Obama as The Joker: another image co-opted by conservatives because they don't have art of their own

People from oppositie sides of the political spectrum come together to make ineffective art.


 Firas Alkhateeb, the Chicagoan who casually adapted a Time Magazine cover of Obama into a Dark-night-style Joker using a Photoshop tutorial, doesn't explicitly say he's a liberal, but he did say he would vote for Dennis Kucinich. To put this on the political spectrum, it means he supports a guy who wants a "Department of Peace" and believes in aliens.  Kucinich tended to be the candidate of choice for those who thought John Kerry wasn't liberal enough.  

Why bring this up? Because conservatives don't really make much art, so they have to poach it from the other side.  Wayne Newton, fine, and there are a few others. So here's the million dollar question: why are so many artists liberals? It's not just painters, try walking into a graphic design shop and ask how they're voting lately. And look at this article from the Times about trying to find one non-liberal leaning play. There's also a lot of historical prescedent for this switch-a-roo, like beatnik poet Diane DiPrima, who's poem Brass Furnace Going Out got snagged by the pro-life movement (and boy was pro-choice DiPrima steamed about that).

So here's the story at hand: the Chicago guy makes it the image,

posts it to Flickr, and then some unknown guy, an anti-Obama dude, downloads the image, adds the word "socialism", and makes into a poster he sticks up around L.A. But does it all wrong, he can't even curate the piece without blowing it. He forgot that the Joker is awesome, Heath Ledger got the academy award even after he died because did such a great job in the role, spitting out all the great lines:


It's a schemer who put you where you are. You were a schemer. You had plans. Look where it got you. I just did what I do best - I took your plan and turned it on itself... If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I am an agent of chaos.

And you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? It's fair.

 Does this sound like socialism to you?  

I personally have theories about the psychology of conservativism and liberalism, a need for moral structure vs. an anti-authority mindset, but I'll refrain, because it still doesn't explain why republican activists can't make a poignant little poster of their own.

Update: New article in the Trib about the "artist" (you have to be a little bit of an artist to be messing around with Photoshop)


Leave a comment
  • The New World Order and obama
    are not going to succeed.

    please watch THE OBAMA DECEPTION - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAaQNACwaLw

  • In reply to robgreenaway:

    I forgive you for being off topic. But to push my point about how political orientation is a deep, psychological mindset... show 100 liberals that video. See if one person changes sides.

    It's why I feel that 90% of all political art is a complete waste of time.

  • In reply to KathrynBorn:

    I feel the same way too. It's why I feel that 90% of political Blogs are a complete waste of time.

  • In reply to KathrynBorn:

    Good post. But I think you've missed a very important aspect. When the artist has an agenda, the work quickly becomes propaganda. The "original" artist in this case stole the joker's image and aura, and super-imposed it onto another "stolen" image - Barack Obama. Sure, the artist created a new and unique original but so did the dude who simply stole it again and pasted "socialism" underneath it. He found a new use for it and it was very effective otherwise you would not have been writing about it. But true art has no practical or intentional use. When you find a use for it however, it either becomes utilitarian or propaganda. I would tend to agree with Greg here, not to underestimate folks who practice the "liberal" arts. You don't have to be a liberal.

  • In reply to KathrynBorn:

    This reporter obviously has never seen dark night. Obama is EXACTLY LIKE THE JOKER. You remember the seen where the joker is near a pile of money. Then he says I am just burning my half and lights it on fire. This sounds exactly like Obama to me. Sounds to me that the reporter voted for obama, I am glad this reporter supports taxing people's health insurance who are already over paying for the health insurance. So this tax can provide insurance to those who don't have it. Stupid liberal arts people, the arts should be banned from universities. The great thing about science is I can save your life and still not know how to spell.

  • In reply to sdfefssf:

    RIGHT on scoodaby! All art is a liberal plot. Ban it! Why not just ban liberal art universities? Spelling and articulation? DUM.

