Obama as Joker goes viral
August 8, 2009 7:46 PM   Subscribe

First seen on the web this week, posters have sprung up in LA and Atlanta. Interesting discussions on the Washington Post.com site. Lots of different ideas about the posters and their meaning. Tampa Bay Times takes up the debate.
posted by garnetgirl (127 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Surely you're joking.
posted by Balisong at 7:47 PM on August 8, 2009


Don't call me Shirley.
posted by Balisong at 7:47 PM on August 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Heath Ledger turned in a brilliant performance in that role--it's no wonder that his version of the Joker make-up has become iconic. And of all the incredible moments in the Dark Knight, none was so bone-chilling as the Joker's attempt to destroy the country by forcing Congress to pass a single-payer health care plan. I went to a late show on opening day, and it was more than a week before I could sleep well again. I just kept thinking, "Dear God! What if some madman really did end medical bankruptcies in the U.S?" The twisted genius of it is gut-wrenching.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:56 PM on August 8, 2009 [172 favorites]


Can we get a quarantine on the Daily Mail here? The comments section is giving me high blood pressure.
posted by shii at 7:56 PM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Isn't this some dumb Alex Jones thing?
posted by Donnie VandenBos at 7:56 PM on August 8, 2009


When Obama nationalizes all the industries and exchanges, I'll start thinking of him as a socialist. Until then, he's not. It's a pretty basic definition, present in most dictionaries.
posted by hippybear at 7:58 PM on August 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


I wouldn't mind seeing Obama show Glenn Beck how to make a pencil disappear.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:59 PM on August 8, 2009 [72 favorites]


I think this was someone's epic fail spoof, but socialist . . . I think not.
posted by garnetgirl at 8:00 PM on August 8, 2009


Pater wins the thread.
posted by Bageena at 8:02 PM on August 8, 2009


This is what happens when you fuck with Shepard Fairey.
posted by Nelson at 8:03 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I live in San Diego and saw one in the Clairemont area yesterday. On one hand, I was shocked that this crappy/stupid piece of street art is catching on. On the other hand, I still see people driving around with McCain/Palin and Bush/Cheney bumper stickers. So... yeh.

I think treating it like anything but crappy/stupid is a bit of a mistake though - it's no different to it's anti-Bush equivalent, and by no means has enough artistic merit to stay in the public's imagination like say, Ron English or Banksy. In terms of street art and grassroots movements, this is all the extreme right wing have - corporations organising and directing fake town hall audiences and shitty cut out "street art" that is only spreading thanks to the media (that they control) hyping it up. It's a very real example of "if you ignore it, they'll leave you alone".
posted by saturnine at 8:09 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


A little song. A little dance. Michele Bachman's head on a lance.

Oh wait, wrong Joker.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:15 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


And they will make petty posters of our NEXT president.
posted by captainsohler at 8:17 PM on August 8, 2009


The meaning is, "I am too dumb to think of a pithy yet substantive critique of the President, so here's a picture I cribbed from a movie that everyone, even people who hate it, have seen. Oh, and socialist, whatever that means."
posted by Mister_A at 8:19 PM on August 8, 2009 [15 favorites]


Weak design. Plus whiteface. Please try harder next time.

I give the artist a D+ for effort because I'm a nice guy. Or a socialist. I forget.
posted by mkdg at 8:20 PM on August 8, 2009


I recommend vandalizing the posters with a "Hell Yes!" across the text.
posted by Mitheral at 8:21 PM on August 8, 2009 [19 favorites]


As a socialist, um, no.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:23 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well if using a character who was essentially an anarchist (and a clumsy, heavy-handed stand in for Bin Laden) to protest "socialism" and "big government" is the best they can do, "bring it on," as our old pal (who was on hundreds of left wing not-quite-as-clever-as-the-artist-thought posters and somehow survived eight whole years) would say.

The right using art is like when the left tries to use talk radio. It's cute they're trying, but it just ain't their thing
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:31 PM on August 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


Maybe it's because I don't live in the U.S., but I found this poster to be really quite shocking, and horribly sad. It depresses me that America has become so polarized between "right" and "left" that the term 'socialist' is the worst insult possible. Extreme socialism generally doesn't work out so great, but is it really so bad to want to consider the greater good of society over the individual sometimes? Like say in the case of healthcare? I really admire Obama for continuing to try and find ways to compromise and walk a middle line. I know a lot of his supporters are starting to turn on him for not taking a hard enough line, but in the face of the massive divide widening between Democrat and Republican I think he is to be praised for trying to find solutions that won't further alienate half of the country.
posted by Go Banana at 8:32 PM on August 8, 2009 [19 favorites]


If these are springing up all over the nation then I doubt it's just one guy doing this. Not that one guy hasn't been able to put up one piece of art all over, it's just that the premise is pretty fucking weak for an "artist" to do this. Especially since it is an entrenched idea pulled right out of the right's talking points.
We could go on about how Ledger's Joker doesn't even make sense in multiple aspects to use as a facade for comparison here, but I think it's obvious it was just a convenient villian pulled from pop culture and easily photoshoppable.

It depresses me that America has become so polarized between "right" and "left" that the term 'socialist' is the worst insult possible.

Only because "Commie" has lost it's panache around here.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:37 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is what happens when you fuck with Shepard Fairey.

