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Obama as The Joker: Racial Fear's Ugly Face

By Philip Kennicott
Between Jack Nicholson's 1989 portrayal of the Joker in "Batman" and Heath Ledger's 2008 characterization in "The Dark Knight," something sinister happened to the villain's iconic makeup. What had been a mask, with the clearly delineated lines of a carnival character, became simply war paint, and not very well applied.

The visual change signaled a change in the Joker's inner mechanism. Nicholson's dandified virtuoso of violence was replaced by a darker, more unpredictable and psychotic figure. What had been a caricature became more real and threatening. An urbane mocker of civilized values became simply a deformed product of urban violence.

It is the latter makeup job that has been superimposed over the face of President Obama in an anonymous Los Angeles poster campaign that is now the talk of the blogosphere, the airwaves and the 24/7 hermeneutical speculations of cable television. The image, which appears above the word "socialism," delights and distresses people roughly on the lines of the usual political cleavage, with wide agreement that the as-yet-unrevealed artist certainly intends it to be disrespectful. But there is little consensus about whether it is effective as political messagemaking.

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Posted at 9:17 AM ET on Aug 6, 2009  | Category:  The Hidden Campaign
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Whenever bigots are in danger of being called out on their bigotry, JakeD will be there to help (the bigots that is).

Posted by: rooster54 | August 7, 2009 4:53 PM

newagent99 said it better than I did. Happy Friday, Obamaniacs.

Posted by: JakeD | August 7, 2009 12:01 PM

Yesterdays thread was appealing to racists but proclaiming innocence from racism. JakeD what is the dissemblance for the right wing cause today?

Posted by: Gator-ron | August 7, 2009 10:57 AM

Two statements, one of them true. Pretty good for you.

Posted by: nodebris | August 7, 2009 10:40 AM

You're not my friend, and this poster is not blatant racial imagery.

Posted by: JakeD | August 7, 2009 2:57 AM

Wow. Big surprise. Who's the biggest defender of blatant GOP racist imagery? JakeD, step up and take a bow. And people accuse you of racism! Imagine!

Ah, few are willing to tread where you rush in, my friend.

Posted by: nodebris | August 6, 2009 10:51 PM

Gator-ron.
Barrack the magic negro was racist and disgusting.
a mock up of Obama as the joker is neither.
stop seeing racism in everything. You're crying wolf too often

"Most criticisms of Obama are not racist, at least until the last few weeks. Apparently Republicans feel that racism will work for them and since they stand for nothing as far as policy is concerned they feel that racism will work."

Posted by: Gator-ron | August 6, 2009 10:31 PM

Can't stay long but just dropped back in to see if the conversation was evolving. Disappointed. God, JakeD, I answered your question a long time ago. Go back and look. You aren't giving the impression of being a very rigorous investigator!

Hey Gator-ron, wouldn't someone have to be at least somewhat funny to warrant a comparison to the Joker? Cheney never made me laugh - just made me shudder...

Posted by: gloriamundi | August 6, 2009 5:44 PM

Which is why I don't waste my time asking you questions any more. Thanks for the reminder, Gator-ron.

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 5:05 PM

With regard to characterizations I tend to refrain from them be they positive or negative. Characterizations make for good politics but tend to be inaccurate.

GWB was not the Joker anyway, Cheney was. Just kidding!

Posted by: Gator-ron | August 6, 2009 4:58 PM

Well, you still haven't answered whether "pResident" is racial imagery or not. It wasn't when it was used against GWB.

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 4:33 PM

OK, I'll check that out. I think for now this thread needs to get back to discussing the difference between racist and not-racist imagery.

Posted by: gloriamundi | August 6, 2009 4:29 PM

Philip J. Berg is a DEMOCRAT, and a former deputy attorney general for Pennsylvania.

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 4:28 PM

No, plenty of INDEPENDENTS have doubts too (Alan Keyes was a FORMER Republican, if that's what you mean). Here's the link to the statement by Obama's grandma:

http://www.wnd.com/index.php?pageId=78931

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 4:26 PM

I've read at least a dozen articles on the birther phenom and never saw that anywhere. You would think that if there was any relevance to that that there would have been something like a Grand Jury investigation. I'll look into it, but for the moment I just can't buy it. The birther phenom just sounds like racist sour grapes.

So, if you're not a repub, what is your affiliation? You do know that the birther movement is pretty much entirely associated with repubs, don't you?

Posted by: gloriamundi | August 6, 2009 4:21 PM

Who said "nobody has any evidence that he wasn't born in the U.S."? As I understand it, his relatives (including his paternal grandmother) have stated he was born in Kenya. Where I come from (Stanford Law School), that's called direct EYEWITNESS evidence.

