Sometimes, indeed most of the time, a cigar is just a cigar.
So it is with the poster now gracing the walls of various buildings in Los Angeles showing Barack Obama made up to resemble Heath Ledger’s “Joker” in “The Dark Knight” with the tagline: socialist.
To a rational person the implications are pretty clear. First, that Obama played the role of The Joker in the 2008 Democrat primary and the general election by fooling a substantial number of Americans into believing he would not do all those things he had supported before starting his presidential run. Second, that Obama’s policies are socialist.
Now one could take exception to the use of The Joker imagery here. The Joker, as far as I know, was never elected president, though a credible case can be made for saying that he served two terms beginning in 1993, and one could say that the way Obama was able to convince people that he really didn’t adhere to his own previously stated positions is much closer to the example of Adolph Hitler and “Mein Kampf” than it is to any part of the The Joker’s history. It is also hard to believe that anyone could object to the labeling of Obama’s politics, now or when he was a “community organizer,” as socialist and do so with a straight face while reading a dictionary.
What one really can’t do with a straight face is to label this poster as racist. That doesn’t mean that effort isn’t being put into doing so. Take a column by Philip Kennicott in today’s Washington Post as an example with the nuanced headline Obama as The Joker: Racial Fear’s Ugly Face:
So why the anonymity? Perhaps because the poster is ultimately a racially charged image. 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.
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. Scientific studies, which demonstrate the social consequences of living in neighborhoods with high rates of crime, get processed and misinterpreted in the popular unconscious, underscoring the idea. Violence breeds violence.
It is an ugly idea, operating covertly in that gray area that is always supposed to be opened up to honest examination whenever America has one of its “we need to talk this through” episodes. But it lingers, unspoken but powerful, leaving all too many people with the sense that exposure to crime creates an ineluctable propensity to crime.
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. The charge of socialism is secondary to the basic message that Obama can’t be trusted, not because he is a politician, but because he’s black.
This is really silly on so many levels that one hardly knows were to start. As Kennicott managed to notice both Heath Ledger and The Joker is white. Maybe Kennicott lives in a different area of DC than I did but I don’t recall any measurable number of young black men wandering the streets made up like Marcel Marceau or a Cirque du Soleil clown. In my neighborhood, Shaw-Cardozo, you weren’t given a lot of respect if you walked around in pancake makeup.
The idea that this poster is going to fire up some latent stereotype of Obama as a volatile and dangerous black man is a notion so stupid that Kennicott, or his editors if they still employ such persons at the Washington Post, should have been embarrassed to write it.
The left is upset about the poster because they perceive it to be effective. It is an image that is very much a part of the culture of the younger demographic, a demographic that is perceived to have been critical to Obama’s win in 2008, and they can’t allow the image to circulate unchecked. To make the image unacceptable they’ve trotted out the same tactic they have used since Obama was an underdog contender for the Democrat presidential nomination: if you oppose Obama you are a racist.
We’ve seen this type of dishonest reaction before when then NY Post ran a cartoon based on the shooting of a deranged chimp, not a deranged politician, as a criticism of the “economic stimulus” plan which resulted in the tax payers owning various banks, insurance companies, and auto manufacturers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the government owning formerly private businesses is socialist. I don’t want Lanny Davis investigating me.
Today, HuffPo runs another piece in which we find out that it is racist to oppose Obama’s nationalization of health care.
The Administration and its supporters want things both ways. They want to be able to criticize others with impunity (like the police who acted “stupidly”) and they don’t want any criticism of their own actions and, perhaps more importantly, motives. Unfortunately, using race baiting as a political bludgeon is a tried and true tactic of the left and no one has used the tactic more deftly than the current president. If he is lampooned, it is because he is black and you are a racist. If it is pointed out that he is the singularly most unaccomplished man to ever win the presidency, it is because he’s black an you’re a racist. If you think his policies have done more to destroy the wealth of Americans than those of any other president, it is because he’s black and you are a racist. He wears baggy jeans and throws a baseball like a little girl? You got it. He’s black and I’m a racist.
As the economic destruction wrought by the alleged stimulus bill becomes more clear in the coming months and years and as the much vaunted health care reform craters, you will find the Administration running this one play with monotonous regularity. If you don’t support Obama it is because he’s black and you are a racist.