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August 09, 2009

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Congrats to your friend, publius.

If one might take this as any sort of open thread, I'd like to remind people of this anniversary, thirty-five years ago.

(Some of the material will be familiar to readers of a past thread here.)

In other good news, the NY Times has finally fired Ben Stein.

Obama as the Joker is racist imagery. Discuss.

The author that Gary links to in his last comment talks a bit more about it on a MSNBC clip on his blog.

By using the "urban" makeup of the Heath Ledger Joker, instead of the urbane makeup of the Jack Nicholson character, the poster connects Obama to something many of his detractors fear but can't openly discuss. He is black and he is identified with the inner city, a source of political instability in the 1960s and '70s, and a lingering bogeyman in political consciousness despite falling crime rates.

I'm torn on this. Is this assessment an example of reading too much into something, at least with regard to the designer's intentions, if not an invalid interpretation of the image itelf regardless of the designer's intentions?

One of the reasons I'm torn is that the image is both very specific and somewhat odd, so the designer must have had something in mind. But it's possible that it was a simpler, more general message of plain old scariness without the consideration of urban, racial scariness. (And where does the Andy Warhol-ness of it fit in?)

The Joker's makeup in "Dark Knight" -- the latest film in a long franchise that dramatizes fear of the urban world -- emphasized the wounded nature of the villain, the sense that he was both a product and source of violence. Although Ledger was white, and the Joker is white, this equation of the wounded and the wounding mirrors basic racial typology in America. Urban blacks -- the thinking goes -- don't just live in dangerous neighborhoods, they carry that danger with them like a virus.

This is all interesting stuff, but what are the chances that it is correct in terms of the designer's intent?

Superimpose that idea, through the Joker's makeup, onto Obama's face, and you have subtly coded, highly effective racial and political argument. Forget socialism, this poster is another attempt to accomplish an association between Obama and the unpredictable, seeming danger of urban life.

Can racial and political arguments in today's America be both subtly coded and highly effective? I think almost anyone smart enough to read this far into it is too smart to take the ideas seriously.

Obama, like the Joker and like the racial stereotype of the black man, carries within him an unknowable, volatile and dangerous marker of urban violence, which could erupt at any time.

I can't help but think of this Clutch lyric: I hung a left down to Lemans' Avenue,Stagger Lees everywhere, trying to bring me doom, oh no.

"This is all interesting stuff, but what are the chances that it is correct in terms of the designer's intent?"

Ah, but what matter's the intent compared to what is signified?

"Can racial and political arguments in today's America be both subtly coded and highly effective?"

Yes, absolutely. In fact, the less blatant, and more subtle, the more effective. Because the more the viewer/receptive person can be affected and yet in denial as to any effect.

"I think almost anyone smart enough to read this far into it is too smart to take the ideas seriously."

Disagree. What we read and take away has nothing to do with how smart we are; how smart (and observant and aware) we are has/have to do only with what we notice we are taking away.

I feel similar to hairshirt, except for the fact that the designer has not stepped forward, which has me take the accusations a bit more seriously. I realise this might be a bit of guilty until proven innocent, but I'm deeply suspicious of the fact that we have no idea who is responsible for this campaign.

It's funny but when I saw the Obama-as-Joker image, my first thought was: this is blackface in reverse...a kind of whiteface for an African American president. Similar exaggerated lips, with white make-up and freakishly large black eyes, mirroring the black make-up and frequently exaggerated whites of the eyes in traditional blackface minstrelsy. Heath Ledger's joker was not obviously a racial whiteface....but on an African American president, the makeup takes on this meaning.

And what would be the meaning of such an imaginative reverse version of blackface? A black person taking on a white identity while simultaneously mocking and expressing a hatred for whiteness....i.e., Glenn Beck's understanding of Obama and race.

Philip Kennicott's reading gets to a similar place through an entirely different approach (an analysis of the development of the Joker in the Batman movies and comix). But I guess I agree with Gary that, at a certain gut level, this image does strike me as being about race.

What we read and take away has nothing to do with how smart we are; how smart (and observant and aware) we are has/have to do only with what we notice we are taking away.

I suspect there's a hidden message in this comment, though I'm not sure what it is.

"I suspect there's a hidden message in this comment, though I'm not sure what it is."

If you play it backwards, it says Paul is dead.

Another view here

All things don't equal race.

Marty, I think your link is broken.

But I agree with your read: I don't think this was racially motivated.

Another view here

Try again?

Well, if this is an open thread, then: I'm back in the US. Hi. ;)

Gorillas are really enormous. The silverback in the group I saw weighed 220 kg.

Also: I was on my balcony one morning, putting on bug spray, when what do you think came climbing down from the roof?

A baboon. A very large male baboon. With very large teeth. (The relevance of the fact that he was male: baboons are sexually dimorphic, which means that males are much bigger than females.)

He plainly wanted to get into the room. I was holding the door handle, and thinking: hmm, this could end very badly. The only ways off the balcony (maybe 5' x 8', with stone walls on either side) were: (a) jump over the railing and fall two floors onto the concrete below, which didn't seem like a good plan, and (b) try to get into the room, which seemed likely to result in him rushing the door, thus (it seemed to me) making the whole situation much more dangerous and unpredictable. So I just kept saying No. No. in what I hoped was a calm, firm, and authoritative sort of voice. After 5 minutes or so, he climbed back up onto the roof whence he had come.

Obama as the Joker is racist imagery.

I don't see that as a necessary reading. Who knows what the author intended.

What it is, somewhat more explicitly, is asinine scaremongering. WTF is the connection between the Ledger portrayal of the Joker and socialism?

Could any two things be further apart? Discuss.

On a less depressing topic:

Hooray! hilzoy!

Hilzoy: But don't you see, I came here to find a new job, a new life, a new meaning to my existence. Can't you help me?

Counsellor: Well, do you have any idea of what you want to do?

Hilzoy: Yes, yes I have.

Counsellor: What?

Hilzoy: (boldly) Baboon taming.

Counsellor: Well yes. Yes. Of course, it's a bit of a jump isn't it? I mean, er, philosophy to baboon taming in one go. You don't think it might be better if you worked your way towards baboon taming, say, via psychology?

Of course, I’d say they’re just lively brown furry things with short stumpy legs and great long noses. I don't know what all the fuss is about, I could tame one of those. They look pretty tame to start with.

Great to hear from you, Hilzoy! Baboon stories are just a plus!

The whole blog is being ruined with you gone, by the way. Ruined, I tell you!

You have to come back and save it.

Russell: "What it is, somewhat more explicitly, is asinine scaremongering. WTF is the connection between the Ledger portrayal of the Joker and socialism?"

Wait, wait, I know the nutbar answer to that one! The Joker wants to steal your money and burn it, and Obama does, too!

Also, they're both craaaazy, and besides, have you ever seen the Joker produce a birth certificate? Have you? Eh, eh? I ask you!

The whole blog is being ruined with you gone, by the way. Ruined, I tell you!

I refuse to join this chorus (even though it's true) because it will probably make hilzoy believe that we're working up to another cascade of marriage proposals (which I suspect is probably true) because we miss her terribly (which I know is definitely true).

However, I'll be content to know that hilzoy is relaxed and enjoying herself (and working up to placing a bon mot that will do the most good with the least amount of effort).

But does Hilzoy have her own baboon-taming hat?

Forget the Joker, Dr.Mabuse rules (even posthumously), and he's no socialist but essentially an anarchist with right-wing tendencies.

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