Villains are in the driver's seat
Joe Biden's embrace of Dark Brandon says a lot about our politics
We love villains, don’t we? The Darth Vaders, Jokers, Green Goblins, Thanos’ and Hannibal Lecters of the storytelling world are vital to any compelling story. Heroes are only as great as the darkness they must overcome, that’s why I was always trying to play the villain as a kid. From the earliest age of make-believe play, I would only dress up as the cowboy in black. My favorite characters were always the villains. I didn’t even like Star Wars’ Anakin Skywalker until he did Order 66, sorry. Even as a child, I loved how Scar took out his brother, Mufasa, and ran Simba out of town to seize power.
Scar knew what he wanted and had a plan to get it. I’ve never known what I want, and as such, I don’t know how to get it. Something dark happening in our culture. Villainy is replacing the north star of nobility, and of being a hero.
Dark Brandon and God Emperor Trump
This is weird, but President Joe Biden is leaning into an online meme of him known as “Dark Brandon.” Born on the Chinese blogging site, Weibo, illustrations of Joe Biden as a dark lord began to pick up steam in the US as an ironic companion to #DarkMaga fan art of Donald Trump. It’s all essentially the next step of the joke about Ronald Reagan riding a raptor with machine guns. It seems that in our online lives we love turning our real-world leaders into fictional emperors, dark lords, and destroyers of worlds. Perhaps it’s because, in reality, they are boring, reactive, and low-energy disappointments. Dark Lords, however, move the ball forward, and in a world of uncertainty — they are in control.
According to Axios, “Dark Brandon” merch is leading merch sales for Biden’s 2024 effort. Yesterday on Twitter (X?) Biden posted a video of himself drinking from a Laser Eyes Biden mug, saying “I like my coffee…dark.” Ha..ha.
Biden’s staff know what they’re doing. The jury is out on whether Biden understands the internet humor he’s participating in. In Republican-land, Governor Ron DeSantis’ campaign has been in a period of turmoil because some of his (now former) staff appeared to be in too deep on the dark humor of the online-right. Word to the wise, making memes of your boss draped in fascistic-Nazi symbolism is not a winning communications strategy.
This seems to be everywhere I look, lately. For the past month, I’ve been obsessed with this song and music video by the metal band, Falling In Reverse, called Watch The World Burn. In the song, frontman Ronnie Radke challenges his haters and cancel culture campaigns against him by assuming the role of a villain. At first, you think he’s the hero of the music video, like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible or something. Then he blows up the plane. Radke even has laser eyes that evoke the energy of Dark Brandon memes.
In the song’s lyrics, Radke takes apart his online enemies and critics in the music industry press who despise him, rapping furiously about their self-righteousness and how he could destroy them all by just sharing a few stories. He has dirt on them all, he wants us to know. They are false prophets. Radke goes on to fantasize about “going Darth” and deploys imagery of world-ending superweapons, burning a preacher alive, and murdering a church congregation with laser vision. To be crystal clear, I interpret the violent ending of the video as Radke open firing on the self-righteous “woke” crowd trying to run him out of the business….with pious churchgoers as stand-ins. But still, very dark stuff.
Either way, the point is: What if I didn’t just stand here and take your crap, what if I actually just seized control, let my anger explode outward, and destroyed you all….
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Radke was just recently banned from TikTok for refusing to recant that men cannot menstruate and that women might not like being called “cis birthing persons.” It is my belief that Radke is using the imagery of villainy to take a necessary stand for truth, but I will always worry that wrapping yourself in the black cloak comes at a spiritual cost.
Radke, a rockstar with a messy history including prison time…doesn’t mind being hated. It’s a superpower of villains, whereas heroes have a certain kind of neediness to be loved by the public (i.e. Spiderman). Villains don’t care. I wish I had that trait in me, or perhaps it’s there and one day I’ll find it.
Villains make plans, they write their own story
Let’s turn back to politics and what voters are always saying they want. We elect leaders and wish for them to “get stuff done.” They make campaign promises and pledge to fix the world, heal brokenness, and lift up the nation in unity. When reality sets in and they don’t have unlimited power, voters get angry. They were promised ACTION, instead, all they get is EXCUSES. This is when politics gets dark. Voters start to tell pollsters they favor undemocratic solutions, executive orders, and for checks & balances to take a back seat. “Progress” demands it.
What is government if not the public attempting to exert control over the world, with politicians as the tip of the spear against fear, chaos, and uncertainty?
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Dark Brandon can do what Joe Biden cannot. God Emperor Trump won’t stand for another impeachment, he’ll just jail Hillary Clinton and half of the FBI. These are funny memes, things of fantasy and ironic humor…but they’re still real…aren’t they? The memes express something about the people who make and share them, as well as the people buying Dark Brandon mugs.
Villains mirror heroes in almost every way, the only difference is they have dispensed with rules. That’s what the Joker tells Batman in The Dark Knight, “You have all these rules and you think they’ll save you.” The Joker’s goal is to break down the self-righteous facade of Batman and force him into his own free-for-all moral universe.
We’re starving for control, and they know it
Villains are in control, or at least they try to be. Whereas heroes swoop in to save the day, reacting to what bad guys do, villains are adept at setting the terms of engagement. They have a plan. Think about Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars. He spent 30+ years plotting patiently his rise to power in the Galactic Senate, with his eye always on the ball….dismantle democracy, wipe out the Jedi Order, rule the universe. Villains make plans, and they revel forcing their enemies onto a field of battle they designed.
Just like Star Wars is about the fight against fear, and our inner battle against the terror of uncertainty in favor of total control, our political lives are as well. I spoke about this very thing in front of an audience in Las Vegas in 2022.
It’s not a mystery to me why we’re at this point in American politics. The age of heroes is over. Obama didn’t bring about the utopian post-racial America liberals thought was upon us. Mitt Romney, in all his normalcy and clean family living, was still tarred and feathered as evil in 2012…bringing us all together in a dark cesspool of cynicism made worse by the lies of the Iraq War and 2008 market crash. We used to seek heroes to lead us out of the darkness, but now there is a widespread yearning for crusaders to smite our enemies.
Only once Dark Brandon and God Emperor Trump cleanse the nation of evildoers will we have….peace, prosperity, security and virtue.
This may come across as esoteric political science, but I’m telling you — this may be the most important factor in understanding what has happened that made our politics so toxic.
Rules, norms, and checks & balances won’t save us, Dark Brandon will. Or as Donald Trump said in his speech years ago to the Republican National Convention about America’s problems, “I alone can fix it.”
We starving for control of this crazy world, and politicians know it, only in the end…they get the control, not us. Be mindful, and as a Jedi might tell you, “Search your feelings” when emotion (fear, anger, sadness, vengefulness) is washing over. A villain might say to “Trust your feelings” and to not interrogate why you feel what you feel. If you’re not careful in your personal life, and at the ballot box, you’ll find yourself on the Darth path, lost, with no clear exit in sight.
This is the way.
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