Culture Club: How Media Makes a Meme

The Wilderness | Issue 63 | 2 . 1. 2016 |


On January 20th, 2017, President-Elect Bernie Sanders will step up to podium, place his hand on the Communist Manifesto and then deliver his Inaugural address into a banana. The swathes of Hollywood celebrities behind him will cheer and the rest of us will be trading our bank accounts for hidden lockboxes under our floorboards, all the time wondering how a batshit crazy 75-year-old socialist dinosaur became our Republic’s 45th President. How did it come to this?

When symbolic Democratic party chief Elizabeth Warren declared she would not be seeking the presidency in 2016, despite repeated imploring from her most ideologically committed fans and the mainstream media (but I repeat myself), it appeared that the far-Left Hollywood and Washington politicotainment talk-show circuit (increasingly indistinguishable from one another and still ever-loyal to the romance of the Barack Obama Story seven years in) would be left out on the prairie with no smoke signals to direct them and their future.

Barack Obama’s devastating mid-term election losses have left his party with few charismatic, youthful rising stars to carry on his legacy, and as much as Hillary Clinton has always been the natural heir for the corporate/establishment class of Democratic donors, she’s never stirred the passions of the base the way Obama did in 2008, either in terms of her politics or her Leftist sub-culture branding. Every clumsy attempt at youth-culture relevance — whether it’s glossy-eyed Katy Perry selfies or set-yourself-afire-lame “Chillin in Cedar Rapids” Vines — merely hammers the point home: the millennial Democratic base that drives the media conversation cringes at Hillary’s almost-human inauthenticity.

When she appears on The Ellen Show and their dancing surrogates attempt to teach her The Whip and the Nae Nae or the wobble, while simultaneously dodging the sparks flying out of her rusty old joints, her younger voters shrink in their seats and pull their sweaters over their heads in mortification.

No matter how hard she tries, Clinton is not Barack Obama Redux, not capable of carrying on his mantle of hip urban cool. More to the point, she isn’t even the sort of unknown quantity they can at least try to scotch-tape that label onto regardless of whether it fits. Nobody on the political Left is either. The tables have turned on them and (with the exception of one indiscriminate orange headed fartclown on the opposite side of the race) they find themselves on the elderly end of a generational shift in candidates.


Even if the 2016 GOP is doomed to be an electoral Artax, sinking into Donald Trump’s personal swamp of sadness, young candidates like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz will be most likely be back in four years, possibly accompanied by more seasoned youthful candidates like Mia Love, Tim Scott or Ben Sasse.

The monopoly the so-called “party of youth” has clung to since the days of Camelot is coming to an end. Bill Clinton looks and sounds feeble, barely unable to lift a saxophone to his mouth on a late night talk show. There is a gray hair on Obama’s head for every disenfranchised far left entertainer (Maaat Daaymon) or unemployed college graduate who still can’t find a job and is drowning in their student debt or ducking their Obamacare premiums. And the cavalry isn’t coming anytime soon for the Democrats: their most exciting fresh face just got elected to the Senate from Massachusetts at the dewy young age of 64.

But a culture-driven media knows that while they are unable to sell a candidate, they can still sell the message…no matter how unelectable, deranged, geriatric or preposterous the person they attach that branding to might be.  The only way to sell a radical ideology to an engaged youth electorate is to change the narrative as best they can without engaging more culturally relevant candidates like a Marco Rubio or Rand Paul, who are just as comfortable talking Public Enemy and Pink Floyd as they are foreign policy, and appeal on a personal level as a human being, not just a preachy elder.

Rubio for example, in the weeks leading up to the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, ran ads during the NFL playoffs featuring him tossing around a football and answering personal questions. Elle magazine & Vanity Fair ran features on his stylish, if awkward Beatle boots. Both the ads and the features are invasions into Obama’s territory, and the Cultural Left is all too aware of it. Rand Paul is at home on MTV talking about Ferguson and sentencing reform, and even Ted Cruz can bullshit with Jimmy Fallon on a humorous level that social right & MSNBC audiences rarely see.

It’s the Democrats this time around who find challenges in simple things like confronting a flight of stairs and spinning the release of medical reports. Instead of the questions of age, vigor and senility that came with Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bob Dole and John McCain, we are now flooded with admiring comparisons to our cool goofy grandpa and grandma who try to eat the TV remote control or mistakenly put the cat in the microwave. Hillary Clinton must become the nation’s new Betty White — or, more specifically, what feminist media did to Ruth Bader Ginsburg by capitalizing off of tumblr posts and declaring her a cultural hip-hop queen, dubbing her the “Notorious RBG.

Never mind that Notorious RBG goes Notorious REM during every State of the Union speech and has to be checked for a pulse. 

Silkscreened t-shirts and graffiti of Ginsburg’s Skeksis smirk serve as a warning to opposing ideologies and conservatives that popular culture belongs to them, and it will not be surrendered easily to more diverse and younger group of GOP candidates.

Enter the media phenomena that has become Bernie Sanders.

sexy bernie

To understand the heavy lifting media is undertaking in attempting to make Bernie Sanders a plausible candidate for president, you have to understand who exactly Bernie Sanders is to begin with.

