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The khaki pants and lanyard crowd see a meme
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Dark Brandon Isn’t Anything
Over weekend, both Rob Flaherty and Andrew Bates, press secretaries for the White House, tweeted “Dark Brandon” memes. If you don’t know what that is, it’s an evil version of Joe Biden called Dark Brandon, which itself is a reference to the right-wing “Let’s Go Brandon” meme from last year. Interestingly enough, according to Know Your Meme, the first images to be associated with the meme actually originated on Chinese social network Weibo.
In late May, Twitter account @ne0liberal shared a bunch of anti-Biden propaganda from Weibo, remarking at how cool it made Biden look. The pictures of Biden were created by a Chinese artist named Yang Quan. Also noted by Know Your Meme, the first time “Dark Brandon” was mentioned was by a Twitter user named @punishedpope, who was doing a riff on “Let’s Go Brandon”-themed movie titles and came up with The Dark Brandon instead of The Dark Knight. But it’s also a parody of “Dark MAGA” which is a right-wing political aesthetic fantasizing about a violent Trump-led coup that was kicking around Twitter last spring.
Anyways, none of this really matters and the only important thing to know is that Dark Brandon memes have been floating around the far-right and far-left edges of Twitter’s political horseshoe since the spring. But off the back of a few big wins for the Biden administration this month, a bunch of folks over the weekend started saying that liberals had “reclaimed the Dark Brandon meme” or whatever because in 2022 everyone talks like they have carbon monoxide poisoning.
As much as centrist pundits and political news sites want to act like the opposite is true, Dark Brandon is not a real or important meme. It doesn’t matter and definitely isn’t a win for Biden, liberals, or the Democrats’ floundering status within American politics and culture ahead of this year’s midterms where they’re almost assuredly going to be crushed. In fact, the only thing notable about the meme is that it’s a useful example of how little establishment centrist political media in America still understands about how this stuff works.
First off, this sort of meme archetype isn’t new. In fact, there were a whole bunch of memes in the early 2010s that portrayed Obama as an anime villain. In one famous Tumblr post, he left a girl to “perish” at the bottom of a well. In another, he stole Chaos Emeralds from Sonic the Hedgehog. And a lot of the memes about Trump when he was first running were office played with similar tropes. 4chan artists often depicted Trump as the God Emperor from the tabletop RPG Warhammer 40k and in the first years of his presidency there was a whole meme about how Trump would “make anime real”. Then, when Biden won the 2020 election, artists drew him as a character from the anime JoJo's Bizarre Adventure putting MAGA-hat wearing Trump supporters in work camps. Also, as many of the obligatory Dark Brandon writeups this week have pointed out, Biden has kind of been a meme ever since The Onion turned him into a classic rock-loving himbo during the first years of the Obama presidency. And none of that correlates into affection for him or even proof that people are paying attention to his presidency.
Post-Trump, there are now a lot of people who live in DC and only experience the internet via Twitter — and through links the one zoomer in their office drops into Slack — who have vague notions that memes are somehow equal to power and influence, but have no clue how that works. So the khaki pants and lanyard crowd sees a Twitter account with 110 followers and a name like @RedScareFeetSimp69 sharing a picture of Joe Biden photoshopped into Perfect Cell from Dragon Ball Z killing Ron DeSantis with Gohan hair and they assume this must mean something. “Biden looks cool in this meme,” they might think to themselves. “This must mean that young people like Democrats now. We are breaking through.” Except it doesn’t mean anything. At best, it’s just digital noise, and at worst, it’s funny and ironic because Biden is not cool or interesting or powerful to the average viewer. The meme is an expression of what some people wish they would see from a Biden administration — an active president who feels present and authoritative in a chaotic and frightening world.
This is a point that Rafi Schwartz brought up in Rolling Stone this week. “[Dark Brandon is] a way for die-hard Democrats to claim they’d been right about Biden all along, while simultaneously serving as a fantasy stand-in for the embattled president we actually have,” he wrote.
One big liberal Twitter account, which I won’t name here, claimed that Dark Brandon was the first time the left have successfully co-opted a term from the right. Not only is that not true in a general sense, the Dirtbag Left has spent the last five years sorting through 4chan culture and figuring out how it could be repurposed into leftist discourse, but it’s definitely not true about Dark Brandon specifically.
It may seem like all of this is a stupid thing to get this exasperated over. And sure, it’s a dumb meme. But Democrats don’t get to have a nice fun time online when they’re the side that’s supposedly trying to save our country from authoritarian collapse. And, at the very least, after the meme-fueled cringe hell we lived through during the Trump era, they should have decency to bring in some people who actually know how internet culture works and learn how to really build grassroots cultural moments online. I mean, I can’t really think of a better metaphor for the sorry state of the Democrats in 2022 than posting Chinese propaganda of their president sitting atop of a throne of skulls and then getting baited by right-wingers into letting the entire thing turn into a conversation about whether or not the meme featured Nazi imagery (it didn’t). I mean, c’mon. Even when they’re slightly ahead, they still lose.