Ha, you read my mind! The poster reminds me of a billboard near my house (and near also to Fairey's Studio One) featuring a huge mashup of the Misfits skull and the original Andre the Giant has a posse image. Aha, it isn't the same instance (this one's in London, apparently) but here's the image.
posted by carsonb at 8:38 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


These things piss me off so much. The Joker was obviously a anarchist not a socialist or fascist. Conservative wingnuts can't even get comic book politics right.
posted by afu at 8:40 PM on August 8, 2009 [15 favorites]


WHY SO SERIOUS?
posted by Ding! at 8:42 PM on August 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


The American right appears to use the word "socialism" as a catch-all phrase for the triumvirate evils of taxation, social liberalism, and a secular society, without understanding that they are already living with the benefits of a socialised system. You have voting citizens literally not knowing that Medicare is a government system, or Medicare recipients claiming that they want government out of the health care process [both Krugman NY Times op-ed pieces].

It's the darker side of the American dream and the Protestant work ethic, to me: people struggling to get by, driven by the possibility of grabbing that big brass ring if they just work hard enough... and the right whispering in their ear that any taxation will reduce that glittering treasure waiting for them. And of course if they get sick it is their fault - they didn't work hard enough, and should have provided for themselves better.

My favorite illustration of this dichotomy was during a taping of The Survival Podcast (I vehemently disagree with the host's politics, but he has some good content on growing food and preperation). He had a show in which he railed against government - that it should be reduced to printing money and providing for the nation defense, and have no other role. This, while he is driving at down a highway at 60 miles per hour in an hour-long commute in Texas, without a toll booth in sight.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 8:50 PM on August 8, 2009 [16 favorites]


I think the beans are being overthought here.

It's simply a mashup of the iconic Heath Ledger's Joker makeup and the visage of the President. I see it as more of a pop culture political "statement" than any sort of well thought out political communication.

Someone who doesn't care for Obama thought this was cool, and then it probably just took off.

It's like one of my relatives that hates tomatoes. He declares them communist. As if a tomato could be part of a political party, or carry Mao's Little Red Book. It's just shorthand for "We don't like your views, which are to the left of ours."
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:56 PM on August 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Maybe it's because I am not an American, but I don't see how: A) Obama is a socialist, and B) how it would be a bad thing even if he was.
posted by cerulgalactus at 8:57 PM on August 8, 2009 [10 favorites]


Humans are born with an inbuilt ability to express themselves through language, even though they are born without language itself. A child only has to be exposed to language use, to listen, to see, to interact with the people around them in order to learn a language. Deaf children can invent their own meaningful signs, and children growing up exposed to pidgins lacking grammar and coherence can mold and shape them into fully fledged languages. The ability of humans to express themselves is wonderful, and almost limitless, the only exception is that they must have somebody to communicate with. Children raised without substantial human contact, whether through abuse, neglect, or accident, can fail to learn and master a language. They miss a "critical period" in their development and never become truly proficient users of language, no matter how much care and tuition they are given.

These humans, who are few and far between, use language in an ungrammatical and nuanceless manner. Broken sentences, just strings of pertinent words in the order they come to mind, make up the bulk of their utterances. They don't use semantic categories well, with basic words covering all shades of possible meaning, and other words used at random for only a small and often obscure part of their meaning. Temporal relationships are not present, and subject/object distinctions are lost in the jumble of words used to describe their thoughts. Facets of meaning are blurred by attempts to create unitary descriptions of moments in words. Their level of communication is fated to remain childlike, unsophisticated, and ultimately incapable to satisfy the needs of full human relationships. They can never express how their love of a certain food differs from their love for a friend, or how the pain of losing a parent is not the same as the pain from stubbing a toe. It is a sad existence, forever lacking the words to be human.

I can tell whoever made this image is angry and disapproves of Obama. They have plucked two symbols that have strong meanings to them, that of "bad person" and "bad ideas". But they lack nuance in meaning, and are misapplied as the relationship between the symbols is not clear. People not exposed to substantial political discourse, whether through abuse, neglect, or accident, can fail to learn and master the language of politics. Broken images, just strings of pertinent symbols used in the order they come to mind, make up the bulk of their expressions. It is a sad existence, forever lacking the symbols to be political.
posted by Sova at 8:58 PM on August 8, 2009 [26 favorites]


Maybe it's because I am not an American, but I don't see how: A) Obama is a socialist, and B) how it would be a bad thing even if he was.

Me, I don't get how an arch individualist and deadly enemy of all social structures like the Jocker gets to be a socialist.
posted by Artw at 9:00 PM on August 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


The Jocker? crap.
posted by Artw at 9:00 PM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm just glad they didn't go with their original plan to mashup Obama with Eddie Murphy from Pluto Nash. Neither of the projects made sense, but at least people don't have to think about Pluto Nash.

Actually, that would have made sense, seeing how Pluto Nash was an expensive boondoggle that failed miserably. I'd worry that I just gave the right a good idea, but who are we kidding, those opposing health-care reform are the exact same people who loved Pluto Nash.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:04 PM on August 8, 2009


WHY SO SOCIALIST?
posted by Hands of Manos at 9:10 PM on August 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


These posters are brilliant satire.

What? What do you mean? Really? You're sure?

Sorry everyone. Nevermind.
posted by wobh at 9:15 PM on August 8, 2009


It's funny, I had a totally different read on this. I looked at it, and thought the over the top imagery was the point-ie it's about as accurate to equate Obama to a Socialist as to a comic book villain. I think it's a great meta-comment on political discourse in this country.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 9:15 PM on August 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


A jocker, btw, is apparently some kind of hobo sex predator:

Young boy hoboes were, as Allsop (212) asserts, victims of a "basement white slave traffic". A relatively small number of Hoboes known as "wolves" or "jockers" would befriend young and inexperienced boy hoboes and persuade or coerce them into a sexual relationship. The jocker would also use the "punk" to "panhandle" (see V) or beg at backdoors for food, as boys often received a more sympathetic response than older hoboes. Mac McClintock, hoboing as a young boy in the 1890's, describes having first hand experiences of jockers:

"The decent hoboes were protective as long as they were around, but there were times I fought like a wildcat or ran like a deer to preserve my independence and my virginity" (Lomax, 410)

These jocker and punk relationships, Reefer Charlie suggests, were still prevalent when he began hoboing in the late 1920's, but he asserts further that it has gradually petered out over the intervening years.


