Joe Biden
Shirtless man washing a car by hand on the White House driveway
Manipulated photo of Biden in The Onion (2009)
First appearance
  • "Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am in White House Driveway"
  • May 5, 2009 (2009-05-05)
Last appearance
  • "Biden Pulls Off Dusty Tarp Covering Old Campaign Motorcycle"
  • March 20, 2019 (2019-03-20)
Created byChad Nackers
Based onJoe Biden
In-universe information
Nicknames
  • "Diamond Joe"
  • "Uncle Joe"
  • "The President of Vice"

Joe Biden (also known as "Diamond Joe" or "Uncle Joe") is a recurring fictionalized characterization of the American politician of the same name in satirical online newspaper The Onion. Between 2009 and 2019, The Onion staff consistently portrayed Biden as an outrageous character who shared almost nothing with his namesake besides the title of vice president of the United States. Instead, the publication portrayed Biden as a blue-collar "average Joe", an affable "goofy uncle", a muscle car driver, an avid fan of 1980s hair metal, a raucous party animal, a shameless womanizer, a recidivist petty criminal, and a drug-dealing outlaw. The Biden character became one of The Onion's most popular features during the Obama presidency, garnering critical acclaim and a large readership.

Onion writer-editor Chad Nackers originated the newspaper's distinctive version of Biden, which its staff developed over the course of the real Biden's two terms as vice president. Nackers took inspiration from his upbringing in Midwestern Wisconsin and, more loosely, from aspects of Biden's personality and public face. Although The Onion had mentioned Biden's name as early as 2006, he was not treated as the primary subject of an item in the newspaper until Obama's (and his) first inauguration in January 2009. The first full-length treatment of the Biden character was a May 2009 article titled "Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am in White House Driveway". The character subsequently appeared in more than 50 Onion articles, as well as numerous videos and other media.

Despite the extreme differences between the fictional character and the real politician, The Onion was regarded as having a significant, mostly positive influence on Biden's public image. Commentators noted that the character likely reinforced public perceptions of Biden as a political figure with populist working-class appeal and a good-natured, easy-going disposition. The real Biden made several public comments noting his enjoyment of his characterization in The Onion. In 2016, Mitch McConnell referenced the character on the Senate floor in a speech tributing the departing vice president amid the presidential transition of Donald Trump.

Early reception for the character was generally enthusiastic. As the 2020 Democratic primaries and Biden's 2020 presidential campaign got underway, The Onion attracted criticism for the character's detachment from reality and its distraction from the real Biden. Former Onion editor Joe Garden wrote a self-critical op-ed on the subject in May 2019. While Garden still felt the caricature had been funny, he expressed regret that it had failed to provide more meaningful commentary on the politician's record and what Garden found to be substantive shortcomings. After reviving the "Diamond Joe" version of Biden in its coverage of the primaries for one final article,[1] The Onion retired the character.

Since mid-2019, the publication's parodies of Biden have drawn more closely from real-world developments.

Background

The Onion's then-office in Boulder, Colorado as of 2009
The Onion's then-office in Boulder, Colorado as of 2009

Joe Biden is an American politician and the 46th and current president of the United States. A member of the Democratic Party, Biden represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 2009. As the running mate of Barack Obama, Biden was elected vice president of the United States in 2008 and 2012.[2] In his third presidential campaign—following previous efforts in 1988 and 2008—he was elected President of the United States in 2020.

The Onion is an American publication that parodies traditional newspapers and satirizes current events. Founded in 1988 in Madison, Wisconsin as a weekly satirical print newspaper, it began publishing online in 1996 and discontinued its print edition in 2013.[3] Articles in The Onion often lampoon real-world public figures and events using fictitious elements. The Onion had a few noteworthy instances of consistent characterizations over time prior to Biden, such as portrayals of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in the 1990s.[4]

Chad Nackers, the writer who created the Biden character, joined The Onion in 1997. By 2017, he had been on staff longer than anyone else in the paper's history.[5]

Origin and development

Prior to becoming vice president in 2009, Biden was not heavily featured in The Onion. His few early appearances did not reflect the distinctive traits of the later character. The earliest mention of Biden was published in August 2006, during the early period of the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries. With the headline "Critics Accuse Joe Biden of Running for President for Political Reasons", the article was based on a nonspecific premise that did not rely on any aspect of the real Biden's personality or career and, in principle, could have been written using any candidate as its subject.[6]

Biden rarely appeared in The Onion until the first inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. On that day, the newspaper published the headline "Joe Biden Shows Up to Inauguration With Ponytail".
Biden rarely appeared in The Onion until the first inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. On that day, the newspaper published the headline "Joe Biden Shows Up to Inauguration With Ponytail".

Even after Biden was selected as Obama's running mate, he was only occasionally mentioned in The Onion. But Nackers said that the candidate's public appearances as Obama's running mate—especially, in Nackers's words, the "shit-eating grin he had" at those appearances—began to provide a "spark" of inspiration for the character.[7] Nackers felt that Biden's easygoing persona struck a dramatic contrast with the more intense, sinister demeanor of then-Vice President Dick Cheney.[5] Asked about the genesis of the character, The Onion's founding editor Scott Dikkers said Biden had "this great inappropriate, older buddy wild child kind of vibe."[8] Nackers also drew inspiration from his own "strong connection to blue-collar life" and upbringing in Appleton, Wisconsin. When writing Biden articles, Nackers would play music by bands like Mötley Crüe and White Lion to evoke memories and details that could inform the character—a technique The Washington Post compared to Method acting.[5]

The first appearance of the Biden character coincided with the first inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, when The Onion ran the headline "Joe Biden Shows Up to Inauguration With Ponytail" paired with a manipulated image of Biden sporting a long blond ponytail, without an accompanying article.[9] The full-fledged character debuted on May 5, 2009, in the article "Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am in White House Driveway".[10]

During Biden's first year in office, The Onion published a few articles that depicted him as a more traditional vice president, including a spoof on the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation (titled "Biden Pardons Single Yam in Vice-Presidential Thanksgiving Ritual").[11] But by 2010, the writing staff had settled on exclusively using Nackers's "virtually unrecognizable" take on the character. Soon, the newspaper's editors had so many jokes based on the character that there was a backlog of rejected pitches.[12]

Characterization

"Diamond Joe" drives a 1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.
"Diamond Joe" drives a 1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.

