We Are Once Again Asking for More Memes of Bernie Sanders
25 Jan 2021
Our thoughts, Trends
Chances are, if you have gone online in the past week, you have been met with the steadfast face of Bernie Sanders. The phenomena that is the Bernie meme overtook the internet in the past few days. Off the back of President Biden’s election, the biggest news was that a veteran member of the Democrat party and failed POTUS candidate, turned up with a chair and some mittens to watch the inauguration.
Since this now famous image of Bernie Sanders’ emerged, social media has been busy photoshopping Bernie into band photos, creating AR filters to place Bernie in your home and even crocheting him into 3D. To meme in January 2021, is to Bernie.
Bernie is not new to memes. The 2020 success of ‘I am once again asking you’, was memed time and time again to encompass everything from the neediness of your cat to forgetting someone’s name. This meme was different though, it was changed and copied and imagined far beyond a text/picture format and has taken on a life of its own.
The question is, why? Why was Bernie the talk of the town at one of the biggest events in recent history? What does the popularity and spread of this image and trope signify for behaviour at large; and what does it tell us about what consumers (specifically Western consumers) are expecting from brands over the coming months?
To better get to the crux of this issue, I sat down (virtually) with 1000heads’ Communications Director, Savannah Hobbs. Savannah believes that the spread of the meme is caused by two-core categories, all loosely connected to a need to let loose and laugh:
“After four years of tension, with Trump now out of office, some people are looking to the Bernie meme as a way to laugh and relax for what feels like the first time in half a decade,” says Savannah, who is based in our 1000heads New York office. For many Americans, there is new hope and a revived optimism with Biden’s appointment. It figures, therefore, that the story to emerge from the inauguration would be a silliness release, not making a political point, but a human one. Bernie and his mittens embody all of us, just showing up, doing our best and looking slightly ridiculous in the process.
For all his faults, Trump provided a lot of conversation. A prolific Tweeter (now banned from the platform) of just about every politically divisive thought he had. His exit now leaves a content void. As Savannah explains “Without Trump in office, there’s far less to make fun of. A whole social media meme industry has emerged in part due to endless content from Trump, but as he’s now quiet, the machine needs to be fed by something else.” What has replaced it is softer, we’re not laughing at Bernie so much as laughing with him, rooting for the underdog and complimenting his integrity, right down to his practical fashion choices.
Expanding on Savannah’s analysis, another theory I hold is that this is about a much wider trend, a trend of feeling disconnected with each-other and holding out for opportunities to focus on what connects us rather than what keeps us apart. The emergence of this meme, as with much of meme-culture is all about discovering Common Ground.
Perhaps one of the presiding feelings of the current climate, Covid-related and politically is that we are lacking common ground. It is therefore about both common ground we can physically inhabit together (limited due to lockdowns worldwide) and common ground we can agree on (across political divides). The most successful Bernie memes did not allude to his socialist values, they alluded to either his humanity or our own. One of my favourite tweets read, “Bernie looks like the inauguration is on his list of things he has to do today, but not the only thing he has going on.” The perfect description of what it feels like in a remote-working world where work tasks and non-work tasks bleed in to one.
Elsewhere, a website was set-up where you could place Bernie anywhere on Google Maps, from Times Square to your local post-code, surely an indication of our need to feel physically connected to places when our own ability to travel is limited. The internet can be a cruel place, but something in the use of Bernie felt like it harked back to a need to connect. It came from a kinder place and this must be part of the reason it spread so fully.
As I was writing this article, I stumbled across a tweet that suggests the #BernOut is coming. This tweet, serving as a break in your Twitter timeline away from Bernie memes suggests the end is nigh. Soon the internet zeitgeist will move on from the mitten-man, as stories of ‘rocks that look like the Cookie Monster’ and viral sea-shanties take centre-stage.
However, if we have learned anything from the emergence of Bernie, it is that there is an appetite for optimism emerging. With the roll-out of the vaccines underway in most major Covid-impacted countries and political world events reaching their end (Brexit has happened, Biden is now President), the world is finally looking forward again. If 2020 was a time of learning to adapt, then 2021 is a time of tentative, gentle, light-hearted optimism and if we’re careful, treading lightly as brands and consumers alike, we might be able to capitalise on this feeling and use it to spread messages of much needed hope.