Hence the forgotten final verse of Big Rock Candy Mountain:

The punk rolled up his big blue eyes
And said to the jocker, "Sandy,
I've hiked and hiked and wandered too,
But I ain't seen any candy.
I've hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I'll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo's whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains."


It sounds like something made up by John Hodgeman, but apparently isn't.
posted by Artw at 9:18 PM on August 8, 2009 [34 favorites]


I kinda doubt "it just took off". Given the level of organization we are seeing in regards to the screamers I truly and honestly think there are people distributing it intentionally to one another via the internet/mail/bodily fluids/whatever to post locally, to give the impression there is a wide spread movement.
posted by edgeways at 9:18 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


These people have a pretty weird knack of all coming out with the same stupid meme at the same time. I suspect the answers lie in secret hidden world of forwarded email.
posted by Artw at 9:20 PM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


This kind of thing makes me want to go out and plaster every public school, fire station, police station (and any other thing I can think of) with my own sign that says "BROUGHT TO YOU BY SOCIALISM"

It honestly makes no sense to me why socialism is such a bad word, as though the idea of collectively being humane just fucking ruins everything.
posted by stefanie at 9:30 PM on August 8, 2009 [18 favorites]


Surely that would just cause them to burn down all the schools, fire stations, etc?
posted by Artw at 9:31 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Toby Miller, chairman of media and cultural studies at the University of California at Riverside, said he saw the posters driving around his home near Venice Beach. He said the image seems meant to shut down conversations, not foster them like a lot of provocative political art.

Most "provocative political art" is most definitely not that there to "foster conversations," unless maybe it's created by an intern at PBS. That is one absurd definition of political art.
posted by blucevalo at 9:31 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


most definitely not that there
posted by blucevalo at 9:32 PM on August 8, 2009


Tomatoes are not communist. They are the Satan fruit, carefully disguised as a vegetable to lead the unsuspecting astray. I mean, look at their color! And they're in the nightshade family. Need I continue???
posted by hippybear at 9:36 PM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


My guess is that this poster was developed by a PR firm, contracted by a K Street lobbying firm, over the course of about a dozen meetings. The goal: Produce an anti-Obama logo that conveys a very simple message, using widely recognized iconography, in the style of modern street art. Something that skews young and has a homegrown feel to it, like it was made by this season's hottest Fairey-come-lately in the Brooklyn loft he shares with three other artists. But its message can't be too inaccessible to the rubes in the flyover states, so it should bear the unmistakable signature of someone who has never, ever read a book or finished a thought in his life.

Basically, it should say, "Look, America. It's not just the southern hicks who don't like our new colored president. There's also a substantial number of hip, with-it urbanites who hate him too!"

Looking at this poster is like watching one of those McDonald's commercials that's clearly aimed at black people. You wonder if the people who created it have ever actually interacted with anyone. I suspect that, sometime in the next couple of weeks, we'll see a big TPM expose, then Rachel Maddow opening her show with the story of the lobbying firm who designed the Obama Joker poster.

Also, I'm going to name my band Hobo Sex Predator.
posted by hifiparasol at 9:40 PM on August 8, 2009 [20 favorites]


Seriously, the social contract or community-minded thought processes which lead to public schools and fire departments and such is NOT SOCIALISM.

Socialism would be if GM were nationalized, and rebranded as US Auto and all the workers there were paid by the government and citizens of the country were issued cars on a regular basis for their use in order to help benefit the community by helping them get to their own nationalized jobs.

Members of the community contributing to a public fund, out of which things such as fire protection, road and infrastructure development, etc... that is not socialism. That is called "living in a civilized country." It's been going on far longer than Whitey has been walking on American soil, and is the only way to bring a group of people together and have them feel they have something in common worth working toward.

Otherwise, you have private fire companies who don't put out your house when it's burning because you pay dues to that other company who is busy elsewhere, every road is a toll road and you have to load your pockets up with change to drive anywhere... Or else there are no community improvements at all.
posted by hippybear at 9:42 PM on August 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Pfft, can't even spring for a proper Sans-Serif font. Not that there's anything wrong with Ariel, don't get me wrong. But if you're sending a message at least pick a decent typeface.

Mow this looks intimidating. It's based on Cyrillic alphabet, which most westerners associate with Russia and communism. So the negative feelings to socialism are very well expressed.

Okay, I went and redesigned it to look more "spooky" here's what I came up with. Very stark, more emphisis on the colors red and white. Three colors means it's easier to make for t-shirts, and it's probably better viewed at a distance. (And some jpeg artifacts for 'character')

I mean, if you're gonna do something, spend a little time on it....sheesh.
posted by hellojed at 9:43 PM on August 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


My favorite comment from the Mail article:

Let's see those college records, Precedent Genius!

In the words of the bard: Get a brain, morans.
posted by hifiparasol at 9:44 PM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


that is not socialism. That is called "living in a civilized country."

Same thing.
posted by Artw at 9:44 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


spelling errors grumble grumble
posted by hellojed at 9:44 PM on August 8, 2009


It's like one of my relatives that hates tomatoes. He declares them communist.

