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Why a Bernie Sanders supporter revived a 10-year-old meme

My brother is an unabashed Bernie Sanders supporter, and so his Facebook page has been full of campaign-related posts for the past few months. If a story brings the bern, it will be shared, full stop. Today, though, my brother stumbled across a video that so took him by surprise that he sent it to me first before he even thought to click “share.”

Someone had apparently tracked down Sammy Stephens, the man behind the 10-year-old viral video “Flea Market Montgomery,” and had him recreate the goof, this time in support of Sanders. What’s that, you say? You’re not one of the nearly 10 million people who’ve seen Mr. Stephens’ opus?

In the 2006 video, Stephens raps a passionate plea for people to visit his flea market, which he also swears up and down was just like a mini mall. (I never figured that part out — is there an aversion to flea markets in Alabama?) It earned him enough fame that he not only got a call from viral kingmaker Ellen DeGeneres, but was even invited onto her show. (It was also spoofed by Reno 911! and The Cleveland Show.)

This new video’s not meant to make it to Ellen. But it’s playing specifically to Sanders supporters, a group that feeds on viral content, and could still get millions of views. (In fact it already made it’s way to the People for Bernie Sanders Facebook page, where it’s accrued about a half million views.) That’s why I was dying to learn why it was made. Was this a weird, shrewd attempt by the Sanders campaign to drum up support ahead of the remaining primaries? Was it created by one of his many organized groups of supporters, or Sammy Stephens himself?

Stephens started rapping the new song off the top of his head on the phone

Turns out it was neither. Aaron Brown is the founder of Onion Creek Productions, which bills itself as “one of Austin’s top video production companies specializing in commercials and branded content.” Brown tells me that, as a Sanders supporter, he was looking for a way he could help the movement. He planned to use Onion Creek to make a documentary-style video about why Bernie Sanders was a qualified candidate — that is, until he found out that Spike Lee was basically doing the same thing. “You can’t compete with Spike,” Brown says.

Brown switched gears and decided to try to make a viral video, and the first thing that popped into his head was Sammy Stephens’ decade-old internet hit. Brown tracked down a phone number for Stephens and called him up. He says Stephens agreed almost immediately. “He started rapping right on the phone,” Brown says with a laugh. Stephens was flown out to Austin and the whole video was shot in about seven hours.

I get why Brown would make that call. The “Flea Market Montgomery” was the kind of video that had me and my friends in tears in 2006, one that we’d immediately replay every time it was finished. But as is often the case with Hollywood reboots, internet sensations who try to recreate their original virality tend to fall flat. This new “Bernie Generation” video is really no different, and it’s not even the first time Stephens has gone back to the well.

But who knows? Maybe Stephens’ attitude, affectations, and — let’s be honest — his EYES, will be memorable enough that, in another 10 years, we’ll look back and credit the video as a crucial turning point in the campaign of former President Bernie Sanders. Sure it’s unlikely, but who would have thought a song about flea markets would make a man a star?


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