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 4:13 PM

Man, if nobody has any evidence that he wasn't born in the U.S. and you don't even believe he wasn't born in the U.S., then why does he have to prove it?

Posted by: gloriamundi | August 6, 2009 4:03 PM

Not at all. It wouldn't cost Obama anything to direct the State of Hawaii to allow his LONG FORM birth certificate to be released. That's the only proof I am seeking.

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 3:58 PM

Yeah JakeD, your clarity, or lack thereof, is overwhelming. According to you, calling Obama "pResident" "makes sense if he is not a natural-born citizen" but you "do not believe that 'Obama was not born in the U.S.'" and yet you want proof that he was born in the U.S., as if he has anywhere near the money, power, and connections to falsify something so fundamental and as if an 8 month pregnant woman would schlep herself out of school in Hawaii to go have her baby in Kenya! Is this what it looks like inside the convoluted mind of a racist?

Posted by: gloriamundi | August 6, 2009 3:55 PM

Cheney and Bush in tar and feathers - now THAT"S FUNNY!

Posted by: gloriamundi | August 6, 2009 3:33 PM

Just to be clear, however, "pResident" Obama is not a racial slur AND makes sense if he is not a natural-born citizen.

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 3:32 PM

Oh, by all means, newagent99, put Obama in a top hat! If you don't know that the overwhelming number of people would see that as a reference to Abraham Lincoln, and thus, a positive association for African-Americans, you just don't understand much about symbolism!

If people can't understand how putting the first black president in "white face" could be offensive to black people, many of whom still remember the offensive white actors in "black face" doing minstrel shows, I really doubt if anyone can explain it to you or people of your ilk.

Obama on a rope is not funny. Obama as an ape is not funny. Obama in white face is not funny. Only stupid people laugh at the subjugation of innocent people.

Posted by: gloriamundi | August 6, 2009 3:27 PM

For the record, I do not believe that "Obama was not born in the U.S." since I wasn't there -- my questions in that regard have to do with him not PROVING that he was in fact born in the U.S. -- you may not want to see any distinction between those two positions, but that's certainly not my fault.

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 3:20 PM

Gator-ron.

Barrack the magic negro was racist and disgusting.

a mock up of Obama as the joker is neither.

stop seeing racism in everything. You're crying wolf too often

Posted by: newagent99 | August 6, 2009 3:03 PM

Gator-ron:

Assuming that someone who is not a "racist" asks you if it was okay to depict GWB as the JOKER, a chimp, the devil, or a vampire, what would your answer be?

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 3:00 PM

JakeD

That answered the question he asked. Dishonest people are not capable of legitimate dissent. Racists are by definition not being rational. That is all too complicated for you who believes that Obama was not born in the US and is probably an indicator that you are a closet racist.

Go whine somewhere else about how people do not take racists as seriously as they ought to.

Posted by: Gator-ron | August 6, 2009 2:36 PM

JakeD..

"reverse black face"

that's a stretch.
If he was mocked in a top hat , would peole complain it was "Mr. Bo Jangles"?


but thanks for the explaining...
bush was a chimp, a skull, an empty suit, a gladiator helmet.
Politico's are mocked.

(though Barack the Magic Negro was disgusting)

Posted by: newagent99 | August 6, 2009 2:33 PM

newagent99:

I has something to do with REVERSE "black face" (see below) and a reference to "urban" Joker played by Heath Ledger rather than the jovial Joker played by Jack Nicholson. Seriously.

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 2:26 PM

why is this makeup tagged as "racist"?

Could someone explain that?

Posted by: newagent99 | August 6, 2009 2:19 PM

I was saying "BYE BYE" for YOU to leave, and I am not a Republican (talk about taking things out of context). "pResident" makes sense if Obama is not a natural-born citizen.

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 2:15 PM

That's it, JakeD, keep taking stuff out of context - ala repub! Smart people know what I meant. At least you had the sense to leave before staining your party further.

Posted by: gloriamundi | August 6, 2009 2:10 PM

Maybe that was some other "gloriamundi" who asked:

"Can y'all come up with a parody of Obama that isn't racist and that also makes sense?"

BYE BYE!

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 2:00 PM

JakeD - I didn't say it was racist, I said it didn't make sense because it applies to Bush, not Obama. Please don't put your words, or anything else of yours, in my mouth.

Why am I trying to reason with a birther? Just keep talking. You discredit yourself and repubs in general without me having to say a word.

