'Let's Go Brandon': Mischievous meme mocks fake news and a failing presidency

Chant goes viral amid plummeting confidence in the Biden administration and media gatekeepers.

Updated: October 17, 2021 - 10:36pm

It all started with a profanity that can't be repeated here.

NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast was questioning NASCAR driver Brandon Brown about winning the Xfinity series at Alabama's Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 9. Crowd members began chanting, "F*** Joe Biden," a phrase that had been popping up at sporting events across the country in recent weeks.

Stavast, either misinterpreting the chant or trying to clean up the phrase for broadcast standards, told NBC viewers the crowd was chanting, "Let's Go Brandon" in Brown's honor.

A meme was born.

Wily social media users ran with the phrase. Conservative superstars like Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson quickly latched on. The Fox News host teasingly framed the chant as a tribute to a "a wise and eloquent leader."

"Let's Go Brandon" hats, T-shirts, bumper stickers and pandemic masks rolled off the assembly line in mere days.

Rapper Loza Alexander created a "Let's Go Brandon Theme Song," which sold more than 500,000 units on Apple Music, hitting number one on the platform's rap and hip-hop chart. Alexander claims TikTok, which hosted the music video for the song, vowed to ban the track as a "bullying" attempt.

Even apolitical YouTube gamers are getting in on the craze: Dr. DisRespect shared the message with his flock, which currently stands at 3.57 million strong.

More leaders (Sen. Ted Cruz) and influencers (Donald Trump, Jr.) piled on, suggesting the meme may have what many digital phenomena lack: legs.

Jamie Cohen, a digital culture expert, called it "one of the fastest memes in terms of engagement."

"Many memes don't always have that broad acceptance all at once," Cohen says, adding "Brandon" checked off the three critical areas a meme must embrace.

"Fire needs three elements — heat, fuel and oxygen," says Cohen, who has a PhD in memes. "In the digital realm the same thing applies — the ability to be remixed, shared and understood. As long as all three are in play it continues to be a meme."

The phrase's partisanship isn't in doubt, but neither is "Brandon's" utility, given that some Biden critics recoil at dropping the "F-word" at public events.

Plus, at a time when conservatives fear Big Tech censorship — comedian Steven Crowder just endured a week-long ban for sharing views on gender — a squeaky clean meme offers a chance to be subversive risk-free.

Memes hail from both sides of the aisle, and a few liberal phrases have sparked similar sensations in recent times.

The 2017 meme "Nevertheless, She Persisted," tied to Sen. Elizabeth Warren refusing to stop when Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested she had run out of her allotted time, similarly caught fire in rapid manner.

"Let's Go Brandon" arrives during a tough time for the Biden administration. His polling numbers have been poor for weeks, crashing during the Afghanistan pullout debacle to troubling lows. They've remained weak due to the enduring pandemic, empty store shelves and fears of a holiday season marred by supply chain disruptions.

The "F*** Joe Biden" chant unofficially began at sports arenas, where thousands flouted the administration's strict COVID-19 rules to enjoy a slice of pre-pandemic freedom.

Plus, the phrase taps into a growing mistrust of mainstream media reportage, witness a withering new Gallup poll showing near record lows on public trust in the Fourth Estate.

That sentiment turned Stavast's impromptu damage control into a symbol of Fake News.

The phrase also strikes at a time when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi admonished journalists to do a better job promoting President Biden's economic agenda, as if their mission was to spin on the Democrats' behalf.

Mike Cernovich, a right-leaning filmmaker and independent journalist well versed in digital media, says he was surprised at the speed with which "Brandon" caught on.

The meme itself, though, boasts qualities that made it tough to ignore. 

"It's catchy, and it's clean," Cernovich says, adding it lets people uncomfortable with foul language embrace its partisan message. "It feels transgressive."

"It's what you want in art," he continues. "You wanna singe without being a complete reprobate."

"Let's Go Brandon" may be a unifying battle cry for the right, but it may have limited political clout.

"I don't know if it's gonna move votes," Cernovich says.

Cohen notes a meme dies when it stops being shared on social media. He isn't sure that will happen in the near future.

"I don't see it going away," he says.

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