August 6, 2009

Heath Ledger: America's First Black Joker

Hatched by Dafydd

The Washington Post has published a column discussing the new (and still anonymous) poster of President Barack H. Obama:

Obama Joker -- small

I was going to fisk this fishy column by Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post; but I discovered that someone had already beaten me to it: a fellow named -- Philip Kennicott. The column is self-fisking; one need only quote a few brief passages. I shall toss in but a bon mot or deux -- less destructo-beam, more laser pointer. So without further vamping, allons!

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.

Er, this would be the same Joker who once, in the DC comic book, murdered members of a television audience using floating bombs -- in the shape of newborn babies... right? Isn't the Heath Ledger Joker from The Dark Knight in fact much closer to the original than the precious performance by Uncle Jack?

The new Obama poster has two basic thrusts. Obama is a socialist, or a crypto-socialist. And Obama is somehow like the Joker, unpredictable and dangerous. But joining these two messages together yields more questions and contradictions than good poster art can sustain. The Joker is violent and dangerous, but a socialist?

Violent and dangerous -- and yet a socialist. What oxymorons we must all be!

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.

Help me to understand: The whiteface makeup worn by a white actor depicting a white psychopath is ultimately a racist, anti-black image? Why, because it's put on the face of the President of the United States -- who happens to be black?

Is Kennicott saying what I think he's saying -- that no one would be posting this poster on his blog -- in fact, the anonymous artist would never have created this image in the first place -- had Barack Obama been white?

Is Philip Kennicott related to Doctor Professor Henry Louis Gates, jr.?

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.

Okay -- Ledger is white, but he's really black.

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.

Okay -- ethnic culture has no real relation to crime; it's pure coincidence based upon geography.

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.

Okay -- "I can hear the cuckoo singing in the cuckooberry tree..."

So in addition to clinging to our guns and our religion and attending town-hall meetings while wearing Brooks Brothers suits with swastika accessories, we're also racists for equating socialism with urban violence. Ooh-la-la, quel dommage!

Any possibility that perhaps the Post was punked?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 6, 2009, at the time of 6:38 PM

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The following hissed in response by: nk

Any criticism of Obama or any opposition to his policies whims is racist.

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 7, 2009 5:35 AM

The following hissed in response by: nk

Moreover, it is racist to deny a charge of racism. It saddens to me to say this, Dafydd, because I have known you for a long time, but this is a racist post.

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 7, 2009 5:38 AM

The following hissed in response by: BD

Socialism is the product being sold by the pretty, slick, well-spoken Obama.

The message of the poster is "No matter how pretty, slick & well-spoken the salesman, this is what you get by embracing socialism."

It really isn't that hard to understand - - - seems to me there are a lot of deliberately obtuse people out there.

The above hissed in response by: BD [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 7, 2009 11:08 AM

The following hissed in response by: wtanksleyjr

"Why so socialist?" wasn't a clever poster, but MAN was it effective. And of course I have to agree that the column was NUTS, as do even most of the liberals on Volokh.


The above hissed in response by: wtanksleyjr [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 7, 2009 12:55 PM

The following hissed in response by: BlueNight

It's amazing that it hasn't been two weeks since the Beer Summit, and already America's racial healing is right on track.

Why, posters of the Prez in whiteface show up all over LA, and nobody thinks it's a racial smear! Wait, that's all anyone says?

Well, at least we can still disagree with President Obama's health care plan without the rediculous charge of racism. What's that? Paul Krugman made that very charge?

At least nobody's trying to muzzle our free speech. Wait, the President said WHAT?!?

I guess I shouldn't be doing a lot of talking.

The above hissed in response by: BlueNight [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 7, 2009 10:32 PM

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