and were on Wednesday in a fanfare-filled inaugural ceremony in Washington, DC. But neither set the national meme machine churning in quite the same way as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose masked, mitten-wearing, arms-crossed image has been shared and edited endlessly — and even inspired a bobblehead figurine.
On Thursday night, Sanders appeared on Late Night With Seth Meyers, where the host quizzed him about the meme. Meyers asked the senator if he was aware during the inauguration that he was going viral, and he responded, “Not. At. All. I was just sitting there, trying to keep warm, trying to pay attention to what was going on.”
Meyers also asked Sanders what was in the mysterious manila envelope he’s clutching in some photos, and the senator replied, “I’d love to tell you Seth … top secret.”
What is this meme anyway?
Memes don’t often survive until a second day, but as of Thursday afternoon, Sanders’ image was still inspiring new tweaks and twists. The photo shows Sanders wearing a familiar winter jacket, a blue face mask and gigantic mittens that were a gift to him from Vermont teacher Jen Ellis.
“I made Bernie’s mittens as a gift a couple years ago,” Ellis tweeted on Wednesday. “They are made from repurposed wool sweaters and lined with fleece (made from recycled plastic bottles).”
Sanders’ casual clothing and presumed grumpy, dadcore appearance inspired creative types to pop his image into all kinds of images, from scenes from The Sopranos and Forrest Gump to historical photographs. He showed up in Game of Thrones, on Chicago’s El, even as the fly on Mike Pence’s head from the .
New site lets you put Bernie anywhere
Swapping Sanders into new places got even easier when NYU grad student Nick Sawhney created a website that lets users place the image in any Google Street View photograph. Sawhney told Wired magazine that the site took off well beyond his expectations, and he panicked as its popularity brought him increased fees. (He’s accepting donations and made a deal with the cloud platform that hosts the site, and says he has enough cash on hand to keep the site alive for another week or so, Wired reports.)
Chairman Bernie sweatshirt
On Thursday, Sanders’ official site began taking pre-orders for a crewneck sweatshirt showing the image of a grumpy Sanders in the chair, with the “Bernie” logo. It’s $45, but sold out right away. The site dubbed the shirt the “Chairman Sanders crewneck” and advertises it as showing, “Vermont jacket, Vermont gloves, Vermont common sense.” The site adds that 100% of sale proceeds go to Meals on Wheels Vermont.
And mittened Bernie is going 3D. The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, which apparently exists, is making a bobblehead of the moment. You can preorder it now for $25, though it’s possibly by the expected May delivery you’ll have forgotten why it was even funny.
The image has also found its way on to stickers.
The senator speaks
Sanders was absolutely true to himself when asked to comment. First, he defended his outfit to Gayle King on CBS This Morning. “In Vermont, we know something about the cold, and we’re not so concerned about good fashion,” he said. “We want to keep warm, and that’s what I did today.”
He also told CNN reporter Ali Zaslav he was glad the viral photo “makes people aware that we make good mittens in Vermont,” and also praised his state’s coat-making abilities, and no, that sentence is not made up.
No mittens for you
Ellis told The Jewish Insider she doesn’t have any more mittens to sell.
“There’s no possible way I could make 6,000 pairs of mittens, and every time I go into my email, another several hundred people have emailed me,” she said in the interview. “I hate to disappoint people, but the mittens, they’re one-of-a-kind and they’re unique and sometimes in this world, you just can’t get everything you want.”
Best of the Bernie meme
Meme-makers seized upon multiple angles with the Sanders image. Here are 10 exceptionally funny ones — your mileage may vary, but there are easily hundreds more out there if these aren’t enough.
1. The unnecessary meeting
“When you get invited to a meeting but it should have been an email.” What office employee can’t relate?
2. ‘Joe’s thing’
Slightly different photo, but this one’s a winner for the perfectly phrased faux schedule for Sanders’ day, including “drop off dry cleaning,” “Joe’s thing” and “swing by the post office.”
3. Prepared pockets
Every grandpa’s jacket is like this. The caption reads, “You cannot tell me these pockets are not absolutely stuffed to the brim with crumpled tissues and receipts.”
4. Bernie in Nighthawks
Sanders has been edited into plenty of famous images, including many paintings, but somehow his stubbornly solitary figure fits right in to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.
5. Steal his look
Fashion magazines love to tell readers how to re-create a certain outfit. The best part about this is the manila envelope.
6. Envelope of mystery
BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer reports that the manila envelope Sanders is clutching in one image holds his inauguration tickets. OK, that seems plausible, but other ideas are funnier, including this one that claims that “inside the envelope is an article Bernie cut out of the newspaper that he thought Biden would find interesting.”
7. The heat is on
Back in 2020, Sanders became a meme for “once again, asking for your financial support.” The “once again” meme met the “Grandpa Bernie in a chair” meme with this one, which features Sanders “”once again asking for a space heater.” Look, DC gets cold in January.
8. Bernie with Deadpool
This one makes the list solely because Ryan Reynolds, who plays Deadpool, shared it.
9. Merch table Bernie
Something about this setting just rocks. Maybe because it’s been so long since any of us have been to live concerts. “No, we don’t have the gray shirt in an XL!”
10. Places to go, things to do
And we’re back to the manila envelope image for this classic, where Sanders’ patience for a lengthy formal affair is running thin. It reads, “Bernie dressed like the inauguration is on his to-do list today but ain’t his whole day.”
The dove has landed
Sanders wasn’t the only inauguration meme, though he was definitely the biggest. Lady Gaga also inspired some sartorial remarks. She wore an enormous gold dove pin as she, and she explained its meaning in a tweet she shared that had a close-up photo of the pin. “A dove carrying an olive branch,” she wrote. “May we all make peace with each other.”
But some thought the pin looked more like the mockingjay, a fictional bird worn as a pin by heroine Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games book and movie series.
“Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the 1st Hunger Games,” wrote one Twitter user.
“Gaga’s wearing the mockingjay if you go by the book rather than the movie,” wrote another.
A moment that followed the swearing-in ceremony caught the attention of some. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer presented the new president and first lady Jill Biden with photographs of the just-completed events, which led to.
“LOL, McCarthy & Hoyer give Biden & Harris instaphotos of the inauguration, like they’ve just gotten off the hot new roller coaster at Six Flags,” wrote Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post.
And the night ended with a gigantic firework display that had some viewers marveling at the sheer amount of pyrotechnics.
“Whoever was in charge of gathering fireworks should get on vaccines,” said comedian Jordan Klepper.
Another person had some thoughts on the elaborate display, writing, “So, we don’t need to spend any of the inauguration budget on port-a-potties, additional Mall security, custodial services, etc? So we can spend it on something else? Say, like, fireworks?”