Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Photoshop Reflections in the Arena of Politics

If I had tech savvy, I'd create a program where one could turn anyone using the Photoshop tools into the Joker from the most recent Batman movie. Then I'd use it on Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, (okay, that might not make much effect), on Barney Frank, on Ahmadinejad, on Kim Yong-il, on Harry Reid, on George W. Bush (I know, it's been done), on Michael Steele, on Bill Clinton, on Hillary, on Al Gore and on Ronald Reagan (I think this was done too by the way). I figure the various images would be like a political Rorschach. One's ideology would determine if the picture was sexist or homophobic or scathing political commentary or dangerous or stupid or racist or simply a mask placed on a face.


There's this poster of the President as the Joker. Some are claiming racism because at a low point in the history of our country, "black face" was wrongfully considered entertainment. But does the mere use of the President's face in a poster to protest, using the Joker as a means of expression constitute the height of insensitivity? I'll give that it does not reveal the height of creativity.

The President has been rendered in art in messianic and biblical and mythological terms. He's been Superman, Jesus and Moses, the heir to the Kennedy legacy, he's been given a halo and painted as the ressurected Christ. These too, I would argue are offensive even as they praise, because they pair theological and spiritual values with political ones. The President is African American. The combination makes him historic, but by no means sacred or holy or even just super powered.

I also object to the spotlight and website and television program dedicated to the 86,400 seconds of every day for the four years of his presidency. None of us are seen properly by either being portrayed as bigger than life or less than human. This is true of the leaders put under the microscope or enlarged to IMAX size, and of those who voted for and against. I believe there ought to be access but that does not require absolute intimacy on the trivial.

But back to the poster and those who see racism in its creation, promotion and existence. Ascribing hate to the motives of anyone, even someone we consider unsavory, involves making a judgment about character, about the state of the soul we judge and subsequently condemn. Condemning is easy, it allows us to ignore anything at all from that source, even legitimate criticisms and questions.

Is the poster of the President as the Joker offensive? I didn't think so at first glance because I'm something of a nerd and so my first association is not "White face" but "Comics, the Joker."

Can I see why some would find it offensive? Upon reflection, sure.

Do I think it should be banned because it is offensive? No.

Why? Because our country celebrates free speech. We have the right to satirize, to criticize, praise or mock our leaders and our government with our words, with satire, with art, with music, with every capacity we have at our disposal. I didn't care much for all the vitriol at Sarah Palin and her family, but I understood that when you sign up for being in the public square, you should expect to get bloodied. Still, it is a rough business. You get posters and jokes and paintings that seem more about "being mean" than content.

But I know that good satire reveals the society to itself. Bad satire reveals the author to the world. Great satire does both. I would argue this is an attempt at political satire but that it lacks depth. There's no there there.


Because the Joker was not a socialist but an anarchist,so the analogy doesn't hold. Further, we may disagree about the finances, about foreign policy, about health care, about abortion, about any myriad of topics one wants to discuss, but plastering a poster that says "Socialism" beneath it is to me as uninteresting as a contribution to the national discussion as the posters that say "Hope." These aren't discussions, they're slogans. Yeah! Boo! Nay! Huzzah! This is what these pictures reduce our national discussion to, agree or disagree. That's it.

One always hopes no matter what our political stripe, that the other side will be merciful. We always hope the other side will play fair, and frequently, we don't hold our own side accountable because the other side didn't either. It's hard not to want that eye for an eye. It's also hard to surrender any symbol or method of attack in the arena of ideas that shows signs of being effective. Ideology may be a choice of the heart and mind, but politics is about one thing, just win baby.

This is why the gift of political free speech is so very precious. Even so, it will be abused. Those who enter politics must recognize they and their families will be excoriated by those who do not love their way of thinking or them. This is why public office is something of a vocation. One may opt to enter for love of power or influence or altruistic or utopian or civic minded idealism, but it still involves sacrifice even if the reasons for entering or staying are less than noble.

And while politics is all about winning, policy making in the traditional sense, is about compromise. I see very little in any of the bodies of our Government interested in crafting any bills that will garner broad public support and be just to all while addressing very real social ills. There may be some out there trying, but at the very least, they are not getting very far while we spend all our energies calling the other side right or left wingnuts, racists or kool-aid drinkers.

I've never met anyone who had their heart or mind moved on a subject of any import because of an insult. Nor have I ever seen effective policy crafted by virtue of clever snarky remarks. Photoshopping our opponents to make the valued contributions disappear, or our heros to erase the faults does a disservice to the entire country and to the individuals affected by our airbrushing of ideas and those who hold them dear.

National dialogue on real issues needs to happen. There are dozens of issues that matter, like race, like abortion, like education, health care, the economy, the debt, the wars abroad, national security, the housing market, wallstreet, social security and immigration to name just a few. What we want our nation to be in the world won't happen as long as long knives, internet wolves and photoshoppers of the sound bite and kodak moments are used on every occasion whenever any advancement of any argument garners traction.

This is not a call for people to shut up and sit down, it is a call to our leaders to recognize that there are 350 million people in this nation and all of us matter, all of us are affected by what is done. We're all Americans, the tired, the poor, the unwashed and the unwanted, the crunchy con, the liberal activist, the nascar dad, the hockey mom, the single gen X'er and the New Yorker. McDonalds eaters and vegans, it doesn't matter what clever lable is crafted to create a subset of us for easy designation, none of us deserve to be given no more than a pat on the head if we're quiet, and a patronizing sneer if we're not, regardless of our political orientation.

True governing is a messy job if done well that involves allowing for those blemishes, for those flaws, for the missteps and the benefit of the doubt, the belief in good faith, in the hearts of even our fiercest critics and most aggressive political opponents. It allows for the jokers who make Joker posters, and the Wingnuts and the Palin jokes and the uneducated and the clever, the rich and the poor and all those inbetween in the flyover country.

If I may sound a Cassandra warning to those who think there is justification against one side or the other because one holds one's own politics to be not simply one's own, but the only true way, the only smart way, the only way worthy of consideration. The very same heavy handedness and unwillingness to listen/compromise/consider the other side that has been slung at Bush and Cheney for the past eight years should serve as a reminder that such overt exhertions of power and belief in one's own rightness about ideology have consequences, and some of them involve elections.


Karen said...

We Wear the Mask
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

MightyMom said...

well said.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!