The Onion Biden is typically described as a blue-collar everyman with a taste for partying and debauchery. Often referred to by the nickname "Diamond Joe", the character loves hair metal and classic rock from the 1970s and 1980s. He drives a 1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am and motorcycles.[13] According to New York Times journalist Jeremy W. Peters, the Onion staff wrote Biden in "one of two molds: Boozy and brash, or slick and over-sexed."[12] In 2013, the direction of the character took a turn in articles that depicted him as a criminal and gang member; this arc deepened the following year, as Biden became a drug dealer and user, particularly of cannabis.[14] The character has an intense bromance with Obama, although it is not necessarily reciprocated.[15]

The Onion's Biden is a fan of 1980s hair metal (John Sykes of Whitesnake pictured in 1984).
The Onion's Biden is a fan of 1980s hair metal (John Sykes of Whitesnake pictured in 1984).

The Onion's Biden shares little in common with Biden's real life, career, or behavior; indeed, as Dave Itzkoff put it, the character shares little at all with "any version of established reality or fact."[16] For instance, while the Onion's Biden is a binge drinker, the real Biden is a teetotaler.[17] Unlike the Onion Biden's preference for the Trans Am, the real Biden said his car of choice is the Chevrolet Corvette—to which Nackers responded, "So that's the thing, he is into a muscle car still."[18] The portrayal is almost entirely apolitical, especially compared to The Onion's more pointed satirizing of other major political figures.[19] Joel Goldstein, a law professor and expert on vice-presidential history, said that a likely reason for The Onion's divergent take on Biden is that the vice president holds an "awkward office" in a support role to the president's agenda, making it difficult to satirize in its own right.[18]

Most of the similarities between the two Bidens are in the broad outlines of their image and personality. In political terms, Biden's reputation as a liberal populist corresponds to the character's blue-collar life.[20] The Onion's Biden has much in common with Biden's image as a "goofy uncle" and his nickname "Uncle Joe".[21] A headline like "Biden Loses Control of Butterfly Knife during Commencement Speech" is an extreme exaggeration of some of Biden's perceived traits, like his "reported gaffes and generally casual demeanor."[22] Mark Leibovich said part of the character's plausibility stems from the contrast between Biden's image and those of his contemporaries, posing the rhetorical questions: "Would The Onion put a shirtless John Kerry washing a Trans Am in the driveway of the State Department? Speaker Boehner wearing a ponytail at the Inauguration? Harry Reid getting banned for life from Dave & Buster's restaurants ('following dozens of complaints from wait staff and numerous incidents')?"[23] Brian Resnick, writing for The Atlantic, said both have a "larger-than-life" quality.[24] In Nackers's view, the overlap where the "real personality converges with Diamond Joe" is that both have "a heart of gold".[5]

Compared to most comedic portrayals of Biden, The Onion's was unconventional in its almost complete detachment from his real attributes.[18] Other comedians and satirists tended to portray Biden as a well-meaning buffoon prone to gaffes, exaggerating the politician's actual or perceived traits without making outlandish embellishments.[25] Jim Downey—a comedian and longtime writer on Saturday Night Live—described the Onion parody as somewhat risky, because it implicitly relies on the audience's understanding of how dissimilar it is from the real Biden. For the humor to work, Downey said readers "have to know that it's completely wrong and arbitrary", but readers without an existing impression of Biden may believe that the parody is referencing some of his actual characteristics.[12] Similarly, the scholar Nicholas Holm said the character's humor comes from two things: the "sheer unlikeliness" of his traits, and the extreme contrast with "the gaffe-prone and folksy, but generally affable, public presentation of Biden."[14]

Notable appearances (2009–2017)

"The 6 best Onion parodies of Joe Biden" (according to The Week)

  1. "Biden Receives Lifetime Ban from Dave & Buster's"
  2. "Biden Says Life Better Than It Was 4 Years Ago But Nothing Can Touch Summer of '87"
  3. "Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am in White House Driveway"
  4. "Joe Biden Hitchhikes to Democratic National Convention"
  5. "Biden to Cool His Heels in Mexico for a While"
  6. "Biden to Honor Fallen Soldiers by Jumping Motorcycle Over Vietnam Memorial"

Samantha Rollins (January 18, 2013)[26]

In his two terms as vice president between 2009 and 2017, Biden was the subject of more than 50 articles and multiple videos in The Onion.[14] The newspaper would sometimes publish multiple articles about Biden in quick succession, as they did for Biden's appearance at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.[27]

One of the Onion's Twitter accounts, @OnionPolitics, live-tweeted the October 11, 2012 vice presidential debate between Biden and Republican candidate Paul Ryan.[28] The website ran four stories on Biden that day along with a manipulated image of Biden wearing his "lucky debate suit", which was a jacket similar to Michael Jackson's Thriller jacket that exposed his hairy chest.[29]

In January 2013, The Onion published the e-book President of Vice: The Autobiography of Joe Biden as a Kindle single through Amazon's Kindle Store. The book, ostensibly an autobiography, gives a fictionalized account of Biden's life in the character's voice. Most of the book's plot deviates completely from Biden's life story—there is, for example, a description of Biden meeting God during some "mystical-ass experiences" in the summer of 1987—but it also offers alternate retellings of real incidents, like Biden's role in Robert Bork's unsuccessful Supreme Court nomination.[30] As part of the promotion for the book, The Onion participated in an AMA ("Ask Me Anything") on Reddit's IAmA by responding in-character to user-submitted questions.[16]

External image
image icon Ice sculpture of Joe Biden on a motorcycle from the 2016 "Diamond Joe Biden's Badass Balls-to-the-Wall Fiesta" at the Newseum. Photo by Shannon Finney, at Getty Images.

