Is there a racial undertone to the “Barack Obama as Joker” agitprop going around? Philip Kennicott with the Washington Post seems to think so.
(T)he 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.
Still, not everyone, like The Guardian’s Lola Adesioye sees what the big deal is.
Let’s take the accusation of racism. I believe that the president’s race means that there is a need for cultural sensitivity in how people talk about and depict him. And there is no doubt that some other cartoons and pictures have been offensive or highly questionable. However, there is also a need to avoid being overly sensitive at every single joke or piece of satire that comes Obama’s way, particularly those that are in contrast to one’s own beliefs about the president. Is it simply too easy to call something anti-Obama “racist” just because one doesn’t agree with it?
Where do you fall? I tend to agree more with Adesioye in that it’s just a caricature. I find it more silly than offensive and politicians are regularly drawn in unflattering fashion. But if you do think the illustration is racially tinged liked Kennicott and dangerous, I’d love to hear your argument below.