Monday, December 7, 2009

Understanding Analogies

I see it everywhere. The famous face of America's first black president, Barack Obama, with the grotesque scars and facepaint of The Joker (as depicted by Heath Ledger in the 2008 soon-to-be-classic The Dark Knight) transposed onto his own features. Beneath that image there is a single word: Socialist.

Now I have spent many blog articles explaining, in great detail, just why Barack Obama isn't a socialist, so I see no need to repeat myself here. Instead I want to point out why, even if Barack Obama WAS a socialist, that poster remains one of the most astonishingly stupid cartoons in the history of American politics.

First, some Political Satire 101: When you connect one prominent figure with another well-known individual (real or fictional), you presumably do so for the purpose of establishing an analogy, and an analogy is... well, let me turn to for the definition:


a similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based

Of course, the common thread linking Heath Ledger's Joker and Barack Obama - apart from the fact that they dominated the year 2008 in their various media - is a bit hard to make out on one's own. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), the creator of the Obama/Joker poster does that for us when he includes the word "Socialist" beneath the picture.

And this is where we have a problem. Because, you see, The Joker was not a Socialist. Not in the Christopher Nolan movie. Not in the Tim Burton movie. Not in the campy television show. Not in the original Bob Kane comic books. Not in the Frank Miller re-imagining. Not anywhere. Saying that Barack Obama is a Socialist and thus like The Joker makes about as much sense as saying that David Duke is a KKK-member and thus like Scrappy-Doo. Except, of course, that Obama is not actually a Socialist.

Yet if this tiny detail doesn't quell your desire to compare Obama to a Socialist, you needn't lose heart. There are plenty of individuals to whom you can compare him much more effectively. Why not brand Obama's features with the attributes of Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin, or... well heck, if you want to plumb the depths of historical infamy, why not Joseph Stalin? At least when the heinous zealots who call Obama a Nazi paint a tiny little mustache on him, they are at least making the correct visual connection.

I could end this article here, but I want to go one step further and ask the obvious question: Considering that there is no logical connection between The Joker and Socialism, why did the artist behind this painting choose to use The Joker as the archtype to attach to Obama's face (I know that the identity of the "artist" has been revealed, but I don't wish to dignify him by including his name - or, for that matter, an image of his opus - on this website)? He had a luxury of recognizable villains from which to choose, including not just relevant characters like Marx and Stalin, but a veritable plethora of complete non sequiturs (for which he presumably has a preference). Why not don Obama in a shiny lime mask and make him the Green Goblin, or slap a giant orange eye over his face and depict him as Sauron? Heck, you could even make a politically pertinent out of some of the otherwise out-of-left-field comparisons - affix bolts to his neck and put him in stitches, then claim he's a Frankenstein's monster made from liberal interest groups, or shove fangs in his mouth and have him being a blood-sucking Dracula draining taxpayers of their hard-earned money! I wouldn't agree with any of those political messages, but at least they would be coherent.

I do not know the person who chose this poster, nor do I associate with anyone who wishes to champion it; as such, I cannot speak authoritatively on their deeper motives for selecting this image. That said, it doesn't escape me that, of all the major fictional villains well-known to the American public, The Joker is the only one who wears white make-up. By comparing Obama to The Joker, these yahoos were thus given the opportunity to degrade him racially by putting him in white face. To me, the only motive that actually makes sense here is to humiliate him through the use of racism.

Of course, I could be wrong. I don't claim to have infallible mental faculties. What small comfort I have comes from knowing that at least I can construct a working analogy.

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