Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Illusionist, The Puppet or The Joker?


Around the world, in its many variations; street art has historically be a form of political expression for the disenfranchised and marginalised and this was the first thought that came to mind when I saw this montage of President Obama as 'The Joker'. However, this poster has become an overnight controversy along partisan and racial lines. The poster first appeared in LA and Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the LA urban policy unit has said, "Depicting the President as demonic and a socialist goes beyond political spoofery." In my opinion, to label this, "demonic" goes beyond political hysteria and is spoofery in itself! Its a gross misinterpretation of the image and where it comes from; its The Joker character acted by the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008). Obama's Stans (obsessive fans) in the blogosphere have claimed; this is reminiscent of the minstrel show and have described it as racist. Steve Mikulan was quoted in the UK daily, The Telegraph as having stated, "The only thing missing is a noose". This is a far stretch of the imagination, methinks.

The green hair, white face, black-ringed eyes and red lips of The Joker in The Dark Knight is not the same as the image of minstrel as claimed. The minstrel was black-a-face, with red lips whose thickness was exageratted and eyes made extra wide. The picture above is not the same as those of AfricanAmericans denigrated years before; anyone who's watched Spike Lee's Bamboozled (2000) will understand what minstrel means historically and in corporate Amerikkka today. To suggest this poster has the same connotation of black-a-face is absurd and playing the race card; there are real issues of racism more deserving of social outrage than this legitimate satire of a sitting President. The same image was used of Dubya, Sarah Palin, John McCain who were indeed jokers, but not 'The Joker'.

For the Republicans who've delighted in seeing this as criticism of Obama; the joke is on them. America has had a long history of a hyperfear of socialism and anybody who thinks Obama is a socialist needs to realise its 2009 not 1962, the Russians aren't a superpower anymore and neither are they threatening to storm in on Washington. They need to take Socialist theory 101 and read the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. And to fully understand the intersection of race and class in the US; Amilcar Cabral, Angela Davis and Malcom X would be a few names on a long essential reading list of Black Liberation and Socialism 102. If they did, they'd not only realise firstly even in the warped American imagination that equates socialism to 'the death of capitalism and democracy' as Americans know it, Obama has proven to be a true blue. This Banker's President, is anything BUT a socialist proposing to nationalise everything; a man who's passed the biggest stimulus bill in American history and refused to nationalise the health insurance plan can hardly be equated to real socialist revolutionaries like Che or Castro. Secondly, returning to the lesson plan; these Socialism phobes would learn that socialism modelled on the Scandinavian system of The Third Way might actually be beneficial to America where unbridled capitalist greed and foreign aggression are the modus operandae.

In light of the current birther movement and the real racist images of Obama doing the rounds online, this image just makes the Right look even more hysterical, irrational and desperate. Its also extremely hypocritical of them; the same people who ran the country badly for 8 years. The Conservatives are the xenophobic, eugenicist, capitalist architects of social iniquity and to now take up a position of protest in solidarity with the poorer and disenfranchised people disillusioned with the Obama administration would be the real insult of this image, if that was the intended message of the unknown poster.

If Obama's PR team and Stan bloggers are young and smart enough to remember the movie, they'll realise this image was neither racist nor slander. The joker was the best character in that film. Even though everyone pretended he was the bad guy, in reality he was the hero that everyone was rooting for and he made it worth watching. This poster is probably quite accurate in that sense as people like Obama as a person; he is the articulate likeable guy who appears on TV to reassure the people and give them a renewed sense of hope so much that it elides his Bush-lite manner of handling domestic and foreign affairs. The Obama hype machine has spawned an enormous movement of mostly seletively informed (on the details of his policies), but fervent supporters who have knighted him 'the untouchable one' and it is almost forbidden to criticise him.

As a Stan of Obama who belatedly saw the light when the first air strikes left 17 dead in Afghanistan and Somali pirates were murdered at his behest; this is my li'l planet to write what I like (a la Steve Biko) and critique the administration as and when I see fit. Obama has reneged on too many of his campaign promises to deserve status of The Joker, maybe the suave Illusionist, or Wall St's Puppet titles would better suit him; so here's to better thought-out, intelligent, protest street art to come!