Joe Biden, a Meme for All Seasons

In the aftermath of the election, some Americans have taken solace in imagining the outgoing administration pranking the new one.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

A meme, pared of its particulars, is democracy making fun of itself. And during the eight years of the Obama presidency in the United States, there has been no public figure who has lent himself so readily to memery than Vice President Joe Biden. You can attribute that to a combination of factors—his genial, expressive face; his persona’s mixture of frankness and affability; the fact that he occupies an office that lends itself especially well to fan-fictional speculation; his general intolerance for malarkey—but they have resulted, all in all, in Biden becoming, in the worst way and also the best, a running joke.

One of the most common memes goes like this: Take a picture of Obama and Biden together—bonus points if Biden looks giddy, and even more if points if Obama looks reluctant. Add dialogue—usually something that will get at the idea of Biden being childlike and needy and mischievous, and of Obama, decades younger and yet much more the adult, keeping his vice president in check. Apply it to the State of the Union. Or, really, to anything.

The aftermath of the 2016 election has given that time-honored formula renewed life, as people who are disappointed with the outcome of the hard-fought contest have channeled their frustrations through Biden—and through, specifically, the elaborate revenge fantasies they have imagined on his behalf:

It’s democratized fan-fiction, basically: The Onion’s absurdist imaginings of “Diamond Joe,” only with this version of the vice president being, basically, an overgrown kid. And, as the best memes will do, all the jokes suggest something at once silly and profound: Over the weekend, they became an excuse for people both to wallow in their sadness and to transcend it. CNN offered “The 11 most soothing Joe Biden memes for a post-election America.” US Weekly announced that “Barack Obama, Joe Biden Memes Rule the Internet Post-Election.” The Huffington Post explained that “Joe Biden Trolls Trump In Bittersweet Post-Election Meme.” Mashable put it more bluntly: “Joe Biden plotting against Trump is the meme America needs.”

“America”—or at least, some significant portion of America—needed Joe because, in the persona they projected onto him, he channeled not just their thoughts about their new president, but also their feelings. Elections, after all, are not simply contests of policy, or dueling visions for the continuation of the American experiment. They are not merely intellectual. They are also personal. They are painful. They tap into, as we have seen, people’s baser instincts, their lizard brains. Campaigns assume, on some basic level, that adult people are immensely capable of behaving like children.

And there, in all that, is Joe Biden—a man in his 70s who has come to stand in for immaturity. A man whose team has lost, but who will, like many of his fellow Americans, take some solace in the fact that “I TOOK THE T'S, THEY CAN ONLY TYPE RUMP.”