“The opposing reactions to the Paris massacre dramatically underscores that what is sacred to some, is profane to others. While the free-world has reaffirmed the sacred principle of liberty, Muslim communities have condemned the profanity that freedom of expression condones. Gerard Biard, Charlie Hebdu’s new editor-in-chief, declared that its controversial caricature signifies the danger of politicizing religion, and the totalitarianism that follows censorship. Yet, the role of politics in religion is irrelevant to the concerns of the Muslim community generally. Instead, it is enraged at the insult directed at its sacred prophet.” — to be continued
The greatest movement for social justice our country has ever known is the civil rights movement and it was totally rooted in a love ethic. — bell hooks
The recent appropriation of Shepard Fairey’s iconic portrait of Barack Obama by various political factions is intriguing. These interests have seized on Obama’s rock-star magnetism, while simultaneously destroying and bending the portrait’s original significance. The GOP’s appropriation of the image is decidedly iconoclastic. The style refers specifically to Obama’s fiery keynote address when he spoke about the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believed that America had a place for himtoo.
In November of 2013, Senator Mitch McConnell appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and some newspapers, in Fairey’s signature print style, along with the word CHANGE. Supporters of Senator Elizabeth Warren are circulating her picture in Fairey’s distinctive style, along with the word TRUTH. In either instance, supporters have appropriated Obama’s alpha brand of charisma.
Warren’s use of the symbol seems to expand upon Obama’s vision. The Senator credits the President with improving the lives of working class people. At the same time, her rage at America’s practice of favoring the wealthy resonates with those who desperately want fair treatment. The voters’ fury has found an articulate voice in Warren, who routinely exposes unfair banking tactics, and who fights for a weary middle class. Warren, it seems, has enriched Obama’s populist vision.
It’s useful to revisit Obama’s keynote address, and his vision of a gracious America. Obama, who was relatively unknown, became a star overnight. He galvanized the electorate, including those like Fairey, who usually didn’t give a fig about politics. The speech prompted the artist to design the portrait, and symbol of an unexpected moment that crackled with possibility. They were breathtaking words that eventually led a staggering 65% of the electorate to vote for Barack Obama, the Senator from Chicago, in 2008 becoming the United States’ first African-American president.
It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs. The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores. The hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta. The hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds. The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.
Fairey designed the iconic image with the words HOPE, CHANGE, and PROGRESS in a day. He printed 350 of the portraits in the first printing in poster form, and then sold them in less than 15 minutes on the street. The response was, in artist’s words, insane. After the campaign recruited him, the portrait was released in digital form on posters, shirts, mugs, and the rest, likely becoming the most meaningful and recognizable symbols of a generation.
But suppose God is black? What if we go to heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the negro as inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response. — Robert F. Kennedy
It is the GOP’s appropriation of the portrait that interests me here. Some didn’t want a new world order that embraced plurality. The old order, where a white man sat in the White House, had been overturned. That order has had a monumental stake in undoing Obama, and preserving itself. Predictably, Obama has faced stiff opposition acting as President of the United States by a myopic, old order that opposes him at every turn.
The portrait of McConnell in Fairey’s signature style with the word CHANGE seeks not only to destroy, but to erase Obama’s presidency. McConnell’s objections are no secret. He stated on the Senate floor in January of 2009 that his objective was to make Obama a one-term president. He repeated the vow on the eve of the 2012 election. The reuse of Fairey’s iconic image is a symbolic gesture meant to annihilate the new world order. Furthermore, it aims to destroy a moment in history when anything was possible.