Posted by: gloriamundi | August 6, 2009 1:57 PM

gloriamundi:

My "parody" of Obama isn't racist. It also makes sense because that's what the LEFT called Bush after the 2000 election was "stolen" (at least GWB was actually born in the United States ; )

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 1:46 PM

It's amazing how naive racists get when they are caught.

Posted by: nodebris | August 6, 2009 1:02 PM

OK JakeD -"pResident"? You mean like a guy who mostly just lives at the white house -"Resident" - rather than work there because he takes so many vacations, and "p" because he is an advocate of Reagan's now debunked "trickle down theory"? Can y'all come up with a parody of Obama that isn't racist and that also makes sense? I got another one for you. Obama is like a slim tan band-aid on a woman who is in intensive care after being lied to, exploited, raped and battered for 8 years. Do you like that one?

Posted by: gloriamundi | August 6, 2009 12:50 PM

The "PSYCHOTIC WING" of the "RABID RIGHT", are working overtime today.
"Another reason to doubt the "SANITY", of anyone claiming to be a RATPUBLICAN." All these GOD-FEARING CHRISTIANS, are just loking for a reason "KILL" somebody.(HYPOCIRTES)

Posted by: austininc4 | August 6, 2009 12:48 PM

You can usually tell which people have their heads up their arses, because their comments tend to stink!

Posted by: gloriamundi | August 6, 2009 12:36 PM

Oh please, now we are putting Obama in "white face" as a racial putdown?! Come on! I might have conceded the point on a monkey, but REVERSE black face is a real stretch. How about this, can I still call him "pResident" Obama?

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 12:22 PM

I have seen so many comments on so many articles asking why it was OK to make parodies of Bush as a monkey but not OK to apply the monkey parody to Obama. I would bet that most, if not all, of the people making those comments were white. I'm white, BTW, but I'm an educated and empathetic person. If they really want to know why, they need to read up on African-American history. I don't think they really want to know why - I think they are asking the question rhetorically. But I would like to answer the question anyway for the few among them who are capable of re-evaluation. Racists historically equated blacks with monkeys as a way to "prove" that blacks were inferior to whites. A similar dynamic is at play regarding these images of Obama as the Joker. White actors and musicians historically wore "black face" as a way to make fun of African-Americans and perpetuate negative stereotypes about them, and, in light of that, putting Obama in "white face" implies that he is a black man masquerading as a white man. Consciously using or advocating the use of such images is obviously racism, but I also feel that it is racist to do so without any knowledge of the historical racist phenomena the images evoke. To me, that ignorance indicates an unwillingness to accept African-American history as a part of American history, and that is racist. If you want to make fun of Obama without being a racist, use a racially neutral image. I'll even hand you one, since you maintain that you don't know the difference between an image that is racially charged and one that isn't. If you are hell-bent on disparaging him, you could show him as Mad Magazine's goofy mascot Alfred E. Newman, since both have ears that stick out. Then again, aside from the ears, G W Bush bore a much stronger resemblance to Newman, both in terms of face and demeanor, than Obama ever could!

Posted by: gloriamundi | August 6, 2009 12:17 PM

Did the WaPo or left complain when George W. Bush was portrayed in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY?

http://newmatilda.com/files/images/Bush-the-Joker003.jpg

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 12:03 PM

No, Gator-ron, that does not answer the question: "How about legitimate dissent, like when Bush was depicted as the JOKER, a chimp, the devil, or a vampire - that was ok?"

Posted by: JakeD | August 6, 2009 12:01 PM

Most criticisms of Obama are not racist, at least until the last few weeks. Apparently Republicans feel that racism will work for them and since they stand for nothing as far as policy is concerned they feel that racism will work.

Does that answer your question, pfriedl?

Posted by: Gator-ron | August 6, 2009 11:25 AM

Why is it that ANY criticism of Obama is labeled racist? How about legitimate dissent, like when Bush was depicted as the joker, a chimp, the devil, or a vampire - that was ok?

The mask is slipping, and it's driving the liberals crazy as Obama's ratings slip below 50% (that's probably racist as well). I hope this keeps going viral - there are already stickers and shirts all over the net: www.cafepress.com/joker_obama

Posted by: pfriedl | August 6, 2009 11:20 AM

Is this kind of Third Reich- like fear mongering imagery any surprise when the extreme right has found a way to hijack publicly-funded community organizations to advance a an ideologically repressive system of extrajudicial targeting and punishment -- as naive liberals and centrists insist that what happened in Nazi Germany "can't happen here"? See:

http://nowpublic.com/world/gestapo-usa-govt-funded-vigilante-network-terrorizes-america

OR http://NowPublic.com/scrivener RE: "GESTAPO USA"

Posted by: scrivener50 | August 6, 2009 9:42 AM

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