Back when Joe Biden was Vice-President of the United States, Joe Biden memes were mostly fun looks at the man who served as President Barack Obama’s affable sidekick.
In 2018, the Daily Dot shared its favorite Joe Biden memes at the time, which included puns, ice cream, and playing pranks on an incoming Trump Administration.
But now, with his ascendance as President of the United States after the 2020 election—and some bad feelings from supporters of former President Donald Trump, who weren’t happy Biden won the election—new memes have sprung up.
That includes one called “Dark Brandon” that somehow started with a chant at a NASCAR race and ended up being on official Joe Biden campaign merchandise.
Let’s talk about memes, Biden-style.
‘The President of Vice’ (and regrets about that)
Satirical “news” website The Onion created a whole slew of articles about Biden as a very distinct character, which it would come to label “The President of Vice.” According to a Washington Post article about the campaign, it started with a single May 2009 article, “Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am In White House Driveway.”
From there, the site wrote articles like “Biden Asks White House Visitor If He Wants To Check Out Roof,” where Biden invites an Estonian emissary to party with him in a historic setting, and “Biden Receives Lifetime Ban From Dave & Buster’s,” about the man a heartbeat away from the nuclear codes getting a little too unruly at the chain restaurant one too many times. It cast Biden as a sort of lovable lunk who wouldn’t think twice about catching Night Ranger at a casino-hosted concert rather than a storied Senator who has been not just in politics, but of politics, for decades.
That led to longtime Onion writer and editor Joe Garden saying “my bad.” The Post pointed to an essay he wrote for Vice called, in true Onion style, “Area Man Regrets Helping Turn Joe Biden Into a Meme.” In it, he confessed, “If you’ve ever thought of Joe Biden as a clueless but lovable clod, a well-meaning klutz who is predictable, friendly, and ultimately electable, I am in small part responsible for that image. And I’m sorry.”
He added, “By the time I left in 2012, the publication had developed its take on Vice President Biden: “creepy but harmless,” with the emphasis on “harmless.” We lampooned him as an uncle you’d shake your head at but not think twice about—the sort of guy who’d wink and say, “Don’t let your meat loaf!” as a farewell.”
But he pointed to “women calling him out for touching them in ways that made them uncomfortable at public events” among other concerns—which spawned the “creepy Joe Biden” meme that both Know Your Meme and the Daily Dot has documented—and lamented making him more likable. He observed, “Instead of viciously skewering a public figure who deserved scrutiny, we let him off easy.”
But what about the Joe Biden ice cream meme?
Despite Garden’s regrets, some still want to celebrate the innocent, fun-loving Joe Biden: The one who really relishes ice cream. Though it harkens back to 2012 and Tumblr, the Daily Dot observed in July 2023, “Opponents will continue to use Biden’s love of ice cream to paint him as a clueless and out-of-touch leader, while supporters will use the meme to portray Biden as enjoying the frozen treat in the face of his enemies.”
The article looks at how ice cream became a constant thread through Biden’s transformation from VP to Democratic candidate (who eventually emerged as the establishment alternative to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to President.
The Daily Dot also noted, “During the 2020 primary, Biden’s love of ice cream flared up in FEC reports as well, when it was revealed he was spending thousands of dollars at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.”
Of course, during the era in which Ice Cream Joe Biden was making the rounds, Sad Joe Biden was as well, showing immense meme flexibility in Instagram posts like this one.
Despite the Sad Joe Biden meme starting in one of the most exclusive offices in the world, there’s a relatability to Biden in memes from this era. He’s human in a way that politicians rarely are to us in this polarized era. Even though Know Your Meme noted the original 2014 photo was of Biden “staring pensively out a window at the White House during a special summit with the Ukrainian president to address the escalating political tension between the East European nation and Russia,” it captured an expression we’ve all worn.
So, how did the Dark Brandon meme happen?
The Dark Brandon meme is the end result of Trumpian mocking of the current President and what some regard as a successful attempt to reclaim it.
First things first: “Let’s Go Brandon” is a stand-in for “F*ck Joe Biden” that many Biden detractors have adopted. (You may have seen it in bumper sticker form on a truck.) According to Vox, the saying and related memes “originated from a reporter’s mistaken (or possibly strategic) mishearing of a crowd chant at the Talladega racetrack in October 2021. When cries of “F*ck Joe Biden!” broke out in between races, NBC’s Kelli Stavast was interviewing race winner Brandon Brown after his first career win. Stavast translated the background noise on the spot into “Let’s go, Brandon” — instantly spawning that thing Trump-loving sh*tposters love most: a code for something they want to say publicly but can’t, disguised as something banal.”
Just a few months later, in Orlando (as reported by Emmy-winning broadcaster Scott Thuman), “Let’s Go Brandon” appeared next to Nazi symbols in banners displayed by provocateurs perched above the city’s busy I-4 freeway.
Yet the slogan endured … but surprisingly got co-opted in one of the weirdest Joe Biden memes to emerge.
The origins of ‘Dark Brandon’
According to Know Your Meme, a May 2022 tweet shared cartoon images of Biden with glowing eyes along with the message, “Apparently this is Chinese anti-Biden propaganda, but it kinda just makes Biden seem metal af.” Another Twitter user suggested “The Dark Brandon” among a list of Brandon-infused superhero movie titles two months earlier; the ideas somehow converged, and a glowing-eyed Dark Brandon was born.
The Daily Dot observed in an August 2022 article, “On Monday, the Biden administration announced it killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike over the weekend, which prompted a flurry of ‘Dark Brandon’ posts praising the president, using the ominious wording to project force.”
It went on to note, “Biden supporters are highly amused with themselves for appropriating the meme for their purposes.”
Biden becomes Dark Brandon
Biden eventually co-opted the meme for his own fundraising purposes. In April 2023, the Daily Dot reported that “President Joe Biden is officially embracing the Dark Brandon meme.”
“His campaign is selling Dark Brandon T-shirts for prices ranging from $32 for a small to $35 for a 3XL,” the story noted. “The Dark Brandon image also appears on a 404 error page on the campaign website.”
And then, in August, the Daily Dot again returned to Dark Brandon content. Biden tweeted some Dark Brandon coffee mug content on Twitter, which led Trump’s lawyers to complain Biden was looking to capitalize off Trump’s indictment.
Though the mug didn’t specifically say “Dark Brandon,” it had the laser-emitting eyes featured in the meme, and Biden says, “I like my coffee dark” in the meme, which seems a giveaway (as well as an embrace of an alter ego that only the internet could produce).