    All we need is math, science, solved formulas and gray walls.

  • In reply to sdfefssf:


    Y'all are welcome to debate as long as you keep it civil and don't insult each other. I'll step out because ... well, I was an internet moderator too long and I know no one is going to convince anyone of anything in a blog comment.

    Just keep an eye on the discussion policy - http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/art-talk-chicago/discussion.html - which states that you can say whatever you want about me, but you must be civil to each other.

    Have at it. Another post about political art vs. propoganda will go up after the weekend.

    Thank you guys. I feel grateful for your attention and feedback.

  • In reply to KathrynBorn:

    Obviously another liberal trick.

  • In reply to KathrynBorn:

    Too bad this guy didn't copyright his work. He'd have made a hefty hunk of change off of it.

  • In reply to sdfefssf:

    Are you advocating that doctors be illiterate?

  • In reply to KathrynBorn:

    Pooh-pooh. You missed the mark by quoting the joker and saying that that specific line doesn't sound like socialism. It does sound like the remark of an anarchist--you'll have a tough time convincing me that anarchy is any better than socialism. Therefore, being analogized with the joker would, in fact, be a bad thing.

    I think it is fine for someone on the right to use art developed by someone on the left. While the artist may be liberal--I don't think art is limited by a particular side of the political spectrum. It should appeal to everyone on the spectrum and convey its own message.

  • In reply to robgreenaway:

    You should read the original article on the LA Times website that the Trib article is based on. The guy doesn't seem like a "Liberal" to me. He likes Dem foreign policy but Rep domestic policy and doesn't think Obama is doing much good for the country right now.


    So really didn't conservatives just ripoff one of their own?

  • In reply to robgreenaway:

    u think liberals are anti authority? they want big brother to regulate everything from whether they can smoke a cigarette to what kind of car one can drive. wake up before its too late.

    the reason most artists are liberal is much the same 2 reasons young are liberal:
    1 they sell art for cash and are never forced by the government to pay for all the wonderful things they think big brother should be providing now that their parents aren't providing the free ride anymore.
    2 they dont study practical things like economics and math beyond the eight ball / ounce measurements needed to procure their leisure products. after the success of 'its the economy stupid' u'd think people would realize making economics at east as important as sex education in school. ah but then the mindless wouldn't be so easily brainwashed by the liberals would they.

  • In reply to juschillin:

    Liberalism to me has been about finding the proper role for government in the lives of the people it governs. Its not about big brother watching or controlling our every move, and the fact that you can't tell the difference between those two lines of thinking is evidence enough of your ignorant mindset, and i haven't even mentioned your BS assessment of why artists are liberals.

  • In reply to juschillin:

    Thoroostarr -- thanks for your comments. You bring up some great points. And I think about this a lot. I'd like to talk about philosophical reasons why, which gets into pretty nebulous territory, but what is a reality, for both sides, is that left-leaning individuals do "own" a big chunk of "the media" - from feature films, to documentaries, writers and journalists. One thing conservatives aren't wrong about - it's something like 80% of all journalists vote democrat.

    So it's also this weird balance, liberals gravitate to low-income cultural industries, yet within those industries, there is some power. So the conservatives need to open a film and journlism school and start getting paid $12K a year if they want to get in the game.

  • In reply to juschillin:

    The description of the young and perhaps liberal as drug users is totally offensive and generalizing. While advocating for econ in school is fine, saying that they only study drug measuring is ridiculous flaming on this board.

  • In reply to robgreenaway:

    I did read that, before I wrote my post. I'm reading between the lines a bit, and taking into account that the guy seemed justifiably nervous. But I had to make that jump because NO conservative likes Kucinich.

    I mean, from what I've read, I like this guy. My politics might be, as my father puts it, "left of Stalin", but I feel very stifled by the fact that if I say ANYTHING questioning my own side, which contains inept and corrupt members, I'm immediately seen as a traitor.

