He's not a "Liberal." He's a "Progressive!"
Bigger promises need bigger icons. As I remarked only yesterday in Hope, Change, and the New Old NOW "the people do not want POLICIES, the people want PROMISES! Promise, LARGE PROMISE, is the soul of politics." Today we can see this essential truth continue to reveal itself from two widely opposing viewpoints in the blogosphere.
Above is the new poster for Obama done by propaganda artist Shepard Fairey. As Johnny at the excellent Drawn! The Illustration and Cartooning Blog says, "If I was a politician I can't think of anyone else I'd want making propaganda posters in my honour."
He's right. The work of Fairey is widely known through his "Obey" series. It's a kind of slap-it-up graffiti has been seen stuck to surfaces around American cities for some years now.
Fairey's other work cleverly, and with a lot of infra-dig irony, appropriates the graphic styles of the late and not great Soviet Union's propaganda. It's a kind of updated Che-chic work that mostly reproduces Communist imagery and styles without a lot of originality. The retro-fascist tone makes it popular with spoiled white art students who like to make believe they are living in a totalitarian society, instead of one so rich and confident it can afford to indulge their vapid fantasies of "oppression."
In sum, Fairey is one of a myriad of our current "artists" who leans one trick early and then just repeats it endlessly over the years. He repeats it to the slowly rising applause of the art world that has come to value these one-trick ponies that echo their unexamined politics. You can see Fairey's career making suck-up in this one image of... guess who?:
You get to crawl off the streets and into gallery shows from performing these tricks for your masters. You get a living from them as well as some small acclaim. You probably even get your work bought into the collections of various "contemporary" art museums awash with curators with more spite than sensibility. What you don't get is anyone who remembers it 2 years after you're dead. It is the art career John Cage spoke of when he said, "We no longer have time for the good, the beautiful, or whether or not something is true. We have only time for conversation."
Well, Fairey's brought his small but focused skill set to "the conversation" and put it to work in the service of Obama. It's one thing when these styles are used to harmlessly prick the pretensions of Western society, but quite another when they are brought to the service of a candidate and, in extolling him, only serve to render an image in the tone of "Big Brother."
I'd say that I am sure Fairey doesn't see it that way, but I'm really not so sure at all. This is a man with no small experience in looking at propaganda and, as the Obama image above reveals, he's no slouch at producing or, rather, reproducing it in the service of his own set's odd communal values.
It's really got it all, hasn't it? The iconic angle of the fearless idealized leader as seen from slightly below -- the supplicant's viewpoint. The soulful gaze directed slightly up and slightly to the his left as if seeing farther and deeper into the future than mere mortals. The punching up of the red, white and blue -- a color scheme no candidate can afford to do without. Then finally the large single word that somehow assures and inspires at the same time; the word that motivates as well as palliates: PROGRESS. What good person has ever been, I ask you, or could ever be, I remind you, against PROGRESS? In the Brave New World of Progressives, PROGRESS is their most important and only product.
It doesn't matter that the actual record of programs touted as social progress over the last few decades has been -- by and large -- a record of dismal and expensive failures. What matters is not the actual results but the continued faith in the PROCESS of PROGRESS. As propaganda this poster has perfect pitch. I'm sure it's probably good enough to get Fairey a ticket to the convention. It is certainly good enough to get him a small show at MOMA.
But artists like Fairey, and they are legion in our society, are really just -- like their fans -- playing at feeling oppressed. They actually have no experience with a real oppressive society. If they had their lives and work would not be nearly so glib.
An alternate point of view is on display daily at a site called "The People's Cube." This site is run by a talented artist who grew up under real oppression in the Soviet Union and managed to get out and start a new life here; a life who's liberty he values. He's not a "pretend" propaganda artist, but a man with experience in the real thing. His name is Oleg Atbashian. As is noted in Wikipedia
Before moving to the U.S. in 1994, Atbashian lived in the Ukraine where he sometimes worked as a propaganda artist for the old Soviet Union, creating agitprop posters for the local Party Committee in a small town. During that time, Oleg says he "witnessed the transition of Republics of the Soviet Union from corrupt socialism to corrupt kleptocracy."
When he arrived in the U.S., Atbashian was puzzled by the "level of delusional affection for all things Left among the 'liberal' intellectual elites who take America's exclusive well-being for granted."
Liberal Substance You Can Believe InSomehow I find myself more taken with Mr. Atbashian's acerbic analysis of Obama, than Fairey's vapid iconization. Posted by Vanderleun at February 2, 2008 6:25 PM
Liberal Substance, says Mr Obama, holds that we, as one people, can work together and through the government achieve great things - as Progressives have always done.
Liberal Substance is as old as the Progressive movement. The country, he says, longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people to accomplish the common good.
"I hear the people," Obama says "and together we will build a better future. We will give everyone health care, we will make certain that no one is hungry, we will end our addiction to oil and we will invest in a sustainable future. We will end war by talking with dignity to our enemies.
"Together, with me as the leader, we will work toward a better future. We can create a new tomorrow. That is hope and change. That is the essence of Liberal Substance.
Liberal Substance is government with a smile on its face. I have a smile on my face. I am the will of the people."