MeFi needs some kind of equivalent to emptyquoting on Something Awful because hoooooly god
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:49 PM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Pope Guilty, another Mefite has a dad that proclaims if you put ketchup on hot dogs, you're a Communist.

There's a real point in these anecdotes, in that the word "socialist" or "communist" is divorced from its dictionary definition and instead becomes an amorphous epithet.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:55 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Even though the president's now The Joker, it was a lot funnier when he was a moronic chimpanzee.

p.s. The GWB Joker from last year.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:59 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: There's a real point in these anecdotes.
posted by Sova at 10:12 PM on August 8, 2009


As I get older I get sadder and some of that is because of things like this. I'm so tired.
posted by empyrean at 10:29 PM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


There's a real point in these anecdotes, in that the word "socialist" or "communist" is divorced from its dictionary definition and instead becomes an amorphous epithet.

Just like "gay", right?

The assertion that the words we choose to use in the way that we use them are meaningless is ridiculous.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:29 PM on August 8, 2009


It's like one of my relatives that hates tomatoes. He declares them communist.

I guess if your baseline is this sort of ignorance, a black man in whiteface wouldn't seem so bad. Please, carry on with your dismissal.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:37 PM on August 8, 2009


hippybear, there are a lot of different kinds of socialism and the word means several things on a spectrum, I guess I could bust out Wikipedia right now but I don't want to because I feel like this is a silly derail. People are reclaiming the word socialist to mean something positive and not at all radical and trying to stop that by keeping the word glued to an old-fashioned meaning is sort of beside the point.
posted by kathrineg at 10:42 PM on August 8, 2009


It's not that they're meaningless, it's that they're endowing their words with new purpose dictated meanings which are divorced from their normal meanings in the English language.

Or as I like to call it, making shit up.

If you think their rhetoric is weak, take a look at their science.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:45 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I still don't "get it". If it didn't say "socialism" at the bottom, would it mean anything? Anything whatsoever? Is there any correlation that I have failed to grasp, or is it really just two heavily memed portraits combined into one piece of failed "street art"..?
posted by redsparkler at 10:49 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Me, I don't get how an arch individualist and deadly enemy of all social structures like the Jocker gets to be a socialist.

This observation is actually making me interpret The Dark Knight a little differently. While the movie was out, some conservative commentators argued that it had a fundamentally conservative worldview (here's the MeFi discussion), and despite pushback from liberal bloggers, I felt forced to agree. The movie certainly wasn't an allegory, but I felt like the Joker was suggestive of all terrorism, a threat that the people of Gotham had to respond to with either the white knight or the dark knight approach (the difference being that the dark knight had fewer rules than the white knight, though not zero), and ultimately it turned out that the dark knight was what they needed, even if it wasn't a good idea for the public to know that.

But if the Joker instead represents Randian individualism, which seems like a better match to me, perhaps Dent becomes the state or civil society, and Batman is a kind of anti-John Galt, a superman who still chooses to throw his lot in with society at great personal cost, even when society is completely fucked up. Or something. I haven't quite made sense of the other characters yet in this interpretation, but I do think there's a lot to be said for the Joker as uber-individualist.
posted by gsteff at 10:55 PM on August 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


The Secret Service may investigate a fax sent to a Democratic lawmaker that depicts President Barack Obama as the Joker and warns of “death to all Marxists.”

posted by swell at 10:57 PM on August 8, 2009


katherineg: I didn't say anything about reclaiming it as a positive term. I looked it up in the dictionary. Well, I looked it up in three dictionaries, actually. Simply because one minority group has chosen "socialism" as a buzzword / epithet does not change its meaning. They are attempting to force the debate into their playing field by redefining words to mean what they choose. That's not quality discussion / education / social policy on any level. It's dirty tactics, and saying that a word means anything other than what it means, well... I seem to remember that John Dewey wanted to reform all spelling in the English language according to his own standardized rules (renaming himself "Dui" in the process). I don't think that got very far.

Words have meanings, and when they are used incorrectly, it is either out of ignorance or propaganda.

(And really? I tried to redefine "socialism" into something positive in this thread? *reads scrollback* *scratches head*)
posted by hippybear at 10:57 PM on August 8, 2009


Redsparkler, the Joker is bad! And Obama is bad! And socialism is also bad!! So we put them all together and it's like, triple plus bad! What don't you get geez.
posted by nudar at 11:04 PM on August 8, 2009


And really, the Wikipedia page would not support your argument much. Nearly every mention or iteration of the concept on the page has to do with the workers controlling production and distribution and exchange. There is nothing about socialism = taxation to provide services, as far as I can see.
posted by hippybear at 11:11 PM on August 8, 2009


The grand irony of Socialism, handled properly by our continental European cousins, is that the French nationalised power company used to make profit from the short-sightedly enronised, privatised power company that was billing me in London. I failed to ever identify what benefit was being delivered by privatisation under that circumstance.

In the meantime, Nina from Scotland asks "what on earth is wrong with socialism and why do americans hate it?" and is voted down 421 times. Glennis from PA asks "Where was the outrage when worse things were said and done about Bush? This guy IS a joker. Unfortunately, we aren't laughing much as he continues down his path of liberty destruction." to a 298 positive rating.

The power of the chilling effect in the hands of libertarians.
posted by davemee at 11:16 PM on August 8, 2009


This kind of thing makes me want to go out and plaster every public school, fire station, police station (and any other thing I can think of) with my own sign that says "BROUGHT TO YOU BY SOCIALISM"

It honestly makes no sense to me why socialism is such a bad word, as though the idea of collectively being humane just fucking ruins everything.
posted by stefanie at 9:30 PM on August 8


Wake up! They're all about you, all around you!*

I know it's a sentiment that's been voiced on metafilter before, but man, I wish Obama was at least half as socialist as the right seems to think he is.


