Obama as the Joker

A poster compares Obama to the movie villain. What do art critics and conspiracy theorists think?

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A poster of Obama as the Joker, subtitled "socialism," recently popped up in L.A. The conventional wisdom on this poster is pretty clear: It criticizes Obama as a socialist by borrowing imagery from The Dark Knight, and may have a slight racial charge. Knowing that there must be more to this story than that, we've gathered takes from art critics and  wingnuts.

Is It Good Art?
Ben Walters, weighing in from his blog about film at The Guardian, called the poster "the American right's first successful use of street art," arguing that "the choice of medium is smart. The message ... not so much." Walters called the image "mean-spirited" and "dangerous," saying that the poster's racial element "can't help but evoke a minstrel aesthetic" and that "the inflammatory potential of such imagery is likely to outweigh any potential satirical value." On top of all that, he says, "it is not very funny."

Washington Post style writer Philip Kennicott slammed the poster as lacking "subtlety" and "simplicity." Kennicott thinks a good political poster "anticipates unspoken fears or claims" but that the "socialist" charge "isn't introducing anything new." Oh, and also, it's racist:

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.

Is it accurate? That's what Rush Limbaugh thinks (via David Corn). "Whoever put this poster together is pretty smart because there are some similarities here to what the Joker did in that movie and what Obama is doing to this country," he said on his radio show. Limbaugh argued that Obama, like the Joker, wears a disguise: "This is his tactic for fooling white people. This is the mask." Corn wondered when Limbaugh would compare Obama to "Mr. Freeze."

It Doesn't Go Far Enough  Conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones deflected charges of racism, writing, "one of the reasons our rulers selected Obama is because they want to disarm all criticism by playing the race card." Jones conceded that "Obama is not a socialist" but lamented that the illustration's "message is lost on those who believe the government is basically good."

Pajamas Media columnist Frank J. Fleming argued that the Joker-Obama comparison is unfair...to the Joker. "The Joker seemed chaotic but was very careful in his planning, while the chaos from the Obama administration seems much more explainable by pure incompetence," he wrote. "Obama's methods for destroying everything are a bit more ham-fisted, such as proposing expensive new programs while we're already hugely in debt. Finally, the Joker has always been depicted with normal-sized ears."

Why so serious? The Wire is reminded of another Obama-Joker mash-up image, this one published last year on Wired.com. The artist told Wired of the Joker, "I really can't see him showing much interest in U.S. politics."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.