A poster featuring a Joker like modification of Obama’s face has been appearing in Los Angeles and on the internet. In addition to the face, the poster has the word “socialism.” As is to be expected, Rush Limbaugh has also weighed in on this, prompting responses from various bloggers.
Apparently, some folks are calling this a racist attack. However, there seems to be nothing about the poster that clearly seems racist. Unless, of course, any sort of critical response to a black person is automatically racist. That is, of course, absurd. After all, to say that any criticism of a black person is racist would seem to entail that there can never be an warranted criticism of what a black person thinks or does. For example, this would make an argument between a black and white philosopher over something like the nature of universals a racist act. After all, the white professor would be critical of the view he disagreed with.
Naturally, it can be pointed out that the Joker poster is not on par with a bit of philosophical argumentation. After all, it is a fairly harsh image that seems to be trying to convey the idea that Obama is on par with the Joker. That is, a super villain out toburn the world.
True, this is a rather harsh and hyperbolic image. The idea that it seems to be intended to convey does not seem to be a fair one, hence it can also be regarded as unwarranted in addition to being extreme.
However, it does not seem to be racist. After all, Obama is being compared to the Joker and this has no racial baggage at all. While the Joker is white (and actually the color white in classic Batman), there are no racial connections associated with the Joker-at least as far as my memory of Batman movies and comics goes. The poster does not seem to be attacking any aspect of Obama’s race. Rather, it seems to be an attack on what the creator takes to be Obama’s socialist plans.
Now, it could be said that it is racist because Obama is being presented in “whiteface.” However, I suspect that the creator of the poster picked the Joker because he is a convenient symbol of destruction and chaos, which is what some folks think of Obama. This is, I believe, no more racist than Jon Stewart constantly casting Dick Cheney as Darth Vadar.
Rush Limbaugh got into the game by asserting that the Joker thing fits Obama because Obama admits to wearing a mask. Rush says:
Obama has admitted to wearing masks. In “Dreams from My Father”: (paraphrasing) “It was usually an effective tactic, another one of those tricks I had learned. People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved, such a pleasant surprise to find a well mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.” This is his tactic for fooling white people. This is the mask.
In terms of assessing this, there are a couple points worth considering. First, there is a huge leap from the fact that Obama learned to act in ways that did not scare white folks to the claim that Obama is like the Joker. After all, the Joker acts in ways calculated to create fear in people. Second, while Obama “wore masks”, it is also true that everyone seems to do this. We have a mask for work, a mask for our grandparents, a mask for our drinking buddies, a mask for our spouse, and so on. The world, it has often been argued, almost never sees a person’s true self. As such, if Obama is thus like the Joker, then we all are. Third, the Joker doesn’t wear a mask. The classic Joker had his skin and hair color changed due to a swim through chemicals. The latest Joker seems to just wear makeup (or maybe not-the movie does not make it clear).
So, my view is that the poster is not itself racist and Obama is not the Joker, or even Joker like.