*Not pictured: 30 panel fight scene
posted by kosher_jenny at 11:28 PM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's really a pretty good piece of work. The intended audience has no trouble understanding it, and the rest of us can't wrap our heads around the layers of bullshit. You can complain that it's mean spirited, but then you're just painted as soft. You can calmly and rationally explain why the symbols are flawed, but not without using your fancy book learnin' and exposing yourself as an elitist. Or you can ignore it.
posted by HumuloneRanger at 11:29 PM on August 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


My God, right-wingers are fucking thick as pig shit. The Joker is an anarchist, not a socialist.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:37 PM on August 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm not Frank Shepard Fairey, but I am one of the guys who co-founded Andre The Giant has a posse with him (and Ryan and Blais and Alfred), from '92 til about '95. We switched it to OBEY/DISOBEY in '94/'95. After that, I worked on what became OBEY until about '05. I just couldn't stomach what it actually turned out to be: A brand. In fact, the only originator who still does it OBEY Fairey. He married an exotic dancer and went for the big money. And gratefully there was the Obama campaign poster, which absolves Fairey of much in my book. But for the record, I have put up more stickers, posters, wheatpaste, stencils, etc. in my life than most entire graffiti crews. Bay Area '94, UC Berkeley? That was me.

So I guess I have some idea what I am talking about. Maybe not. Maybe I'm just a poseur. Or poser. In any case, I have two things to say about this.

The first, this is good stinkin' art. It isn't PC at all. And it's kind of stupid in its simplicity. But it works, and it works really well.

Personally, I thought Heath Ledger was slack for dying. If it was by accident, what a wanker. I thought Brokeback Mountain was excellent. And then to die with that stupid Batman movie as your sign-off? Blech. It makes me nauseous.

Yet, fact of the matter, that Joker image is seminal. It's really permanent psyche marker. Which makes it spot-on for this sort of thing. Especially since its so common that it isn't cool at all. Like I said, perfect.

Let me share something with you. When OBEY started, we did it in two stripes. One was OBEY. The other was DISOBEY. It was the same imagery. But one set said OBEY, and the other set DISOBEY. Here's why: The message was the medium. Let me put it even clearer: It didn't mean anything. The apparent message is ironic and counter-culture. In fact, it's not. Even the Heidegger reference is a rabbit hole. The whole point is that propaganda is obvious. (Later, amended with, "...and you should buy this expensive OBEY-branded sweater/jeans/et al.")

Propaganda (and branding) is obvious. As I hear people say this new saying all the time now, it is what it is. But with regards to propaganda, that's right. It is what it is. There is no secret or mystery.

Obama Hedger Joker-fied with the so-called bogey man socialism (in helvetica-flavor) strapped across the bottom is freaking brilliant. Hilarious! Plus hand-wringing over "racism"? Priceless. This is the USA! Of course it's racial! That's huge here! That people take it serious is what makes it potent. But for the record, outside the US, in many excellent places everything is a lot less serious when it comes to matters of race. But whatever...

This thing is a stinker, true, that's a given. But it is also hilarious, stupid, and really well done. (If it's hand silk-screened, forget about it. Get one now, it's valuable. But let's be real. It's got to be just four-color process.)

The second thing I have to say about it is this: Who do you think is putting this up? Artists? Yeah, right.

Trust me. These posters? They're already down. You think it's republicans who run the streets? Let me ask that question again: You think it's republicans who decide what graffiti and posters that stay up continue to burn or get buffed?

Heh. I mean it. Heh. Unless it's real, hand-crafted art, or someone is getting paid to post it on walls they have rights to as "legitimate" snipers (posterers) it gets taken down.

Oh. And one other thing. This is slight, but for the trained eye it's gold. You know that whole, Frank Shepard Fairey vs. AP vs. AP photographer hullabaloo over fair use and the Fairey Obama campaign poster? Well, anyone recognize the Joker-fied Obama image? Say, from the cover of TIME magazine?

Now that's irony!
posted by Mike Mongo at 11:48 PM on August 8, 2009 [76 favorites]


I think we forget just how popular Ron Paul was on the Internet around a year ago. Those supporters didn't just turn into pumpkins at 12 am on November 5, 2008. Likewise the crowds at Palin/McCain rallies calling candidate Obama a traitor.

I'm more concerned with the politics of the centrist legislators in the U.S. Congress who would rather stay in the game than do the American people a solid than I am in the politics of people who, for all practical intents and purposes, have no respect for politics at all – or, at least, not for democracy.
posted by noway at 11:49 PM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Favorites added; 14 years ago, during Peak Gingrich, I was working my butt off in a foreign country with no TV, no internet, and no regular access to news from America unless I paid the Y100 for the Japan Times at the newsstand.

