We all saw him at the Presidential Inauguration last week. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont – eschewing the stylish cloth dress coat look of most of the politicians attending the event – sported a relentlessly unstylish puffy brown coat and enormous patterned sweater mittens.
Since then, unless you’ve been living in a cave, you have seen the memes. Bernie and his mittens at The Last Supper. Bernie and his mittens onstage in Hamilton. Bernie and his mittens on the Iron Throne. Bernie and his mittens on the deck of the Enterprise. Bernie and his mittens flying by Dorothy Gale’s bedroom window as her house twirls through the tornado.
For a few days, there was even a website you could go to that would place Bernie and his mittens in front of your house or any other address known to Google Maps.
If you know how to rock some simple photo-editing software, you could place Bernie and his mittens in any setting you chose. This became addictive. For several days, I couldn’t help myself. Bernie shrank to the size of a sparrow and visited my bird feeder. He sat beside my Little Free Library. He joined George and Mary Bailey and daughter Zuzu by the Christmas tree (every time you hear a bell ring, an angel gets his mittens). He patronized Van Gogh’s Night Cafe. Like a lot of people, I became giddy at the prospect of placing Bernie in the picture. Any picture.
Why were we gleefully inserting this 79-year-old Senator into every picture we could find? Why were we sharing and swapping images, and begging each other, “Could somebody please put Bernie in front of my house?” What is the appeal? Sure, there’s a silliness factor that many find enjoyable. And to those of us who like to play with photo editing software, there’s the challenge of creating a new Bernie image that will make others laugh. But I think the appeal goes deeper than that.
For four years, we’ve been under the thumb of a dark, fearmongering administration that exhibited no joy, no lightness, and no sense of humor. If there were jokes, they were offensive ones targeting women, minorities, or people with disabilities. Its leaders were not only incapable of making lighthearted fun of themselves, but were incapable of laughing along when somebody else did. Our last president tweeted bloody murder anytime anyone made fun of his image.
The Inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris has ushered a sense of playfulness back into Washington. It feels like we can breathe again.
The mood is lighter. Friendlier. Less fearful. The new president joked that someone should write a musical about his incoming Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. And within days, a rap group had created a song about her, with a catchy tune and clever lyrics.
In fact, in case you were worried that Senator Sanders was offended by the teasing, rest assured that he thought it was funny too. In fact, he had t-shirts made up with the mittens pic, and sold them on his website to raise money for charity.
The Bernie pics are, from top: little Bernie in my library-themed bird feeder, and Bernie at my Little Free Library (I created both of those on PicMonkey photo editing software). The other three are Bernie in the tornado, outside Dorothy’s window (I found that one online and don’t know who created it, but had to include it because it’s one of my favorites), Bernie at Van Gogh’s Night Cafe, and Bernie in It’s a Wonderful Life. (I made those last two, too.)