    Artists neednt be loyal, our role in society is "licensed disturbers of the peace".

    The more interesting art question is, "is he an artist?" In my opinion, he made a piece of art and displayed it for an audience. He may not be a career artist, but for that moment, he acted as an artist acts.

  • In reply to KathrynBorn:

    I here you, but what I take from my own 'reading between the lines" is that this guy strikes me as more of a Conservative but sides with pols like Kucinich and the Dems because their foreign policy means less bombs get dropped on his relatives and people like him. Just look at what he posted on Flickr under the Rahm Emanuel Fail pic.

    He doesn't strike me as a, er..umm, poster child for "Liberals" and I don't understand how anyone but a Conservative could like Conservative domestic policy, but that's just me.

    He seems like a pretty complex fellow.

  • In reply to KathrynBorn:

    George W. Bush was the energizer bunny of Compassionate Conservatism. He kept hating and hating and hating...

    You misunderestimate the artistic abilities of the right: the contract with America, war on terror, even the trademarked slogan of Fox News, "Fair & Balanced." All of it was simple, powerful and very artistic.

    I happen to like Barack as The Joker. He is the president. He is the establishment. He is there to be made fun of. On our side, though, there is a difference. We keep hoping and hoping and hoping...

    A much nicer drum beat for marching along, don't you think?

  • In reply to KathrynBorn:

    Has everyone meet that few Republicans that this is what you think? The Republicans are somehow disconnected from their emotions, incapable of contributing to the artistic discourse in any meaningful way and are demagogues incapable of being an arbitrator between two opposing sets of thought and find the balance? Really?

    That's kind of the political equivalent of a 9 year olds dislike of girls cause they have cooties. Political art is largely ineffectual because it is fleeting, a candidate or issue is here today gone or morphed tomorrow. War art lasts longer, first black/female president art last longer (second not so much) because it is history not an issue. Isn't it just as easy and true to say that 90% of all art is ineffectual? I make art, I love art, I love artists but much of it is easily forgettable since it doesn't like to speak in a clear, interesting and approachable voice. There is nothing wrong with that music, cinema and others are the same, but to tag that reasoning because their social/economic philosophy dictates that is the byproduct is laughable.

    Are there a ton of Democratic reporters, yes by far and why is that? They felt the inner drive and pursuit to do that regardless of the effects to their private life or financial reward. Does that make the news Liberal? No. Why because there are countless Libertarians and Republicans also in the economic mix as lawyers, executives and gasp "Reporters" who balance it out before it gets released.

    Politics is Kabuki both sides of the coin, and political art more so. The point is to rally the troops, to stir the pot, and at times to maybe even inspire people to do/be something better however you define that. This guy made a goof image just like I am sure he and countless other people do 100 times a day. Another guy half a continent away appropriated the image, spun it and promoted the question is Obama evilly Socialistic with no additional information or context. The reason I even covered this image 2 weeks ago was it was odd that it was getting so many people attention. It's a junk image but the political atmosphere is one of ill perceived "we hate them/they hate us" and this image only goes to illustrate that point. There is no content to it other then the boggy man.

    Both republicans & democrats say/do inflammatory things to rise above the noise, I am sure that kid is nervous cause there is nothing to be gained by being the poster boy for "socialist obama" and a lot to be lost.

    But to say that Conservatives don't have art of their own is no different, just an attempt like countless others to rise above the noise and stir the pot, I know I am one of them.

  • In reply to Hudgens:

    It isn't so much their political leanings that would make them good or bad at "art", its the underlying reasoning and rationality behind those leanings. Who do you think would be capable of creating something artistically engaging and resonant: an open-minded person or a close-minded person? I'm not saying that liberals = open minded and conservatives = close minded (lord knows I know plenty of people on either end of the political spectrum who are close minded, and plenty that are open minded)
    Of course, i'm always open to getting my mind-changed. I would love to hear some conservative leaning music, see some art or read anything that might convince me otherwise.