On April 30, 2016, The Onion hosted a Biden-themed event to coincide with the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Titled "Diamond Joe Biden's Badass Balls-to-the-Wall Fiesta", the event was hosted at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.[31] The event featured an ice sculpture of Biden riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a string quartet playing renditions of hair-metal songs. Biden was invited to attend, but declined.[5] Sam Sanders at NPR reported that it was the "most popular" of the several unofficial events orbiting that year's Correspondents' Dinner.[32]

In one of the last Biden articles before the inauguration of Donald Trump, titled "Biden Sadly Realizes This Could Be Last Time He Throws Lit Firecracker Into Press Conference", the character remarked that it was the "end of an era, man."[33]

After Biden left office, The Onion mostly dropped the popular character but found similar breakout success with its portrayal of Donald Trump's sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, who are depicted partaking in childish misadventures as the "Trump boys".[34] Meanwhile, The Onion has portrayed Biden's successor Mike Pence as stiff and uptight, which Nackers called a "weird reverse-Biden role".[34]

Popularity and reception

... Biden was a fucking blast.

Chad Nackers, then–head writer for The Onion in 2017[35]

Articles about Biden were some of the most-read articles on The Onion's site of their time.[36] Analytical measurements of web traffic showed that, by November 2010, the first major Biden article ("Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am") had accumulated more than 500,000 page views, while the video "Biden Criticized for Appearing in Hennessy Ads" had been viewed 450,000 times. The site drew about 7.5 million unique visitors per month at that time, and as such the metrics for the Biden pieces were considered substantial.[12] Editor Will Tracy said Biden had been a "breakout character" and "fan favorite" during the Obama administration.[37]

The character has received widespread praise in the media. Mike Pesca, host of the podcast The Gist, said he considered the Onion's Biden to be one of "the great comic characters of our day" alongside Homer Simpson, Gob Bluth and Tobias Fünke of Arrested Development, and Selina Meyer of Veep.[38] The month before the 2012 presidential election, Slate named the character as the best parody of Biden—topping the animated Biden on SuperNews!, Jason Sudeikis's performances on Saturday Night Live, and Bill Barol's essay "My Name Is Joe Biden and I'll Be Your Server" in The New Yorker.[39] Time magazine ranked The Onion's Biden at number 7 on a list of the top 10 political memes of 2012.[40] When The Onion discontinued its print edition in 2013, staffers at the Los Angeles Times named the Biden character among their favorite work published by The Onion.[41] Marc Hogan at Pitchfork listed "The 20 Best Onion Articles About Music" and included "Biden Huddling With Closest Advisers on Whether to Spend 200 Bucks on Scorpions Tickets".[42]

In light of allegations of Biden's inappropriate physical contact with women

Further information: Joe Biden § Allegations of inappropriate physical contact, and Joe Biden sexual assault allegation

After Lucy Flores published an essay in 2019 alleging Biden had inappropriately kissed and touched her, there was renewed attention on other allegations that Biden has made inappropriate physical contact with women.[43] In turn, the increased attention on the issue prompted critical reassessments of the Onion's portrayal of Biden, particularly the character's interactions with women. Antonia Farzan at The Washington Post said some of the older headlines about Biden and women—like "Biden Invokes Freedom of Information Act to Find Out When Woman Gets off Work" and "Biden Invites Nation's Women to Tax Code Discussion at Private Mountain Chalet"—had "a sharper edge now that multiple women have said that Biden's close physical contact at public events made them feel uncomfortable."[44]

To some, The Onion had tacitly excused Biden's conduct or minimized the seriousness of inappropriate behavior toward women. The New Yorker's Katy Waldman wrote that the Onion's articles about Biden "made hypermasculine tropes look not only unthreatening but delightful" and "were the satirical equivalent of petting the Labrador on the head".[45] Gavin Fernando at The New Zealand Herald noted Biden's tendency to touch women at public events had "rarely been criticised directly" in the media despite widespread awareness, highlighting an Onion story from 2009 that had "zoned in on his behavior towards women" yet all the while depicted him as "endearing and lovable."[46]

Conversely, other commentators felt that the Onion's jokes had called attention to the issue of Biden's inappropriate behavior toward women without necessarily glorifying or excusing his behavior. Joe Berkowitz at Fast Company wrote that "[e]ven the Onion, whose memification of the Veep ... helped shore up affection for [him], couldn't help commenting on his attitudes toward women from time to time."[47] Maureen Callahan at the New York Post said The Onion had "spoofed Biden's sleaziness as early as 2009", which she cited as proof that Biden's perceived inappropriate behavior had been in the public eye for a long time and would not be easy or morally acceptable to minimize or excuse.[48] Matthew Yglesias at Vox said that the discussion about Biden and women had raised the "issue" of "what standard of conduct is acceptable for men in power" and that, on that topic, the overarching meaning of The Onion's long-running "joke" about Biden had been that the vice president "really was an old-school presence in the Obama White House".[43]

Reactions from Biden and his staff

Biden laughing with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who played Vice President Selina Meyer in the comedy series Veep. Biden reacted positively to most comedic portrayals of himself during his vice presidency, including The Onion's.[49]
Biden laughing with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who played Vice President Selina Meyer in the comedy series Veep. Biden reacted positively to most comedic portrayals of himself during his vice presidency, including The Onion's.[49]

