It’s probably not healthy to get nostalgic about things only a few months past. But the joy, the optimism, the humor! How could I not miss Joe Biden memes?
Biden was first sworn in as a U.S. senator at 30, making him the sixth youngest U.S. senator. (The youngest was John Henry Eaton, who was sworn in at age 28 in 1818. You’re supposed to be 30 to serve in the Senate, but no one bothered to ask Eaton how old he was, and I guess he didn’t worry about the age requirements). Biden was a senator from the time he was first elected in 1972 to when he became vice president in 2009, having been re-elected six times.
Last year he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction from former President Obama, something that was awww-ed at by Biden meme enthusiasts and heavily criticized by both the anarcho-socialists and Republicans I know, who viewed it as an unethical political favor on the part of Obama.
The Obama presidency had issues: drone strikes, government surveillance, continuing a war that pop culture seems to forget we’re fighting.
But Biden memes...so wholesome. Through them, a well-spoken career politician who experienced a great deal of grief over the course of his life was transformed into everyone’s goofy Uncle Joe.
Other political leaders have been the subject of memes: the infamous shirtless Putin horseback riding photo that was shared and edited many times over, and the meme comparing Turkey’s president to Gollum, which resulted in the meme’s creator — a doctor and father of two — being fired from his job and stripped of his custody rights.
Thankfully, free speech laws protect meme creators in the U.S.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were both the focus of a lot of viral images during the presidential campaigns they ran last year. Usually the images were unflattering, accusing both politicians of being unethical, unattractive and unreasonable.
Usually images of politicians shared in meme form are mocking, which the Biden memes are...sort of.
They’re infantilizing: Biden believes in Santa Claus, loves Barack and aspires to be his best friend, takes petty but adorable revenge on Trump (eating all the White House ice cream, replacing regular shampoo and conditioner bottles with travel size ones — a jab at Trump’s small hands) and doesn’t understand he won’t continue to live near Obama after his presidency ends.
Essentially old Uncle Joe becomes a prankster school boy who is fiercely loyal and retains an innocence that seems lost in the real world of faux wiretaps, real invasions of privacy, anti-immigrant sentiments coming from the desk of the White House, and a nation about to lose key components of its already struggling health care system (#savetheaca, #brobamacare).
In some ways the jokes in the Biden memes create an excuse for the strange things that sometimes actually come out of his mouth (like his desire to take Trump behind a gymnasium and beat him up. If settling disagreements with a fistfight doesn’t sound like a schoolboy stereotype, I don’t know what is).
Sometimes Biden said things that a vice president shouldn’t say. The schoolboy prankster image of him in the memes offers supporters an out; a way to shrug off the inappropriate things he actually said as “Biden being Biden.”
Memed Obama is even better for PR, as he’s transformed into an exasperated but patient father figure who reprimands Biden, but maintains his innocence by not disrupting his illusions (like his belief in Santa Claus).
That’s a fairly forgiving metaphor for the (now former) head of a government that has lied to its people before (as demonstrated by the leaks from Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, along with the chapters in history books that bother to mention the C.I.A.’s long and frequently shady past meddling in the affairs of South American governments) and undoubtedly will again.
Are we imagining practical jokes in the White House out of a desire for professionalism within the realm of politics in the face of rhetoric that focuses on fear and finger pointing?
Are we satirizing our own government dysfunction, at this point a longstanding tradition with government shutdowns in the ‘90s over the budget deficit and in 2013 over funding the Affordable Care Act?
Either way, I miss the Biden memes. I miss imagining politicians as people who are sometimes naive and sometimes foolish, but always had the country’s best interests at heart.
Cathy Cook is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Cathy_Daily. The views expressed in this column are her own.