In today’s Washington Post, Philip Kennicott has an op-ed piece about the Obama-as-Joker poster. The first few paragraphs are reasonably well-crafted, arguing that the message of the poster seems to be somewhat confused (no argument here), and that as artwork goes it doesn’t match up to the famous Obama HOPE poster (I was unaware there was a competition, but still no argument).
But then he crosses a bridge way, way too far:
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.
Superimpose that idea, through the Joker’s makeup, onto Obama’s face, and you have subtly coded, highly effective racial and political argument. Forget socialism, this poster is another attempt to accomplish an association between Obama and the unpredictable, seeming danger of urban life. It is another effort to establish what failed to jell in the debate about Obama’s association with Chicago radical William Ayers and the controversy over the racially charged sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
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 so mind-blowingly idiotic I really don’t even know where to begin, or even if I should bother. The Joker’s makeup was urban? The Batman franchise dramatizes “fear of the urban world?” The Hawaiian-born, Harvard Law student, brilliant orator, U.S. Senator, and distinguished-looking President reminds us all of the inner city? The notion that even though both Heath Ledger and The Joker were white, they really reflected the “typology” of black people? Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking while I sat in the theater. My God, it’s like Kennicott was sitting next to me! The fact that earlier in the piece he dismisses a similar (though much, much more sinister) portrayal in Vanity Fair of George W. Bush as the Joker by saying that the image played into a view of Bush popular among his detractors? He suggests that a poster playing into the ideas of Obama’s critics would represent “The Manchurian Candidate.”
Then there’s this gem (let’s call it the Hope And Change Diamond of Dopiness: “Urban blacks — the thinking goes — don’t just live in dangerous neighborhoods, they carry that danger with them like a virus.” Kennicott doesn’t mention who is doing this thinking, of course. My guess is that he means any anti-Obama folks out there. You know them: The well-dressed mob of agitators who won’t just bend over and spread ’em for Daddy Government. He should also be aware that if crime is a disease, we know what the cure is.
I’ll let the content of the piece speak for itself. The C-level grad student psychoanalyzing of a movie based on a cartoon and the linkage of the movie to some sort of repressed Fear Of A Black Planet is so far removed from anything remotely resembling cogent analysis that I find myself at a loss for words. Philip Kennicott seems to have missed his calling. With a mind as nimble as his, he should be writing bumper stickers.