Biden publicly commented on the character on several occasions, generally indicating that he enjoyed the Onion articles about him. He also tended to express relief that the character was so radically different from his actual personality and poked fun at the Onion Biden's affinity for the Trans Am. Beyond his public comments, Onion staffers have said members of Biden's staff privately conveyed his enjoyment of the character to them.[50] Biden reacted with similar approval to most comedic portrayals of himself.[49]

Will Tracy, an associate editor at The Onion, told the New York Times in 2010 that the Office of the Vice President had sent the Onion staff an email with the message "Keep it up. He really likes it." Tracy commented, "Apparently he's a fan." Biden's office denied being aware of any communication between the Vice President and The Onion. When the Times reporter requested an interview with Biden to confirm Tracy's statement, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denied the request and replied, "Let me get this straight: You want to interview the vice president about stories about him in The Onion? Well, I'll give you credit for trying."[12]

In a 2011 video interview with Yahoo! News, Biden was asked about The Onion and said most of his acquaintances and even members of the press tended to think of him as "a little bit square", but "now, I'm the philanderer. I think it's hilarious, the stuff they do on me."[51] He also said he was "flattered" that the character was "totally inconsistent with my personality."[52] At HuffPost, Ross Luippold said his interview answer "seemed alternately tickled and confused by the mockery."[53]

Later that year, Car and Driver magazine asked Biden, "Sadly, we must ask about the Onion story. While shirtless, have you ever washed a 1981 Pontiac Trans Am in your driveway?" He replied, "You think I'd drive a Trans Am? I have been in my bathing suit in my driveway and not only washed my Goodwood-green 1967 Corvette but also simonized it. At least the Onion should have had me washing a Trans Am convertible. I love convertibles."[54]

Eric Metaxas discussed the character with Biden at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast. Metaxas, who was the event's keynote speaker, was making small talk with Biden before his speech and asked the vice president if he was aware of the Onion pieces. According to Metaxas, Biden replied "yes, he had seen them, and he didn't mind them at all, because they were so obviously about someone who was completely different from what he was really like. ... Then he added, as a kind of Q.E.D.: 'For one thing, I hate [Chevrolet] Camaros!'"[55]

When Reddit hosted an AMA for the Onion's Biden in January 2013, the @VP Twitter account tweeted the following:

Seal of the Vice President of the United States.svg
Office of VP Biden Twitter
@VP

Q for @reddit AMA with my @TheOnion pal: A Trans-Am? Ever look under the hood of a Corvette? #imavetteguy –VP

Biden stands beside a red vintage car in a garage.

January 18, 2013[56]

The signature "–VP" was used to credit the tweet to Biden personally, rather than a member of his staff.[57] A photo of Biden standing beside a Chevrolet Corvette was attached to the tweet. The presidential account retweeted it soon after it was posted.[23] The Onion's Biden did not reply to the real one's tweet, but it did respond to a Reddit user's question about the Corvette: "I think there's some imposter out there spreading bad shit about me. I'll tell ya right now, whatever they say nothing can come between me and my Zam."[58]

In an April 2016 interview with CNBC, Biden said that he was "not comfortable with goofy Uncle Joe ... And by the way, the so-called goofy Uncle Joe—if you notice, I beat every Republican in every poll when they thought I was running [in 2016]. You notice that my favorability was higher than anybody that's running for office in either party."[59] While this was not a direct comment on The Onion, Biden's image as "goofy Uncle Joe" was closely associated with, and influenced by, The Onion.[60]

As a public relations strategy

According to several academic commentators, Biden engaged with comedic portrayals of himself as a public relations strategy. Historian Edward L. Widmer said Biden's public embrace of the Onion and other parodies helped to signal his sense of humor and show "a quality of humanity."[23] Joel Goldstein, a law professor at Saint Louis University, said he believed Biden's reactions were likely sincere but, even if Biden actually disliked The Onion's portrayal, "the worst mistake [he] could make is being offended by it".[18] In the journal Critical Studies in Media Communication, Don J. Waisanen and Amy B. Becker wrote that Biden responded approvingly to comedic portrayals that reinforced his "folksy" public image, which further cultivated that perception.[61]

Effect on Biden's image

[T]he series is less concerned with naming and shaming comic flaws with the real Biden than it is with constructing an entirely independent self-sustaining comic persona. The humour of The Onion's ongoing coverage of womanising, thrill-seeking, drug-dealing Biden is the result of a self-perpetuating internal logic of ever-increasing goofiness that is constantly moving away from any engagement with the political existence of the real Biden. By the time 'Biden Lines Up Sweet Summer Gig Installing Above-Ground Swimming Pools' [in June 2016], The Onion has moved so far away from the original political context that despite the highly politicised nature of its subject, the joke has no grounding in the political sphere, let alone a critical politics.

Nicholas Holm, Humour as Politics: The Political Aesthetics of Contemporary Comedy (2017)[19]

There is a general consensus that The Onion made an impact on Biden's public image. In 2014, Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg Opinion attributed Biden's image to a combination of The Onion's character and the vice president's own actions and personality. "All veeps become ridiculous; the only question is how", Bernstein wrote, and "once the Onion came up with the image, it seemed to fit really well."[62]

Scholar Byron C. Wallace suggested The Onion's patently absurd, often risqué characterization of Biden would be easily recognized as implausible by most readers and that, as such, their articles about Biden were presumptively less likely to be mistaken for real news than other, subtler satirical content.[63] On the other hand, the heightened contrast between the fiction and the real person has prompted concern that readers' impression of The Onion's Biden could supplant their impression of the real Biden.[64] The Onion editor Tracy remarked in 2012: "My sense is that we've done so much on him that our vision for our version of Joe Biden has, in some way, seeped into the nation's consciousness [and] people think our character of Joe Biden is somehow him."[37] In a profile of Biden for The New Republic, George Blaustein asked:

