‘The People’s Perfume’ Sprays Cold Water on the Bernie Bro Narrative

‘The People’s Perfume’ Sprays Cold Water on the Bernie Bro Narrative

‘The People’s Perfume’ Sprays Cold Water on the Bernie Bro Narrative

Eau de Bernard, anyone?


Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” the apocryphal Martin Luther quote goes.

To that end: Why should big corporations have all the best advertisements? Comedy director Amber Schaefer doesn’t think they should.

Along with a diverse group of volunteers, Schaefer, whose previous work includes directing TV series, shorts, and actual commercials for firms like Geico, created a glossy, hilarious spoof of a perfume commercial for a fragrance that’s all the rage this campaign season: Bérnié.

Schaefer, who is not formally affiliated with Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign, produced the ad as a labor of love for a candidate she believes in.

The ad begins with the text, “Bérnié—the people’s perfume,” and features a diverse, mostly female cast on a sun-kissed beach and several allusions to the Sanders campaign. Sanders’s gruff voice echoes in the background, barking out his signature policy: “Medicare for All!”

In another reference to Medicare for All, an actor tears up a health insurance invoice for some $4,000. Another actor flips open a Zippo lighter and sets fire to a $67,000 student loan bill, an allusion to Sanders’s student debt forgiveness plan.

“The idea behind the ‘campaign’ is to complicate the white male Bernie Bro (false!) narrative and show women and people of color feeling the Bern,” Schaefer explained in an e-mail.

“Despite what Twitter or the media would lead you to believe, Bernie is leading among people of color and women have consistently made up more of Bernie’s base than men. Which makes sense, because if you look at Bernie’s policies and track record, it’s clear that he is the best candidate for racial justice, women’s equality, and LGBTQ+ rights.”

There’s plenty of evidence to support Schaefer’s contention that the “Bernie Bro” epithet does not accurately reflect the demographic characteristics of his supporters. To cite a recent example, a WBUR poll last week found that Sanders has a 77 percent favorable rating among women in New Hampshire, versus 69 percent among men. Women have also contributed significant sums to the Sanders campaign—more than to any other campaign, according to an analysis of FEC data conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics in November.

Centering the video around a perfume was Schaefer’s wry way of imbuing the discourse about Sanders with a feminine aesthetic.

And while no candidate yet has an overwhelming majority of support from the female electorate, it’s clear that Sanders enjoys considerable support among women.

“I wanted to complicate the ‘white male Bernie Bro’ narrative,” Schaefer explained in a phone interview. “We can see statistics, but visually seeing it, I think, is really powerful. I wanted to create something that felt like the opposite of maybe what people think of as a Bernie Bro—grimy incels in the basement.”

The Bernie Bro epithet is also unfair to ethnic minorities. Polls have repeatedly shown Sanders in the lead among Latino voters, including recent polls conducted by the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. And while polling does show Joe Biden with a strong lead among black voters, Sanders comes in second and actually leads when it comes to black voters under the age of 35.

But Schaefer says that in making the video, she also just wanted to have some fun. “I think Bernie’s campaign has this jubilance, this joy, this optimism to it; I wanted to create something that felt kind of lighthearted and fun,” Schaefer said.

Frequently derided as humorless or overly “woke” by pundits to their right, the rising generation of leftists in the United States and abroad are embracing this sense of fun to draw in new supporters and engage the ones they already have. For instance, during the 2016 primary, the hashtag #BernieMadeMeWhite began trending as a sardonic way for Sanders’s minority supporters to push back against the stereotype that Sanders supporters are overwhelmingly white. As one black supporter named Leslie Lee tweeted at the time, “Ever since I voted for Bernie, I’ve been bingewatching Friends. #BernieMadeMeWhite.”

In addition to steering the existing social media platforms to the left, activists are also creating entirely novel platforms. For example, there’s Means TV, which its founders have called “Netflix for the Left.” At just $10 per month, the platform aims to provide streaming services for content that traditional monoliths like Netflix might balk at for political reasons.

In the UK, the left-wing political group Momentum’s irreverent style of social media engagement helped propel Jeremy Corbyn to the helm of the Labour Party.

Schaefer characterizes her efforts as both a coping mechanism and an act of political activism.

“Shit is really bad and it’s harrowing.… There’s things to be angry about because the system is rigged,” Schaefer said. “The corporations are running politics in a way that can feel really futile. But feeling the energy of people coming together for Bernie has given me a hope that I haven’t felt in a long time.”

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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