Sanders is a kookily proud outsider and self-declared Democratic Socialist who joined the House of Representatives in 1988 and the Senate in 2005. In the quarter-plus century he’s served in federal office, only 3 bills he’s sponsored have ever made it into law. Otherwise, he was that guy you would occasionally see yelling about rapine capital or the unnecessary proliferation of deodorant brands to an empty chamber of Congress on C-Span during midday break sessions. And this has been Bernie’s professional life for the past 35 years. Get up. Go to Congress. Fight with Lamp. Declare victory.

But Barack Obama’s election on charismatic socialist-lite soundbites packaged like a can of Pepsi commercial moved the needle further away from the moderate middle of the political Left that saw consecutive defeats by George W. Bush. And as culture-media has embraced the anti-capitalist rhetoric of astroturfed protest movements like Occupy, Climate March, and Black Lives Matter, the political left is ripe for a populist moment, even if the only available standard-bearer is the shabby retiree arguing with you over the last sack of quinoa/lentil mixed-blend grains at Whole Foods.

If a suitable ambassador for that message won’t present themselves, culture media will create one. Sanders doesn’t know his Reddit from his Snapchat but he doesn’t need to.

As Bernie Sanders waited backstage of the Ellen show, a program producer was seen doing everything in her power stopping short of using a cattle prod to get Bernie to lighten up and dance (this was Ellen DeGeneres’ ongoing schtick for guests). He clearly wasn’t having any of it, and after he was introduced, he managed a few side steps and hand waves before reverting immediately back into “NO TOUCH” mode.

These tiny moments are parlayed into memes and gifs of “Bernie as old-man-hippie hipster” that thrive on social media, and are then picked up by a sympathetic cultural mainstream media desperately trying to either relive or re-engineer the 1960s. The “social upheaval narrative” is just too alluring to pass up for them, especially when their own generation finds itself without a truly great social cause of its own. The lost decade of the Obama era is ending in a little less than a year and the far-Left quadrant of the media knows their pop-culture rockstar is hitting the exits with restively populist agitation brewing on both sides of the political aisle. College campuses and Hollywood have gone #FullCommunism with the silent approval of a President more interested on who the Best Actor Oscar goes to than how many heads ISIS is cutting off this week. Wall Street’s corporate darling Hillary Clinton, thinking the White House was hers for the taking, has once again found a jaded Left-wing commentariat desperate for Somebody To Love putting her on notice that this is not the party, nor the media she and her husband left behind.

It’s not Hillary getting the Taylor Swift treatment in large arenas. Our culture-media isn’t promoting listicles for Hillary. On the other hand, via Twitter & Mashable, we can easily check up on “12 Babies Feeling the Bern.”

Bernie Sanders has become the proverbial Spaceballs’ Yogurt of the 2016 election season, with the must-have cool merchandise. Bernie The Underwear. Bernie The T-Shirt. Bernie The Throw Pillow. Bernie The Flamethrower! It’s really quite fun watching a man diametrically opposed to free-market capitalism standing by and allowing so many to make money off his likeness, including in such things as punk rock t-shirts.

At the same time Twitter fan accounts are passing around photoshopped images of Sanders cuddling a kitten, everyone from Michael Moore to The Huffington Post is suddenly stripping socialism of the stigma that comes with embracing an ideology responsible for indescribable amounts of death and poverty across the world.

If you think you’ve seen all of this before, well, it gets even more familiar. 

Just this past week, a group of noted illustrators came together for an art show at HVW8 Gallery in Los Angeles for a show titled “The Art of a Political Revolution: Artists for Bernie Sanders” which included commissions from none other than “Obama Hope” poster creator Shepard Fairey among others, someone whom one would think might have learned from their last endeavor of placing the hope of a nation into a politician who ran on “Fairness.”

Bern_JR1Who or what Bernie Sanders is, is meaningless. If he wins or loses Iowa, or the nomination — that’s meaningless. The accomplishment comes in finally culturally destigmatizing the evil “S-word” and making it just another part of acceptable American political ideology. A mere eight years ago, Barack Obama knew what he could and could not say to get elected, regardless of his private beliefs. Today, the geriatric rockstar of the Left possesses no such filter. Culture-media is using Bernie’s rants and rally crowds to pave the way for a near future when someone younger and more charismatic can sell democratic socialism without the heavy lifting (looking at you, Kanye West). For all the man-of-the-people declarations Sanders makes, his most vocal supporters are anything but. His rallies are littered with Hollywood celebrities and mainstream musicians peppered in with college students, and tweeted about sparsely from embedded reporters content to report his crowd size and not the cost of his ideas or his criticisms of the current Obama White House.

On the Showtime premiere of The Circus, the Halperin/Heilemann primary-season vanity project, they grill candidates on their plans for the presidency, poke elitist fun at the lunatic antics of Donald Trump rally-goers, and then turn and plead with Sanders to do “The Monster,” a character he acts out with his granddaughters in a way of showing the softer side of a man who has embraced the romance and governing principles of the Soviet Union.

None of this is accidental.