Has a satire ever so effectively overwritten the image of a politician? ... The full corpus of Diamond Joe amounts to a powerful and paradoxical new origin story. It is intriguing that this fantasy caricature of Biden makes him an endearing outlaw when the real Biden's political legacy includes the 1994 Crime Bill, and the terrible scale of mass incarceration that followed from it.[2]

Nevertheless, it remains difficult to quantify The Onion's impact on Biden's image, and so the precise extent of the newspaper's influence is unclear.[44] Jeremy Gordon at The Outline doubted the extent of The Onion's effect on Biden's popularity, noting that the website's audience had decreased in the preceding years and that its audience skewed younger and more liberal than Biden's base of predominantly older, moderate Democrats.[65]

In Internet culture

The Onion's Biden became a popular meme and influenced perceptions of Biden in Internet culture, particularly during the Obama administration.[66] Seth Millstein at the women's magazine Bustle ranked The Onion character as the 13th best Biden meme (out of 15) and said it had "played an enormous role in shaping the public's perception of Biden."[67] Regarding Biden's chances of appealing to Millennial voters in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, Peter Hamby at Vanity Fair wrote that Biden may be "old, but thanks to the Onion and his Uncle Joe persona, he's already optimized for meme culture."[68]

In addition to becoming a meme in its own right, The Onion's Biden influenced other memes and online discourse about Biden, which frequently imagined him as a roguish goof paired with Obama as the more serious "straight man".[69] A viral tweet from Twitter user @blippoblappo played off this dynamic:

Stadot-008cf0.svg
blupman Twitter
@blippoblappo

REPORTER: Mr. President, what's your favorite Wu Tang album?

OBAMA: What kind of question is –

[biden grabs podium]

BIDEN: LIQUID SWORDS

April 26, 2014[70]

Brian Feldman at New York magazine wrote that "Biden-joke pedants might point out that the butt-rock-loving Biden of the Onion would probably not be a Wu-Tang Clan fan," but @blippoblappo's tweet "nevertheless carries with it the same myth-making potency: an image that it feels more true than the actual truth."[71]

In the Congressional Record

The character entered the Congressional Record on at least two occasions. During the presidential transition of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell referenced the character in a December 2016 speech to the Senate floor delivered in tribute to Biden. McConnell said, "When The Onion ran a mock photo of him washing a Trans Am in the White House driveway shirtless, America embraced it. And so did he."[72]

In June 2019, while giving testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on the topic of "deepfake" imagery, former FBI agent Clint Watts discussed The Onion's manipulated photo of Biden washing a car shirtless.[73] Some members of Congress later pointed to the Onion image as an example of potential problems with moderating deepfake imagery—namely, the difficulty of trying to distinguish between satire and fake news.[74]

Criticism from former Onion editor

Former Onion editor Joe Garden (pictured in 2010) expressed regret over the paper's approach to Biden.
Former Onion editor Joe Garden (pictured in 2010) expressed regret over the paper's approach to Biden.

Joe Garden—a former Onion writer and editor who left in 2012 after 19 years—publicly criticized the newspaper's portrayal of Biden in May 2019. After he tweeted some of his recent thoughts about the character, Vice published a full op-ed by Garden titled "Area Man Regrets Helping Turn Joe Biden into a Meme".[75]

In the Vice piece, Garden wrote that he still believed the Biden pieces were funny in their light-hearted way. However, he had also come to believe they had failed as satire because "[i]nstead of viciously skewering a public figure who deserved scrutiny, we let him off easy".[76] In hindsight, he said, Biden's vocal approval of the character should have been a red flag indicating that their satire was ineffective. He compared their work to Trump's appearance as the host of Saturday Night Live in 2015 and Jimmy Fallon's interview with Trump on The Tonight Show in 2016, both of which had been criticized as overly conciliatory treatments that downplayed what he felt were inflammatory and racist aspects of Trump's messaging. Garden concluded:

I don't believe The Onion's Biden is solely responsible for this early popularity of real-life Biden. We were just one small link in a chain of institutions that didn't scrutinize Biden closely enough. I wish we had looked more at his actual career in politics—which includes opposition to busing as a way to integrate schools and support for predatory financial institutions—and tried to really puncture him, rather than just turning him into a clown. We helped make him more likable by inventing a version of Biden that never existed. ... As a guideline, if the people you're satirizing aren't mad, then you should dig deeper. I hope that my alma mater, and everyone else in comedy, follows this rule now that Diamond Joe is back.[76]

Garden's op-ed was discussed in The Washington Post and The New York Times.[77]

Retirement of the character (2019–present)

You can't understand what the Onion is today without first understanding the extent to which the outlet feels haunted by the ghost of Joe Biden. Or, more accurately, 'Joe Biden.'

Derek Robertson, Politico (February 2020)[78]

The Onion briefly revived its fanciful version of Biden (pictured in May 2019), but subsequently took its satirical coverage of the candidate in a more critical and straightforward direction.
The Onion briefly revived its fanciful version of Biden (pictured in May 2019), but subsequently took its satirical coverage of the candidate in a more critical and straightforward direction.

Shortly after Biden announced his 2020 presidential campaign in March 2019, the character briefly reemerged in a story titled "Biden Pulls Off Dusty Tarp Covering Old Campaign Motorcycle".[79] Since then, The Onion abandoned its formerly warm, fanciful characterization of Biden. Its subsequent satirical coverage of the candidate has become more critical and direct. Recent articles have tended to focus on real-world developments in the presidential race, such as his frequent gaffes, and issues like public concern over Biden's age and mental acuity.[80]

Noting the turn, secondary sources have cited late-2019 Onion headlines like the following:

List of headlines in The Onion (2009–2019)

The list below includes the 76 headlines featuring the Joe Biden character published in The Onion, with notes explaining certain dates, events, and some references to politics or pop culture. Most of the articles published from 2009 to 2016 were gathered from The Onion's compilation feature "The President of Vice". It excludes Biden's out-of-character appearances before January 2009 and since March 2019.