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A Good Tweet
Red Pill Theory Finally Broke Through On TikTok
Chances are you’ve seen this guy on your For You Page recently. He has seemingly cracked the TikTok algorithm and is blowing up right now, unfortunately. If you don’t know who Andrew “Cobra” Tate is, he’s a Romanian kickboxer, men’s rights activist, antivaxxer, and is currently under investigation for human trafficking and has a litany of other allegations against him of violence and abuse. I’ve been following Tate, and his brother, Tristan “Talisman” Tate since around 2018, when I noticed they were spending a lot of time hanging out in Eastern Europe with right-wing American influencers and Dark Enlightenment guys. And we did a big episode on my podcast last year about the weird international world of former pickup artists and manosphere scammers that Tate hangs out in.
As for why Tate has cracked TikTok’s algorithm, I think a large part of it is that he combines Red Pill Theory with an aspirational hustle bro aesthetic. TikTok may be known broadly as the app for young women to do fun dance challenges on, but it’s a massive hub for hypercapitalist Gen Z finance “gurus” and predatory landlords. And recently, as it did 15 years ago when failed pickup artists turned into violent incels, TikTok is now becoming a rats nest of toxic masculinity. But another thing that I think has made Tate inescapable on the app is that he does a lot of podcast appearances on other toxic man shows, which means there’s an endless content stream to flood TikTok’s algorithm and the For You Page seems to love thematically linked content posted over multiple accounts.
And sadly it seems like this TikTok blitz has worked because Tate may be fighting Jake Paul soon, which should only boost his already very big presence on social media.
“Grom And Bass”
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The Line Is Not Going Up For Coinbase
Alright, we’ve got a whole bunch of crypto updates today. First, Coinbase, a company whose CEO in May said it would definitely not go bankrupt, is reporting a loss of over $1 billion this quarter. Some real “getting a lot of ‘will you go bankrupt questions’ that are easily answered by my ‘I’m not going bankrupt’ tweet” vibes happening over there right now.
The US Treasury sanctioned Tornado Cash, which is a service that obscures where cryptocurrency is being withdrawn from. Blockchains are anonymous, but also public, which means if person A gives person B some Bitcoin, there’s a record even if you don’t know who person A or person B is. So, for instance, if you steal some Bitcoin and want to turn it into cash, there’s a whole record of everywhere that Bitcoin traveled. If you know where the Bitcoin was stolen from all you have to do is follow the transfer history and wait for the Bitcoin to be cashed out and then you find out who has it. Services like Tornado Cash let you deposit Bitcoin and then withdraw it from a different address. It’s sort of like a shell game for cryptocurrencies.
The US Treasury says Tornado Cash is mainly used by criminals. Coin Center, one of the country’s largest crypto advocacy groups, says the sanction is ridiculous because Tornado Cash is “a tool, not a person” and also the way the sanction works would penalize a recipient of crypto sent via Tornado Cash even if they didn’t ask to receive it. I think this whole thing is a good example of an ongoing problem with regards to crypto regulation — the government seems to be able to diagnose the issues, but then comes up with a solution that actually makes things worse.
Elsewhere in crypto world, an NFT project in Brazil is being investigated for trying to sell off chunks of the Amazon that were actually owned by Indigenous communities. And here’s a photo of a Chivo kiosk in El Salvador being dismantled, in case you were wondering how the country’s Bitcoin ambitions are looking at the moment.
Lastly, this isn’t about crypto, but feels connected nonetheless. Clubhouse is pivoting to Google+ Circles.
Oh Look, We’re Doing The Virtual Influencer Thing Again
Reuters is getting dragged on Twitter for publishing a video about a virtual pop star called Polar that the outlet described as "a metaverse-born singer, dancer and influencer" who has "ambitions to perform in the real world." The reason the news org is getting killed in the quote tweets is because virtual singers have existed for a long time and many of them perform live. I mean, technically the Gorillaz count here. But Hatsune Miku, a Japanese vocaloid, has been touring IRL for years. And there’s also a bunch of virtual Instagram influencers out there, like Lil Miquela. To say nothing of VTubers, the anime avatars that stream for hours and are massive industry in Japan, China, and Korea.
But more broadly, I've noticed that "virtual influencer/pop star" startups are all kind of scammy and seem to love getting weird random news hits where they declare they’re first ever to do this. So I guess it makes sense that that whole scene is latching on to the metaverse as a selling point how for their weird fake cartoon women.
If I Had To See This So Do You
As one commenter wrote, “Honestly, the pauses and hesitations tell us more than the actual decision.”
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good Garfield Tumblr post.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***