February 2, 2008

Obama: A Progressive for Progress! Now with Liberal Substance!

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."

maomoney.jpg stalinleninbanner.jpg

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."

Atbashian is a man not likely to be fooled by vapid promises of hope, change, and progress. He's seen how these play out in real life. Here's a piece on Obama from his website. It too has propaganda value, but it is a value informed by experience and not passing the bong at a hundred Soho dinner parties.
Liberal Substance You Can Believe In

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."

Somehow 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
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

This post is a home run with all the bases loaded, G, in every way. Sooo interesting.

One other observation on the Obama-o-rama is the use of the basic hues of the color wheel, but also of our national political color scheme. This, to me at least, is a subtle communication that Obama embodies hope and progress for both/all sides of the visible political spectrum.

While in the UK recently I noted where all the hope and progress of one P.M. Gordon Brown has gone. South, far south. It only took one good banking crisis---Northern Rock---brewing for years for the country and the newsmedia to make propaganda pate of Brown.

And it will be thusly here too. Then his propaganda-ati artist can do one entitled, "Obama Goulash," stewed progressively in his own juices.

Posted by: Webutante at January 31, 2008 6:46 AM

A truly promising campaign from Senator Obama:
I promise that with your money and my leadership we can end poverty for good.

I promise that with your money and my leadership we can have free healthcare for all.

I promise that with your money and my leadership we can talk the Religion of Peace into acting like one.

I promise that with your money and my leadership we can have an education system that serves all students, especially those of color.

I promise that with your money and my leadership we can end global warming and stabilize Earth's temperature in the "just right" zone.

I promise that with your money and my leadership we can end Conservatism as the anti-progressive, race baiting, hate-filled ideology we have come to loathe.

I promise that with your money and my leadership we can reach equality of incomes in this great nation.

I promise that with your money.............What's that? You say you you've run out of money? Ah, how can that be?? My programs and intentions are all well intended and based on what is best for you. How could you run out of money???

Posted by: Jimmy J. at January 31, 2008 11:01 AM

For some reason, the poster of Obama reminded me of Rachmaninoff.

Posted by: chuck at January 31, 2008 4:39 PM

Question: Are you so mad because the only viable Republican candidate is seemingly John Mcain or is there another reason? Barring that who would be your choice for president in a perfect world?

Posted by: Lance at February 1, 2008 9:31 AM

My choice for President in a Perfect World?


Posted by: vanderleun at February 1, 2008 12:05 PM

Thanks for mentioning me, Gerard. Long time no speak. I must mention, however, that the Obama piece you linked to was written by one of my American friends. Obama's message of change tickles his fancy.

But my choice of the ideal progressive president for America is Putin!

If change is what the Americans want, Putin can give it to them better than Obama or Hillary. And trust me, it won't be some cosmetic do-over - it will be a change that's final and irreversible. I challenge all the progressives who talk about change to put their money where their mouth is and support Vladimir Putin for American President.

Posted by: Oleg at February 1, 2008 1:49 PM

This game of "pretense oppression" is a very good point and I was thinking about it all day yesterday. It is perhaps the most popular game among the "progressives" - a game with its own rules, hierarchy, point system, penalties, teams, and dress code.

It explains why young people in the wealthiest Western countries who can afford good clothes, prefer to wear deliberately washed-out rags with holes in them. They surely don't realize that such a manifestation of their game of pretense poverty and oppression is an insult to people who really live in poverty and oppression and would gladly change their rags for new and clean clothes that the "oppressed" fools in the West deliberately destroy. I hear that in Africa people iron their blue jeans and take good care of them. They like to pretend they live in a civilized society.

The game of pretense oppression also explains the dark, ugly, primitive art on the walls of "progressive" art galleries, and the fascination with grafitti that in combination with ripped clothes and messy hairstyles makes some American streets look as if they are located in some Third World country where people really are poor and oppressed.

Remember that photo of a young Hollywood actress (forget her name) desperately screaming, with blood all over her pretty face, at an anti-war march in LA a year or two ago - a photo that was published by major world's newspapers covering anti-war protests? None of them mentioned that the blood was, in fact, a thoroughly applied makeup. The poor fool was playing the game of pretense oppression - and the world's mass media played along, because they too have been playing this game for the longest time.

Her make-believe blood was of the same origin as the ripped-up clothes, ugly grafitti, ugly music, dark and sloppy art - and also the make-believe propaganda posters you wrote about here.

Where does this game come from, and what makes it appear so attractive and even romantic to the young people?

That would make a theme of a whole book on modern pop culture.

Posted by: Oleg at February 2, 2008 12:47 PM

"It explains why young people in the wealthiest Western countries who can afford good clothes, prefer to wear deliberately washed-out rags with holes in them."

You are, of course, aware that many of these ragged clothes are not only manufactured with carefully calibrated wear signs, but are sold at a premium. Not only that the young have a very detailed radar at picking out which brand is which and know, generally, to the dollar how much they cost. And the higher the cost to the rag, the higher the status of the person wearing it.

Posted by: vanderleun at February 2, 2008 6:15 PM

Oleg is a wonderful addition here.

Posted by: Webutante at February 3, 2008 4:43 AM

"Pretence Oppression" must go up there with "Rage Against My Allowance".

IIRC, Dave Barry mentioned this when describing protestors at a political convention dressed in a style he called "pretend guerrila".

Posted by: Mikey NTH at February 4, 2008 3:10 PM

Who are you voting for? Obama of course. Be supportive for christ sakes. Lets stand together in times like these. please.


Posted by: Karl Metz at February 10, 2008 3:22 AM

What is the matter with your brain? Do you just follow search engines around the net on keyword Obama and paste that crap in without regard to context.

I'm betting that's the case. But -- in case you do return -- there's no "of course" to voting. Learn that in your young life.

In addition, people with more than a second grade education capitalize "Christ."

To say that by voting for Obama we "stand together" is just the worst kind of semi-Bolshi trash talk.

Posted by: vanderleun at February 10, 2008 9:22 AM

Nothing about Fairey's art is original,it's all derivative, scanned and photoshopped or whatever, cold war propaganda, sixties peace and love, black panthers, union and rock flyers, and heaven help you if you try to make a satirical version of Obama Hope poster, the Obama for Illinois dude who took the photo will tell whatever website you're on that he owns the copyright, even though it's owned by Obama for Illinois. What i'd really like to know is how Fairey's "donation" of his art is being calculated by the Obama campaign, if at all. Fairey claims on obeygiant that he even paid for ads, bus shelters, I think, in PA. A couple of small runs were printed, t-shirts were made...it has to be more than the 2300 max for an individual...

Posted by: gina dentata at April 7, 2008 2:18 AM

And how does that mean? I do not understand anything.

Posted by: Stephanie at August 29, 2011 3:55 AM