Headlines were attached to one of the following types of content:

Joe Biden in The Onion (Jan 2009–Mar 2019)
POTUS Year Date # Headline Type
Barack Obama (first term) 2009 Jan 20, 2009 [note 1] 1 "Joe Biden Shows Up to Inauguration With Ponytail" News in Photos
Mar 20, 2009 2 "Obama Asks Biden Not to Stand So Close" News in Photos
Apr 24, 2009 3 "Biden Quietly Singing Pearl Jam's 'Even Flow' During Security Briefing"[note 2] News in Photos
May 5, 2009 4 "Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am in White House Driveway" News
Jul 7, 2009 5 "Biden Requests to Be Named Special Envoy to Reno" News in Brief
Aug 5, 2009 6 "Biden Invokes Freedom of Information Act to Find Out When Woman Gets off Work" News in Brief
Sep 3, 2009 7 "Walletless Biden Found Handcuffed to Bedpost" News in Brief
Oct 21, 2009 8 "Gaffe-Prone Biden Embarrasses Nation Yet Again by Sneezing During Meeting" Video
Oct 26, 2009 9 "Vice President Joe Biden Goes on Potato-Gun Rampage"[note 3] Radio News
Dec 7, 2009 10 "Biden Winks After Offering to Buy Eggnog For White House Christmas Party" News in Brief
2010 Jan 11, 2010 11 "Biden Criticized for Appearing in Hennessy Ads"[note 4] Video
Feb 3, 2010 12 "White House Infested With Bedbugs After Biden Brings in Recliner Off the Curb" News in Brief
Mar 23, 2010 13 "Biden Now a Purple Belt" News in Photos
Apr 20, 2010 14 "Biden Receives Lifetime Ban From Dave & Buster's"[note 5] News
Aug 31, 2010 15 "Biden to Cool His Heels in Mexico for a While" News
Oct 12, 2010 16 "Biden Invites Nation's Women to Tax Code Discussion at Private Mountain Chalet" Video
Oct 19, 2010 17 "Bounced Joe Biden Check Still Taped up in Delaware Liquor Store" News in Photos
2011 Mar 4, 2011 18 "Biden's Buffalo Wing Challenge Dinner Not Sitting Too Well" News in Photos
Apr 4, 2011 19 "The New VP Uniform" News in Brief
Jul 14, 2011 20 "Joe Biden Introduces Trio of Sexy Bodyguards" Video
Sep 26, 2011 21 "Biden Asks White House Visitor If He Wants to Check Out Roof" News
2012 Jan 24, 2012 22 "Biden Pins up Guitar Lesson Flyers on White House Bulletin Board" News in Photos
Apr 30, 2009 23 "Biden Unveils New Health Initiative to Make U.S. Women Hotter" Video
May 25, 2012 24 "Biden to Honor Fallen Soldiers by Jumping Motorcycle Over Vietnam Memorial" News
Aug 8, 2012 25 "Biden's eBay Feedback Rating Dips Below 35 Percent" News in Brief
Sep 4, 2012 26 "Joe Biden Hitchhikes to Democratic National Convention" News With Video
Sep 6, 2012 [note 6] 27 "Biden Says Life Better Than It Was 4 Years Ago But Nothing Can Touch Summer of '87" News
Oct 3, 2012 [note 7] 28 "Biden Implores Obama to 'Rub One Out' Before Debate" News in Brief
Oct 10, 2012 29 "Biden's Handlers Suggesting He Forget the Words 'Pink' and 'Stink' Altogether"[note 8] News in Brief
Oct 11, 2012 [note 9] 30 "Biden Puts on Lucky Debate Suit" News in Photos
31 "Security Removes Biden's Rowdy Buddies From Auditorium" News in Brief
32 "Biden Unleashes Torrent of Vomit on Debate Stage" News in Brief
33 "Eloquent Biden Brings Entire Audience to Tears in Debate Stunner" News
34 "Biden Shares 20-Minute Post-Debate Kiss With Janna Ryan"[note 10] News in Brief
Nov 6, 2012 [note 11] 35 "Poll Workers Overhear Biden Repeating Phrase 'Banged Her' While Reading Names on Ballot" News in Brief
Barack Obama (second term) 2013 Jan 21, 2013 [note 12] 36 "Biden Working His Way Through Scratch-Off Tickets During Obama's Swearing-In" News in Brief
Jan 24, 2013 37 "Biden Scores 800 Feet of Copper Wire" News
Feb 12, 2013 [note 13] 38 "Panicked Biden Interrupts State of the Union to Ask If Erections Can Ever Be Medical Emergency" News in Brief
Apr 15, 2013 39 "Joe Biden's 7 Techniques For Enlarging Your Member" Radio News
May 24, 2013 40 "Biden Investigated for Questionable Workers' Comp Claim" News in Brief
Jun 27, 2013 41 "Joe Biden's All-Time Hottest Congressional Lays" Radio News
Jul 25, 2013 42 "Biden Has Guy Named Worm Sit in for Him at Cabinet Meeting" News
Oct 17, 2013 43 "Nude Biden Wakes up on Cold Slab in D.C. Morgue" News
Nov 11, 2013 44 "Biden Frantically Hitting up Cabinet Members for Clean Piss" News in Brief
2014 Jan 28, 2014 [note 14] 45 "Biden Clenches Plastic Beer Cup in Teeth to Free Hands for Clapping" News in Photos
Feb 3, 2014 46 "Frantic Biden Searching Dog Shelter for Bo Look-Alike" News in Brief
May 16, 2014 47 "Biden Loses Control of Butterfly Knife During Commencement Speech" News in Brief
Aug 1, 2014 48 "Biden Gets Grow Light Delivered to White House Under Fake Name" News in Brief
Nov 20, 2014 49 "Biden Tossed out of Car Passing by White House" News in Brief
2015 Jan 20, 2015 [note 15] 50 "Biden Arrives Early to Set up State of the Union Fog Machine" News in Brief
51 "Biden's Buffalo Wing Challenge Dinner Not Sitting Too Well" News in Photos
Jan 24, 2015 52 "Biden Co-Presents Best New Starlet Award With Shyla Stylez at 2015 AVN Adult Movie Awards Show"[note 16] News in Brief
Mar 13, 2015 53 "Biden Worries Legalized Weed in D.C. Will Cut into His Business"[note 17] News
Aug 13, 2015 54 "Biden Offers Government Post to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark"[note 18] News
Oct 9, 2015 55 "Biden Huddling With Closest Advisers on Whether to Spend 200 Bucks on Scorpions Tickets"[note 19] News in Brief
2016 Jan 12, 2016 [note 20] 56 "Biden Urges Paul Ryan to Check Out Nude Scene From Porky's on Phone"[note 21] News in Brief
May 20, 2016 57 "Biden Quietly Asks Obama to Pick Him up Some of Those Real Throwing Stars From Japan" News in Brief
Jun 17, 2016 58 "Biden Lines up Sweet Summer Gig Installing Above-Ground Swimming Pools" News in Brief
Jul 27, 2016 [note 22] 59 "Biden Busted in DNC Parking Lot Selling Bootleg 'I'm With Her' T-Shirts"[note 23] News in Brief
60 "Biden Chokes Up While Describing Hardworking Americans Who Can Only Afford Shitty Ditch Weed"[note 24] News in Brief
61 "Biden Regales DNC With Story of '80s Girl Band Vixen Breaking Hard Rock's Glass Ceiling"[note 25] News in Brief
62 "The Onion's Full Coverage of Joe Biden's 2016 DNC Speech"[note 26] Live Coverage
Oct 18, 2016 63 "Secret Service Shuts Down Biden's Unofficial White House Tour Operation"[note 27] News in Brief
Barack Obama (second term)