If comedy and talk shows can embed Bernie Sanders into the national consciousness as our lovably off-beat “cool socialist grandpa,” as Larry David portrayed so effortlessly on Saturday Night Live (an impression Sanders felt almost obligated to embrace), the messenger becomes meaningless. His movement doesn’t become about politics, nor does it become about his age or lack of hearing. It becomes about repurposing culture (an arena where still Democrats rack up a near 100% win percentage) to sell the idea of a socialist republic where personal property rights and independent liberty become an afterthought.  As painful a sight as it is to see a media that sold Obama as the essence of youthful charismatic hope reduced to selling what’s left of their integrity out to make the most uncool and aged candidates palatable, it works if there’s no pushback to it.

All this is very purposeful and done with the explicit goal of keeping more younger and culturally attuned GOP candidates out of the mainstream, relegated to having to answer for anti-Beyonce heresies of Mike Huckabee and gaudy outdated Gordon Gecko antics Donald Trump.


Bernie Sanders may well flame out as primary season ignites, crushed by the juggernaut infrastructure of the Clinton machine. Odds are we won’t actually ever experience the sight of his inaugural address into a banana. But that was never really the point.

The question really is whether Bernie’s new army of eager young democratic socialists — brainwashed into a their collective private culture club at the behest of the Buzzfeeds, NBCs and Mashables and MTVs of the popular media — can hold their nose long enough to push that button for Wall Street’s own favorite daughter Hillary Clinton. If they do, then the Democratic Party’s eight-year flirtation with socialist populism is legislatively over, the Warren wing is isolated back to the “fringe Left,” and Obama’s era of forcing permanent social justice onto the masses abruptly ends. The Democrats become the Clinton Party again, for however long she maintains power. If the Bernie-bots sit at home in November, it endangers an already-fractured Obama coalition she is absolutely dependent upon for a win. That leads almost assuredly to a GOP victory no matter who the candidate is.

And then comes 2020, and the country will find a 79 year old Bernie Sanders attempting to dance on Ellen again.



– SM –




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  1. Scott Dough Reply

    I think the overarching concernhereis how vindictive and spiteful the Left is. 

    These are people, who, by and large, don’t ‘stand for’ or ‘vote for’ anything; these herds will vote ‘against’ the oposing party – for the same reason many of them remain ardent Obamamatons: because as you pointed out, it’s what their e-rags have trained them to do. 

    I wonder if Jon Stewart bailed when he did because he knew sticking around meant he was tasked with propping up HRC. 

  2. Bumpy Light Reply

    This essay is freaking brilliant, and I adore the wordplay in it! I might quibble with an observation that the outright socialism of Bernie “I Heart Stalin” Sanders is likely to provide far too many opportunities for go-for-the-jugular commercials and “talking points” for this arrogant, humorless leftist to ever pass muster with the general populace in the actual election, but then, I hadn’t expected Donald “Watch My Lips Blubber” Donald either. It seems as if anything can happen this time around. -_-

  3. Bumpy Light Reply

    Please correct my typographical error above to read [Donald “Watch My Lips Blubber” Trump]. Thank you.

  4. The SMFIC Reply

    So in short, even though the Leftists (nothing Liberal about them) are and always have been everything bad they’ve accused Republicans of, let’s still jab at the GOP contenders for president (all of whom
    would be a damn sight better POTUS than any of the garbage inhabiting the Oval Office the past few terms) while also acknowledging the Lame Stream Media blindly go in the tank for them every 4 years, let’s still try to find a way to make
    the case for SHrillary or Bernie………because Trump is “outdated” and Rubio is “stylish yet awkward” so nobody with an (R) next to their name should ever hold office again?
    Strange times we live in.

  5. EVA-04 Reply

    I saw various memes on the Internets saying that Bernie was our generation’s Doc Brown (from BTTF). I’d suggest that instead he’s our generation’s Dr. Emilo Lizardo, the scientists possessed by communist aliens in Buckaroo Banzai.

  6. Dave Reply

    What Bernie’s fans don’t realize is that his election wouldn’t be the beginning of socialism, which America has had since FDR, but the beginning of its end. He’d give us so much socialism that the entire population of Washington DC would soon be roasting rats and pigeons over burning piles of $100 bills.

    Part of me wants him to win just to see what post-socialist America looks like. Capitalism for the rich, tribal kleptocracy for the middle class, feudalism for the working poor and death for the non-working poor would be my guess.

  7. somercet Reply

    Nice article but worthless. The GOP wants only to be allowed to cringe in the shadow of the DNC, and be allowed to vote to destroy the country at a 5% slower pace than the DNC calls for. You are p–sing in the wind, sorry.

  8. Ronnie Schreiber Reply

    I’d like to ask Larry David just how many good comedies were made under socialist regimes?

  9. David Silberberg Reply


    Your writing is delectable!

    I am thinking of the following grand bargain:  Rubio for President w/Kasich as VP and Cruz as Attorney General.  Throw in Rand Paul as Surgeon General and my pick for Secretary Of State would be John Bolton.  Any thoughts as to how we can make that happen?  Can we get The Koch Brothers to bring everyone to a smoke filled room and act like adults? 

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