The presidential inauguration commanded the world’s attention after the most chaotic transition of power in the United States in living memory. So did a pair of homemade mittens on a bespectacled man huddled in a chair.
From the United States to Argentina to Iran, the image proliferated through the far corners of the Internet in an ever-expanding array of jokes.
Washington-based photographer Brendan Smialowski snapped the now-iconic shot. It stood in stark contrast with the other visuals of the day: a parade of U.S. politicians and celebrities dressed up in designer monochrome outfits, reaffirming the virtues of U.S. democracy after a tumultuous four years.
But it was the Sanders image that found a global resonance transcending nationality, politics and context.
Perhaps Sanders’s seemingly grumpy appearance reflected peoples’ own annoyance with politicians and political systems at a time when the world is reeling from a pandemic that has exacerbated economic and social divides. Or maybe the democratic socialist, whose liberal foreign policies have made him popular abroad, at least in some corners, was the most relatable part of a day meant to display America’s democratic process. Or it could be that people just really needed something to laugh about together.
Whatever it was, in a time of travel bans, the Sanders image easily made its way to Russia:
Если бы экс-кандидат в президенты США Берни Сандерс приехал не к Байдену, а к Путину.#berniesmittens pic.twitter.com/r2ID2XGThf— Кремлевский пул РИА (@Kremlinpool_RIA) January 21, 2021
And the streets of Kenya:
January 21, 2021
As well as Paris Fashion Week:
برنی در هفته مد پاریس :) pic.twitter.com/a7yXvL9SRL— liberalArtist 💙 (@ArtistBahaar) January 21, 2021
And the bookstands of Tehran.
برنی در تهران@BernieSanders— ali hs (@Tehranlia) January 22, 2021
At Tehran, ❤️ pic.twitter.com/oCuk1QEEoS
He was compared to leaders of the past:
برنی در دربار ناصرالدین شاه#BernieSanders @ Naser al-Din Shah Qajar's palace pic.twitter.com/Afyp6YsjWS— Ade (@Adel_tyb) January 21, 2021
And family members of the present:
Tio Bernie. pic.twitter.com/4VipwIbJRW— Manuel "The LatinoVote™" Aragon (@Spacejunc) January 20, 2021
He became “uncle” Bernie, as he’s often called in Arabic, working at the local corner store:
And reflected that universal annoyance of arriving early or being the single one at a wedding:
arab memes 👌🏽👌🏽 pic.twitter.com/n5F7fYJ4dE— Sarah Dadouch | سارة دعدوش (@SarahDadouch) January 20, 2021
Somehow Sanders’s demeanor even captured the essence of BTS, the widely beloved Korean band:
why did i make this? who knows pic.twitter.com/VEN5aaXP8I— yosub wyd ⁷ (@yosub) January 21, 2021
He was envisioned hanging out with politicians in Canada:
Is there any other choice? #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/ySq4Racv4W— Zain Velji (@zainvelji) January 21, 2021
Who did this???? pic.twitter.com/BMRm0BZywF— Natalie Kitroeff (@Nataliekitro) January 20, 2021
And regulars at the mosque:
My turn! #BernieSanders sitting outside the Ummayad mosque on #Aleppo #Syria alongside the regular blind chanters of religious songs— Rim Turkmani (@Rim_Turkmani) January 22, 2021
العم برني زاهداً لله أمام الجامع الأموي في حلب مع المنشدين الدينيين الضريرين
من صور أخذتها في أيلول ٢٠١٠#Berniememes #BernieSandersMittens pic.twitter.com/APwqRz5SCy
Other takes were more overtly political:
Here, Sanders is pictured in what could be the hookah bar in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged gigantic palace, recently detailed in an investigation by jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny:
January 20, 2021
The memes keep coming, and the shot of Sanders seen around the world has come to epitomize the strangeness of the Internet — and of politics in the digital age.
#Berniememes pic.twitter.com/BqZqJUx85a— Hadil Ghoneim (@hadilghoneim) January 22, 2021
This report has been updated.
The image from Mexico was originally labeled as being from Uruguay.
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