Trump transition

Nov 17, 2016 64 "Biden Forges President's Signature on Executive Order to Make December Dokken History Month"[note 28] News in Brief
Dec 12, 2016 65 "Biden Donates Collection of Classic Skin Mags to Those in Need During Holidays" News in Brief
2017 Jan 16, 2017 66 "Biden Sadly Realizes This Could Be Last Time He Throws Lit Firecracker into Press Conference" News in Brief
Jan 17, 2017 67 "Biden Opts Out of Putting Last Few Felonies on Job Application" News in Brief
Jan 18, 2017 68 "Biden Searching White House One Last Time for Missing Pet Snake" News in Brief
Jan 19, 2017 69 "Tearful Biden Carefully Takes Down Blacklight Poster of Topless Barbarian Chick From Office Wall" News in Brief
Donald Trump Jan 20, 2017 [note 29] 70 "Biden Frantically Cleaning up Trashed Vice President Residence at Last Second" News in Brief
71 "Biden Making Plans to Go Completely Legit After Vice Presidency" News
May 19, 2017 72 "DNC Chair Tracks Down Biden in Everglades Tossing Whole Chickens to Gators" News
Oct 31, 2017 73 "Biden Hands Out Loose GT Cola Can to Unexpected Trick-or-Treater"[note 30] News in Brief
2018 May 21, 2018 74 "Biden Kicked Out of Laundromat After Shag Rug Floods Washing Machine" News in Brief
Nov 20, 2018 75 "The Onion Celebrates the 76th Year of Diamond Joe's Wild-Ass Magic Carpet Ride" Slideshow
2019 Mar 20, 2019 76 "Biden Pulls Off Dusty Tarp Covering Old Campaign Motorcycle"[note 31] News
Notes

  1. ^ First inauguration of Barack Obama.
  2. ^ Reference to the 1992 song "Even Flow" by American grunge band Pearl Jam.
  3. ^ See potato cannon.
  4. ^ Hennessy is a French brand of cognac.
  5. ^ Reference to the restaurant-and-arcade chain Dave & Buster's.
  6. ^ Day 3 of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
  7. ^ First presidential debate between Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado.
  8. ^ Reference to the sexually suggestive "shocker" hand gesture and phrase "two in the pink, one in the stink."
  9. ^ Vice presidential debate between Biden and Republican candidate Paul Ryan at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.
  10. ^ Janna Ryan is Paul Ryan's wife; see Paul Ryan § Personal life.
  11. ^ Election Day 2012.
  12. ^ Second inauguration of Barack Obama.
  13. ^ 2013 State of the Union Address.
  14. ^ 2014 State of the Union Address.
  15. ^ 2015 State of the Union Address.
  16. ^ Reference to the AVN Awards and Shyla Stylez.
  17. ^ Reference to Initiative 71 (2014), which legalized (though did not commercialize) recreational uses of cannabis in Washington, D.C.
  18. ^ Reference to Cassandra Peterson, better known as the horror hostess Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
  19. ^ Reference to the German rock band Scorpions.
  20. ^ 2016 State of the Union Address.
  21. ^ Reference to the 1981 sex comedy film Porky's.
  22. ^ Day 3 of the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
  23. ^ Reference to a slogan of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.
  24. ^ Reference to feral cannabis, commonly called "ditch weed" in the United States.
  25. ^ Reference to American all-female glam metal band Vixen.
  26. ^ The video shows his real speech, but with humorous captions added to the lower third.
  27. ^ See White House Visitors Office, which offers official public tours of the White House.
  28. ^ Reference to American glam metal band Dokken.
  29. ^ Inauguration of Donald Trump.
  30. ^ Reference to an inexpensive, uncommon brand of cola.
  31. ^ Reference to the imminent launch of Biden's 2020 presidential campaign.