Fucking heaven. I need to get back to that.
posted by @troy at 12:20 AM on August 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


There's apparently an action figure now, too.b
posted by ooga_booga at 1:57 AM on August 9, 2009


Durr.
posted by ooga_booga at 1:57 AM on August 9, 2009


MetaFilter: apparently some kind of hobo sex predator

totally going to bed now really so sorry
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:22 AM on August 9, 2009


V for Vendetta Socialism
posted by slimepuppy at 3:37 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Same folks as orchestrated the Tea Party ? Really is the gutter end of the wedge.
posted by felch at 3:48 AM on August 9, 2009


huh...these have popped up as stickers on traffic light poles around our small Pennsylvania town....only instead of "socialism" at the bottom it reads "infowars.com"...which I really can't recommend as a fun read.
posted by the bricabrac man at 4:07 AM on August 9, 2009


Wow, HMOs are getting really creative with their ad budgets.
posted by benzenedream at 4:39 AM on August 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


I wonder how effective this thing is at turning people off Obama, it's a brilliant mash up of imagery though, the tampa bay mentions some supposedly extreme satire of bush as the devil, a vampire or whatever, but the ledger joker has an immediate currency that makes all that look mild and lame. The socialism tag at the bottom is more like a piece of misdirection to bait educated democrats or allow educated republicans to distance themselves from something "obviously so wrong", whilst the imagery does all the hard, damaging character assassination.
posted by doobiedoo at 4:39 AM on August 9, 2009


Someone mention infowars ?
posted by felch at 5:26 AM on August 9, 2009


I recommend vandalizing the posters with a "Hell Yes!" across the text.
Hell Yes!
posted by cnjnctvsynth at 5:30 AM on August 9, 2009


Well at the very least it is not an original thought. But I'm sure people will jump all over this OMG WHITEFACE!
posted by Gungho at 5:41 AM on August 9, 2009


A week before the election I asked this question. Needless to say that feels like lifetimes ago. Maybe because it is.

In the meantime, that imagery does not offend me so much as remind me of what a sad distraction it was to liken the likes of Dick Cheney to Darth Vader when one's crimes were real and the other's merely fictional, or mythical, if that seems more fitting. Political figures have been caricatured since forever. Big deal. The real big deal is the twisted bass-akwards way people continue to run in fear from what might be in their/our best interest.

P.S. If it is not okay to link to one's previous activity within a comment I apologize in advance. I was going to write to Jessamyn and ask but I have some idea of how busy she is and it is Sunday morning, after all.

MetaFilter may not be a cure for insomnia, but it is surely a balm.
posted by emhutchinson at 6:22 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I find this a bit odd because the first result when you search YouTube for "Osama Bin Laden" is a video which proves Barack Obama and him are the same man.
posted by gman at 6:25 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do these people know that the strongest ally of the United States is the United Kingdom? A state that has been run, since 1997, by the Labour Party? A party that is a member of the Party of European Socialists.

I consider the Labour Party centrist, I consider Barack Obama centre-right. I wonder what I would be to these people.

I wish Obama was a socialist, but sadly, having read his books and watched his actions, it is quite clear that he is a typical centre-right US politician who only appears left-ist after 8 years of a ridiculously right wing administration.

A socialist wouldn't have given billions of dollars to mega-corporations and let them remain private. A socialist would be campaigning for single-payer healthcare at the very least, not just mandating health insurance.

He's a neoliberal, market-friendly, social democrat. Pah.
posted by knapah at 6:29 AM on August 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


There's a real point in these anecdotes, in that the word "socialist" or "communist" is divorced from its dictionary definition and instead becomes an amorphous epithet.

Just like "gay", right?

The assertion that the words we choose to use in the way that we use them are meaningless is ridiculous.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:29 PM on August 8 [+] [!]


I'm not sure what you're getting at. I am simply describing the observation that I have seen people take certain words that they associate with "badness" and link them to other things that they also consider "bad" without necessarily understanding what the original word had to do with anything.

I'm not saying that's a GOOD thing.

For those of you of college age, you may not be aware that when the USSR was still a thriving entity we were all told that technically it was a Socialist country and not a Communist one. During the Cold War years, people were really frightened of communism/socialism and really frightened of the USSR itself-fearing that one day they'd "send the nukes" and we'd all be toast. It's hard to explain the mindset of that time if you didn't directly experience it.

Therefore to an entire generation Socialism engendered a kneejerk reaction of "badness" at least here in the USA.

There's a lot more I could add to this but just let it suffice that "socialism" is a buzzword that has many connotations to many people-many of them inaccurate, perhaps-and this President, being someone left of their political beliefs, brings an almost Pavlovian response from these particular people.

Now there is also a set of people for which his policies are something with which to disagree, whether or not you want to throw around labels. That is something entirely different.

Every president at some point has fun made of him or these kinds of "artwork"-as previously posted even Bush had a Joker illustration made of him. I don't necessarily see this as racist in this case, altho it is certainly conceivable that for some people there is a racist motive. But not necessarily.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:01 AM on August 9, 2009


Portraying Obama as a minstrel clown isn't racist at all...
posted by mkultra at 7:11 AM on August 9, 2009


I'm impressed that even with Joker face Obama still looks classy and intelligent. How the hell does he do it? I'm now pretty sure the whole impression of unflappable coolness is some sort of ear position thing.
posted by srboisvert at 7:36 AM on August 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


We've never had a black president before, so I suppose it IS jarring to see him mocked...but being mocked is part and parcel of being a President. All of them have to deal with that aspect of the position.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:17 AM on August 9, 2009


as though the idea of collectively being humane just fucking ruins everything.


The American Public is the s to their oligarchy D.
posted by The Whelk at 8:32 AM on August 9, 2009


Didn't Barack Obama just save American Capitalism with bail-outs, etc, etc? He's one of the most effective, influential capitalists of our time I think. Anyone want to help me me make posters of Jesus in The Crow make-up with the caption "ISLAMIST"?
posted by fuq at 8:33 AM on August 9, 2009


There's apparently an action figure now, too.

