailor made for Gen Z (a majority of whom already lean left).
The Biden team would do well to log onto Twitter this mid-term season and repost a Dark Brandon or two—it might just earn them a win.