See also

Citations

  1. ^ The Onion staff 2019.
  2. ^ a b Blaustein 2019.
  3. ^ Little 2013; Little 2016.
  4. ^ Holpuch 2013; Cavna 2017; The Daily Gamecock 2015, p. 4.
  5. ^ a b c d e Cavna 2017.
  6. ^ Pesca 2017, 5:50–6:16; The Onion staff 2006.
  7. ^ Pesca 2017, 6:19–6:33.
  8. ^ The Daily Gamecock 2015, p. 4.
  9. ^ Pesca 2017, 6:34–6:51; Holm 2017, p. 71; The Onion staff 2009a.
  10. ^ Cavna 2017; The Onion staff 2009b.
  11. ^ Peters 2010; The Onion staff 2009c.
  12. ^ a b c d e Peters 2010.
  13. ^ Peters 2010; Holpuch 2013; Waisanen & Becker 2015, p. 257; Cavna 2017.
  14. ^ a b c Holm 2017, p. 71.
  15. ^ Boser & Anderson 2018, p. 91–via Google Books.
  16. ^ a b Itzkoff 2013.
  17. ^ Chapman 2015.
  18. ^ a b c d Holpuch 2013.
  19. ^ a b Holm 2017, p. 72.
  20. ^ Marcetic 2018.
  21. ^ Horowitz Satlin 2016; Kotsko 2019.
  22. ^ Skalicky & Crossley 2017, p. 2.
  23. ^ a b c Leibovich 2013.
  24. ^ Resnick 2013.
  25. ^ Peters 2010; Waisanen & Becker 2015, p. 256.
  26. ^ Rollins 2013.
  27. ^ McNear 2016.
  28. ^ Evans 2012.
  29. ^ Gavin 2012; Mikin 2012; The Onion staff 2012.
  30. ^ Linton 2013; The Onion staff 2013, "Chapter 6: The Summer of '87".
  31. ^ Polus 2016.
  32. ^ Sanders 2016.
  33. ^ Cavna 2017; The Onion staff 2017.
  34. ^ a b Restuccia 2018.
  35. ^ Bethea 2017.
  36. ^ Ryan 2013.
  37. ^ a b Gavin 2012.
  38. ^ Pesca 2017, 4:37–5:12.
  39. ^ Harris & Kilkenny 2012.
  40. ^ Sorensen 2012.
  41. ^ Little 2013.
  42. ^ Hogan 2017.
  43. ^ a b Yglesias 2019.
  44. ^ a b Farzan 2019.
  45. ^ Waldman 2019.
  46. ^ Fernando 2019.
  47. ^ Berkowitz 2019.
  48. ^ Callahan 2019.
  49. ^ a b Leibovich 2013; Waisanen & Becker 2015, p. 262.
  50. ^ Peters 2010; Garden 2019b.
  51. ^ Hayden 2011.
  52. ^ Hartman, Robertson & Green 2011.
  53. ^ Luippold 2011.
  54. ^ Phillips 2011.
  55. ^ Metaxas 2012, p. 26.
  56. ^ Biden 2013.
  57. ^ Jennings 2013.
  58. ^ Kantrowitz 2013.
  59. ^ Horowitz Satlin 2016.
  60. ^ Horowitz Satlin 2016; Fabian 2016.
  61. ^ Waisanen & Becker 2015, p. 262.
  62. ^ Bernstein 2014.
  63. ^ Wallace 2013, 3.2.2 Machines learning irony.
  64. ^ Holm 2017, p. 72; Blaustein 2019.
  65. ^ Gordon 2019.
  66. ^ Roose 2020.
  67. ^ Millstein 2017.
  68. ^ Hamby 2018.
  69. ^ Feldman 2016a; McNear 2016.
  70. ^ blupman 2014; Feldman 2016a.
  71. ^ Feldman 2016a.
  72. ^ Feldman 2016b; McConnell 2016.
  73. ^ benjaminoc 2019.
  74. ^ House & Brody 2019.
  75. ^ Garden 2019a; Garden 2019b.
  76. ^ a b Garden 2019b.
  77. ^ Farzan 2019; Hess 2019.
  78. ^ Robertson 2020.
  79. ^ Farzan 2019; The Onion staff 2019.
  80. ^ Marcotte 2019; Raymond 2019; Izadi 2020; Hamby 2020.
  81. ^ Benson 2019.
  82. ^ Marcotte 2019.
  83. ^ Raymond 2019.

References

Published by The Onion

  • The Onion staff (August 1, 2006). "Critics Accuse Joe Biden of Running for President for Political Reasons". The Onion. Vol. 42, no. 31. Archived from the original on August 1, 2006. Retrieved April 26, 2019.
  • ——— (January 20, 2009a). "Joe Biden Shows Up to Inauguration With Ponytail". The Onion. Vol. 45, no. 4. Archived from the original on January 21, 2009. Retrieved April 26, 2019.
  • ——— (May 5, 2009b). "Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am in White House Driveway". The Onion. Vol. 45, no. 19. Archived from the original on May 13, 2009. Retrieved April 26, 2019.
  • ——— (November 25, 2009c). "Biden Pardons Single Yam In Vice Presidential Thanksgiving Ritual". The Onion. Vol. 45, no. 48. Archived from the original on November 28, 2009. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  • ——— (October 12, 2012). "Biden Puts on Lucky Debate Suit". The Onion. Archived from the original on January 7, 2019. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  • ——— (January 17, 2013). The President of Vice (Kindle single e-book). Amazon Digital Services, LLC. ASIN B00B1W7QC6.
  • ——— (January 16, 2017). "Biden Sadly Realizes This Could Be Last Time He Throws Lit Firecracker Into Press Conference". The Onion. Archived from the original on March 14, 2018. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  • ——— (March 20, 2019). "Biden Pulls Off Dusty Tarp Covering Old Campaign Motorcycle". The Onion. Archived from the original on June 19, 2019. Retrieved July 1, 2019.

Secondary sources