Isn't that the Zombie Michael Jackson action figure?
posted by lukemeister at 8:43 AM on August 9, 2009


I saw the first one of these signs this morning. Instead of being a large 4c poster, it was a 8.5x11 black and white photocopy. The anti-socialists that put up the sign decided to do so on a utility box for either our socialist publicly owned electric company or for a stop light on the socialist publicly owned road. Compared to some of the photos of these posters I've seen online, the real life version seemed even more pathetic and sad. And the choice to place the poster on public property it worse.
posted by birdherder at 9:08 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why everyone is assuming this poster was produced by conservatives. In fact, considering their track record with things like that anti-Daily-Show they attempted, conservatives aren't exactly known for their ability to creatively portray their points.

Actually, considering the strange mash-up of characters and ideas in the poster, it seems like a piece of work intended to simply get a rise out of people.
posted by jsonic at 9:35 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or a particularly egregious viral marketing campaign.
posted by jsonic at 9:37 AM on August 9, 2009


There's a real point in these anecdotes, in that the word "socialist" or "communist" is divorced from its dictionary definition and instead becomes an amorphous epithet.

Well, ok, if we're talking about hot dogs - sure. Talking about politics and politicians? I think the word "communist" still retains its original meaning, if not an even more charged colloquial meaning.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:37 AM on August 9, 2009


I'm not sure why everyone is assuming this poster was produced by conservatives.

Good point. Maybe conservatives just stole redistributed the picture.
posted by lukemeister at 9:48 AM on August 9, 2009


Oops ... I was quoting jsonic.
posted by lukemeister at 9:50 AM on August 9, 2009


who was essentially an anarchist

The Joker was obviously a anarchist

The Joker is an anarchist, not a socialist

Can I just point out that anarchism is a socialist movement?

(Albeit, probably not the Joker's brand of it.)
posted by moss at 10:01 AM on August 9, 2009


The Joker himself, right in the movie, states that he is an agent of Chaos. I think even in exactly those words (although I could only sit through that overly-long hyper-violent paean to madness once, so I might be wrong).

Chaos is the enemy of Anarchism. The underlying basis of Anarchism is that people do not have to have a structure imposed upon them from without, because they are capable of living in the world in harmony without needing a government or other organizing body to make it happen. The confusion of "anarchy" meaning a state of chaos with Anarchism meaning living without a governing body is unfortunate and detrimental to genuine discussion of either concept.
posted by hippybear at 10:09 AM on August 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


Say what you like about the tenets of anarcho-syndicism, at least it's an ethos.
posted by Artw at 10:14 AM on August 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


And yet, Ledger's Joker is a popular Halloween costume. Sure he's evil...but he's kinda cool, in a teenagers-like-to-feel-edgy way.

If this is conservative propaganda...who will it reach? Old people don't go to them violent movies. Age 18-30 white male conservatives/libertarians probably kind of think Ledger's Joker was cool, or cooler than a dorky tormented dude in a bat costume. And that's pretty much their whole base, isn't it? Hardcore Christians don't go to secular movies, cause of the cursing and boobies.
posted by emjaybee at 12:31 PM on August 9, 2009


conservatives aren't exactly known for their ability to creatively portray their points.

oh come on, the R3VOLUTION thing with the Paulistas was cute.
posted by @troy at 12:40 PM on August 9, 2009


Gee, I wonder why this is provoking such thoughtful discourse throughout the web. Could it be that it's an image created and spread by a bunch of trolls on 4chan who say and create ridiculous shit just to get other people to argue with each other so they can laugh at them? The image has no inherent meaning beyond "man I bet this will stir some shit" *posts image to bbs accompanied by some kind of holocaust-justifying rant incorporating blurbs about how black people like chicken*
posted by tehloki at 1:10 PM on August 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Naturally, Reason Magazine handles this briefly and level-headedly:

"WaPo: Joker Poster is Racist (And So Are You)"

Not that it matters, of course. You guys love to get SO MAD about this stuff!
posted by slumberfiend at 1:41 PM on August 9, 2009


slumberfiend: "you guys"??? You paid the same $5 we all did.

But then, maybe you're one of those foot-muppet things I hear about. :)

(This seems to have been a pretty civil thread, all things considered...)
posted by hippybear at 2:34 PM on August 9, 2009


Great art, great jokes, great rejoinders: you don't have to agree with it to like it, you know?

Great thread.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:29 PM on August 9, 2009


Reason Magazine handles this... level-headedly

anotherpanacea was right. This thread does have great jokes!
posted by hifiparasol at 6:59 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is something kind of amazing about this, it's so screwed up on so many levels that you can't even put your finger on one of them, and even people who agree with what Obama's doing in office are arguing amongst themselves. I guess the Joker would appreciate.
posted by citron at 7:42 PM on August 9, 2009


What separates Nicholson's Joker from Ledger's is that Nicholson's makeup was meant to mimic a clown, while Ledger's is meant to mimic death, i.e. a lime-covered corpse.

I attribute a lot of the popularity of this image to the way it functions as a fantasy and implied threat of Obama's death. It's like they're putting up posters of Obama's corpse, and getting off on that. That's more troublesome to me than the so-called "whiteface" criticism. I don't think they're saying, "Obama acts white!"; I think they're saying, "This is what Obama would look like dead."

"But it's just the Joker!" has the ring of the same sort of phony naïveté that characterized the "Curious George" Obama t-shirts during the election, when the racist far-right crowd claimed they were only pointing out that Obama had big ears.
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 10:20 PM on August 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Re the Curious George shirts...

Why do racists always do incredibly racist things and then backpedal furiously when they're called out on it, when the people doing the calling out are the ones whose opinions they seem to least respect? Do they seriously expect us to believe that they're just making fun of his ears, and then chuckle to each other about how they put one over on us dumb ol' libruls again? Why don't they just own the fuck up to their racism? If we're nothing but a bunch of PC nancies, why do they go to the trouble of attempting to mollify us?

