Artist of Obama “Joker” Poster Image Identified — and He’s Not a Conservative

By Lindsey Ellerson

Aug 18, 2009 11:07am

The Los Angeles Times tracked down the artist of the unflattering depiction of President Obama as The Joker from The Dark Knight and he may not be whom you pictured. Firas Alkhateeb, a 20-year-old senior history major at the University of Illinois, took a TIME cover photo of the President and with Adobe's Photoshop software crafted the grim image. Two days before President Obama's inauguration, Alkhateeb uploaded the photo and put it on his Flickr site. Someone else downloaded the image, removed the references to TIME, added the word "socialism," and created a poster that has appeared all over the country. "After Obama was elected, you had all of these people who basically saw him as the second coming of Christ," Alkhateeb told the Times. "From my perspective, there wasn't much substance to him." Alkhateeb clearly didn't care much for President Obama appointing Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff. "Emanuel is a fervent anti-Islam voice in Washington," he wrote on his Flickr page. "A Zionist, he takes a hard line stance against the Palestinian cause, and shows a clear anti-Muslim racism. Besides that, he is the embodiment of 'political partisanship' that Obama was supposedly going to change!" He wrote: "Note: I am neither Democrat nor Republican, Conservative nor Liberal, didn't support Obama or McCain. I just call it like I see it." Alkhateeb's politics are clearly not that of the conservative Republicans who have embraced the image he created. He told the Times that the "Socialist" label on the posters "doesn't make any sense to me at all. To accuse him of being a socialist is really … immature. First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?" Writing in the Washington Post, Philip Kennicott suggested that there was something racist about depicting the president as The Joker. "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," Kennicott wrote. "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." Kennicott called the image a "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….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." -jpt

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