These posters of Barack Obama, right, have been the “talk of the blogosphere” across the pond this week–at least according to the Washington Post. Via Reason mag my attention was drawn to the WashPo article which criticises the posters somewhat strangely:
“…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”
Umm … you what?
If you’ll excuse a personal anecdote, this episode reminds me of a period in my somewhat class confused upbringing during which I attended a school that was tangibly more salubrious than the estate on which I was living. Teenage Julian therefore enjoyed an amusing contrast between the middle class during the day, and the working class at evenings and weekends.
One of the most notable distinctions between the two micro-cultures regarded race. At school, it was the most constant and sensitive issue, permanently on everyone’s minds. Our schoolboy mouths may have been filthier than a sewer rat, but no insult or charge carried more strength than “racist.” In short, we couldn’t shut up about it. Anyone who slipped off the politically correct line was immediately castigated.
Constrasting with this near-obsession was the environment on the estate, which I’d estimate was, to use ethnic generalisations, about 60 per cent black and 40 per cent white. Everyone was mingled, and race simply wasn’t an issue. That’s not to say it was ignored – in a sense our race defined each of us, but this was simply accepted, and was something anyone might casually refer to whenever they liked. I remember on one occasion we had a Black v White football game, just because it was the easiest way to pick sides. It wasn’t at all acrimonious, there was no underlying tension, no angst, no analysis … no issue. It just was.
So what makes writing, journalistic types so desperate to use strangely pseudo-intellectual analyses to point to racism? Why the obsession? Guilt?
The poster is undoubtedly disrespectful to the President (not that this is a bad thing in itself). The white face paint does, arguably, hint at racist undertones (especially as the link between the Joker and Obama’s alleged socialist revolution is tenuous to say the least), and perhaps for that reason the poster makes one feel a tad uncomfortable.
But to analyse the image in Kennicott’s manner is, well, odd. However, it’s also typical of such allegedly high-brow analyses of cultural events in publications like the WashPo, and in race-obsessed circles in the USA.
Almost as typical, you might say, as an English person turning everything into an entirely fruitless debate about “class.”
Guilty as charged, your Honour.