  • In reply to Hudgens:

    Oh I agree that it is very liberal, I am the lone voice of reason I mean Economic conservative bent at Bad at Sports and stay in the political closet much of the time since I don't like to pick intellectual fights often.

    Honestly I have found (and this is 100% anicdotal) that there isn't much difference between Right/Left artists except two core issues. Artists by and large want to be left alone and free to do whatever occurs to them and believe that there is no business plan to the arts that doesn't include state or institutional support so are very hesitant to suffer anything that looks like it might injure their source of income (ironically akin to many Republicans I know, money really does make the world go round).

    I know you get the full picture of all of this Kathryn and like me enjoy getting more then echo chamber art/talk/politics and other things so I give you a hard time (and as much traffic as I can).

    The question will Republicans step up with art if they spend the next 20 years in the wilderness politically? Honestly I would say no, why you ask? Because of the nature that Republicans live outside of Dense urban environments and by nature thrive on audio not posters and images. Republican music, that is nearing a "golden age" like it or not. My beloved country music is now just ad campaigns for Conservative, Evangelical though by and large and will only get more so. More power to them (even if I do miss a bit of the rebellion) and I promise you it will only get louder as the years of bumbling reorganization with the Republican Party continues.

  • In reply to Hudgens:

    Silly Silly.

    How about this Obama poster?


  • In reply to Hudgens:

    I really enjoyed the discussion here!

  • In reply to Hudgens:

    I have too! And I want to thank every single person who posted, and helped create the only comments-discussion set related to politics on the internet - that didn't totally spiral into nonsense.

    You guys all totally rock. Thank you for visiting.

  • In reply to KathrynBorn:

    I have three.

  • In reply to KathrynBorn:
  • In reply to KathrynBorn:

    Heya Hudgens,

    I see what you're saying, but you know the visual art scene like I do... it's a really really liberal scene. We can speculate as to why, but it's speculation.

    I live with and love a republican! We argue politics every day, and we've covered a lot of ground over the last 3 years.

    But whatever the reasons, the facts are the facts. And yes, you can debate if the "news is liberal" ad nauseum, but you can't argue with the fact that the individuals behind the scenes are .. liberal.

    So the fact, and discussion is: the content creators really are a fairly left-leaning bunch. Nowhere moreso than visual arts, and nowhere moreso than avant garde art. The more wacky the art gets, the more liberal the practitioners get ... until you get to deconstucted dematerialized art.. those guys are all libertarians and anarchists. :)

    Look at the BAS crowd as a case study, imagine how they vote...

    So let me throw something out there - if a need for conservative voices in the arts is needed, will some artists appear? I suspect so.

    A little variety would be nice.


  • In reply to robgreenaway:

    Awesome article. A conservative facebook friend of mine posted a link to an article about how there are more liberal college professors than conservative ones and how that wasn't "fair". I didn't post a reply, but it did get me thinking.

    Maybe i'm just a hippy, but that seems like a false equivalency. I'm trying to find a good way to word it without sounding like an a-hole. Based entirely on personal experience, Liberals seem more in touch with emotion and their rationality, but they do not let emotion fog their rationality. Where as conservatives don't seem to understand their emotion, but still let it cloud their rationality. Its a completely different thought process that leads one to be a conservative vs. a liberal and it would seem then that artists (who are in touch with their emotion) and professors (who are in touch with their rationality) are just more likely to be liberal based entirely on their job descriptions.

    When art comes from an unpure separation of emotion and rationality its generally weak or misguided or ineffective (speaking to your point about how 90% of political art is ineffective). Because art with an agenda is too rational, and it doesn't engage the viewer or listener in the proper way. Its difficult because when something is too emotionally engaging it can feel manipulative. If its too rationally engaging then it can feel cold. Its about the balance between the two and based purely on my life experience, Liberals are alot more likely to find that balance.

Leave a comment