FWIW, I don't see too much of the way of racist or eliminationist dogwhistlery in the Joker poster. Which I can only assume means that someone at the PR firm that designed it must have overlooked a bullet point.
posted by hifiparasol at 11:04 PM on August 9, 2009


It's great art because it's timely like great art ought to be, and even though it pretends to have a political agenda it's actually quite poorly suited to that agenda. It can't be co-opted as a rallying tool for the left or the right. It's just uncomfortable. Thoughtless rebellious teenagers will hang it in their dorm rooms and make up nonsense justifications for it, but they'll still vote for Obama or for Democrats or for the policies that the Democrats stand for.

It's great art because it provokes passionate responses like Pater Aletheias's and biting jokes like Horace Rumpoles and great analysis like Mike Mungo's that make me laugh out loud in appreciation.

It's great art because it changes no one's mind but it still sticks in your craw. It says: "I'm going to manipulate you and you're going to know I'm doing it, but you're still not going to be able to stop me." It makes me angry even though there's no coherent message or argument being made: it's all contradictory iconic images that destabilize each other: "the first black President in whiteface is an anarchist socialist." Say what now? After seeing this image, no one in their right mind will ever really think of Obama as a socialist, but they'll remember the image.

And that's really why it's great art: it's selfish and parasitic and useless. It refuses to treat serious matters with the reverence they deserve. It loafs and coasts and free rides. It's interested in nothing other than its own self-propagation.

God, how I hate great art.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:46 AM on August 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's great for the way it sledgehammers through the truth and remakes reality into something it isn't. All you reality based people should be properly horrified.

I think this is where the orignal image come from.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:44 AM on August 10, 2009


I'm actually glad this kind of nonsense keeps cropping up because all it's doing is further cementing my commitment to being the opposite. For every ludicrous Socialist comment, I send out another cover letter to a non-profit. For every Glenn Beck reference, another interview with a domestic violence agency.

Bring it, you lopsided, cynical morans. Every mis-step on your part makes me a more powerful, caring and committed citizen. Without you, it would be too easy to ignore all the work I have to do to make this world a better, saner, safer place for others.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:46 AM on August 10, 2009


Actually, Brandon, I think this is where the original image comes from.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:56 AM on August 10, 2009


I keep thinking back on this image and I have to agree it's an inspired bit of culture jamming. It doesn't really mean anything and it doesn't stand up to rational investigation but it is discomforting and provocative. Pure agitprop. My only complaint is the word SOCIALISM is too facile, too much like some ditto-head criticism of Obama policies.

This image strikes me as similar to Sarah Palin's weekend Facebook assertion that Obama wants to create "death panels" that will decide whether to kill children like her son with Down's Syndrome. It's offensive and infuriating and doesn't really make sense. But it's also effective at jamming the works, derailing the rational discussion the adults are having.
posted by Nelson at 8:04 AM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I were a highly-paid Democratic strategist, I couldn't ask for a better advertisement for health care reform than Palin's clueless comment. Hello! The 'death panels' are run by INSURANCE COMPANIES.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:16 AM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, Brandon, I think this is where the original image comes from.

Oh sure, but the Obama poster is more iconic, though the more I think about, the itseems like a grandchild of Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge and a child of
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:28 AM on August 10, 2009


Er, never mind the child of part. I was going to say Warhol, but that's a stretch.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:04 AM on August 10, 2009


sovietposter.blogspot.com has some sort of malware, BB.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:34 AM on August 10, 2009


Alternate Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge link.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:37 AM on August 10, 2009


Bring it, you lopsided, cynical morans. Every mis-step on your part makes me a more powerful, caring and committed citizen. Without you, it would be too easy to ignore all the work I have to do to make this world a better, saner, safer place for others.

You, Lipstick, are simply........ Awesome. Are you SURE you aren't my sister?
posted by HalfJack at 10:41 AM on August 10, 2009


The Joker wasn't an anarchist; at least, that descriptor isn't specific enough, as he hardly spent his time at cooperative meetings tallying up concensus minus one decisions in order to determine if Stef will take care of the chickens this week or if, as he has requested, he could be put back on cow-miking duty, as he has a chicken-specific allergy and, while he knows that the collective functions by rotating the farming chores, he just can't stand another day of sneezing and migrane headaches.

If anything, the Joker was a propaganda of the deed nihilist.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:47 AM on August 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have to say - It doesn't resonate with me at all. Putting joker make up on someone to make them look "evil" doesnt work - it jsut makes them look like Heath Ledger. And then throw out a word which essentially means 'satanic' in this wretched plutocracy. its not culture jamming, and it doesnt even make enough SENSE to be art (my apologies to Mike Mongo. its jsut the association of "bad man" with "bad word". I gotta get OUT of this place. Any mefites in sweden?
posted by HalfJack at 10:47 AM on August 10, 2009


I wonder if the Ledger Joker might actually be more of a pathological solipsist.
posted by Artw at 11:01 AM on August 10, 2009


Look, we all want Obama to be more socialist. I'm just not sure this poster is the best way to show that.
posted by klangklangston at 11:52 AM on August 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I disagree that "socialist" is entirely an amorphous epithet (or that "gay" is either.) That's not to say that people are especially enlightened about their views of socialism, but there is a knee-jerk view that any kind of tax-funded government service other than the military is a slippery slope to collective housing and breadlines.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:18 AM on August 11, 2009


I saw these posters near the Tacheles Gallery in Berlin. Ugh.
posted by Devika at 8:51 AM on August 11, 2009


Obama Joker Artist Revealed. (Sorry for Fox link).
posted by Nelson at 9:06 AM on August 18, 2009


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