by Tyler Walicek
A recent post from the premier satirical destination for out-of-touch liberals, McSweeney’s “Internet Tendency,” is structured as a set of five letters from one “Amber” to her ex-“Bernie Bro” boyfriends, each of them repellent (to her) in their own distastefully alternative way. (For the purposes of this article, and as I was taught in my undergraduate lit classes, I will distinguish between “Amber” the letter-penning character and the actual author, so as not to ascribe to the latter any undue motives. Let’s pretend that this series of epistolary barbs is confined to the circumscribed, fictional world of the article and is not, in fact, what it so obviously is: an ill-considered projection of perceived grievances, filtered into a thin gruel of laughable stereotypes that decades ago lost any satirical potency).
Now that The Onion has taken heartening turn towards the left, partially in penance for its pre-habilitation of “Diamond Joe” Biden, perhaps McSweeney’s, a creation of the always-overrated Dave Eggers, feels the need to correct the balance. This would be in keeping with the usual liberal tendency to tiptoe around any kind of principled stand or moral consistency in order to situate themselves in what they perceive to be the perfect center, staking a dubious claim to “a view from nowhere.” Yet what’s so funny about this article is that it’s such a hamfisted mishmash of contradictions that it ends up telegraphing no ideology at all, absent Amber’s woefully miscalculated resentment.
One wonders why, if she finds the titular Bros so repulsive, this Amber character has dated at least five of them. It’s almost as if this piece isn’t an actual litany of the execrable conduct of said Bros and is, rather, a regurgitated bundle of half-baked mediagenic pastiches that have gestated in resentful corners of liberal Twitter and does not represent reliable sampling of either Sanders’s base or its ideology. But let’s pick it apart anyways.
Amber begins by confronting purported Bernie Bro Brandon in writing to accuse him of stating that “our country wasn’t ready for a woman president.” Ripped from the headlines, that one. You’ll recall that Elizabeth Warren conveniently exhumed a years-old conversation right before a debate in an attempt to smear Sanders as a misogynist. A truly exhausting hail of discursive volleys followed. Writing in Jacobin, Meagan Day does an excellent job of dissecting that ripe round of bullshit. The upshot is that Bernie’s version (that he was merely referring to the basically self-evident fact that a woman would face additional barriers to power) was rapidly substantiated, and the underhanded cheap-shot narrative failed to stick. Yet here it is, disinterred to serve as a prop in Amber’s intracranial theater of the absurd. I feel sorry for the rest of Amber’s kin if all of her recollections are so grotesquely distorted by personal enmity.
Tyler (goddamnit) is next in line for an acidic missive, this one more baffling than the last. Amber laments: “But then an unceasing gale blew: you were all ‘Bernie this, Bernie that. Bernie is going to give people free college. Bernie guarantees universal healthcare, Bernie had a bird land on his podium.’” Alright. Harmless bird memes aside, it’s deeply revealing of the liberal pathology that Amber feels the need to “namastop” (atrocious pun hers, not mine) any calls for free college and healthcare. What a bizarre triangulation—it’s not like multiple candidates haven’t endorsed similar, if not identical, platforms. But this candidate rubs Amber the wrong way, for reasons seemingly inscrutable to even (perhaps especially) herself. So all those bromides about the poor or minorities or healthcare or opposing fascism or whatever other lip service dribbles from the liberal pulpit are revealed in all their artifice: not born of principle, but of pandering. By holding the mirror up to Amber’s inner reactionary, Tyler manages to reveal far more about her than about his own failings. (As his namesake, I aspire to the same).
Ryan’s letter is perhaps the laziest of the bunch. Amber dredges up some anemic anti-hippie jokes that have been drained of any actual venom since at least the ‘70s. She takes aim at jam-bands, “drowning in mud” at a festival (is she thinking of Woodstock?) and… that’s it. Bernie is only mentioned obliquely, in that “everyone on the tour really liked” him. I fail to see how this is in any way a condemnation of Bernie, Ryan, or anything remotely ideological—it’s no more than a distaste for ancient hippie shit that is, at its core, deeply conservative. I did like when she said that jam-band music “sounds like someone gave Raffi a Stratocaster,” though. That’s pretty funny.
Josh gets a similarly haphazard treatment. It’s worth quoting a few lines. He is condemned for believing that Bernie would:
“…help ‘struggling artists’ like yourself.” Even though you never personally learned about his policies, all of the women you dated during what you called our “open relationship” kept telling you that he was your ticket out of debt. You know what else would help you get out of debt? Becoming financially independent.”
So, we have a misplaced jab at a nebulous image of ‘artists’ that reads like a transcript from conservative AM radio, a nasty punch-down sneer at those who lack reliable income, both sandwiching a bitterness at some imaginary women, who all, ostensibly, filled Josh’s head with false Bernie-borne hopes of financial solvency? I don’t even know what to make of that.
Finally, Kyle gets lit into for smoking blunts, enjoying ultimate frisbee, and yearning for marijuana legalization. Okay. So he’s like most of my harmless, well-meaning classmates at UC Santa Cruz. “Those were good times,” Amber reminisces fondly, until Kyle “disappeared into a cloud of smoke when I brought up our racist criminal justice system.” One would think that a left-leaning pot smoker who wants to do away with the drug war, the number one excuse for locking up people of color, who is himself breaking the law by indulging in a carefree blunt, would be less averse to conversations about the racist criminal justice system. Or that it wouldn’t be strange for him to support the candidate that wants to not only legalize marijuana but also attack mass incarceration by ending cash bail and for-profit prisons, increasing police oversight, etc., etc. (Additionally, Kyle is described as shouting “’Let it Bern!’ to the woods, [his] skin glowing as [he] laughed knowingly. This odd detail makes him seem more like a cackling warlock empowered by dark leftist magic than a regrettable ex-boyfriend, but I’ll leave that up to interpretation).
Amusingly, the entries are capped off by weirdly bitter sign-offs, wherein Amber expresses her wishes to throw a tomato in Brandon’s face, flip Tyler the bird (rude), and shame Ryan the strawman for his jam-band fandom and pointedly state that she “listen[s] to Pussy Riot now.” For the record, Pussy Riot directly responded on Twitter that they “listen to Bernie.” It seems that Amber’s frosty, abortive salvo of taste-based needling has backfired to no small degree. But by this point the reader has learned that Amber’s letters do not hew to any logic beyond her own wild projections, internalized media narratives, and a deep-seated conservatism that seems at odds with a character who has supposedly dated so many layabout left-ish hipsters. I think that’s what they call “showing your ass.”
I thought we had already torpedoed the Bernie Bro myth, but apparently it demands further debunking. The narrative that Sanders’s support consists mostly of white male beer pong aficionados has been put to bed time and time again. Bernie Sanders is more popular with people of color than white people. He has raised more money from women than from men, and more from Latino voters than any other candidate. He leads among both young voters and people of color in general. To deem his base “bros” is deeply exclusionary of large swaths of decidedly-not-cis-white-male supporters. It’s long overdue that we dispense with this disingenuous smear that immediately falls apart under the slightest critical examination.
Fortunately, that means that we can treat this limp and flailing attempt at humor as an object of mockery and not as a critical perspective that carries any kind of weight. Is this really the best satire that liberals can pen? If so, Sanders is in a strong position indeed. Dunderheaded neolib extraordinaire Jonathan Chait put it best in a tweet from yesterday: “I think it’s time for liberals to panic.” If “Amber’s” unhinged scrawlings are any indication, they already are.
Tyler Walicek is the co-editor-in-chief of Protean Magazine.