Friday, October 02, 2009

Let's be fair with our tolerance of mockery

OK, we've seen President Barack Obama portrayed as Batman's nemesis, the Joker. What's the connection? Why put "socialism" under the digitally manipulated image? Why put a large banner featuring that peculiar image on the outside wall of a business that makes its money offering up wiggling, scantily clad women as entertainment?

Yes, this post is about the brouhaha caused by Velvet's owner Sam Moore, who seems to enjoy notoriety, however it comes.

And, it's about the words of Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams, who has weighed in on the controversy. Hey, I know that’s his job, but this time I can’t agree with Mike's take on the banner’s importance.
But anyone ambivalent about the inherently incendiary nature of a burning cross realizes you can celebrate free speech and detest the message. So I'll exercise my First Amendment rights in saying the Shockoe Bottom banner is disturbingly over-the-top.
Click here to read Williams' column, “Obama protest banner is a bad joke.”

Of course the comments section under the Williams column is filling up with the fussing and fuming of those who don‘t like Obama, or Williams, or Moore … or the Joker.

Instead, I want to focus on one point. To those supporters of Obama who are outraged by the image and think it has no legitimate place in the public way, I want to say this: Let's be fair with our tolerance of mockery.

No, I’m not defending the nuts who bring guns to Town Hall meetings. Nor am I defending the rudeness of Obama-bashers who shout down other speakers. What I am saying is that the image on that banner is political commentary every bit as much as a cartoon in the editorial section of a newspaper.

Furthermore, some of the same folks who are now outraged by the Obama as the Joker (the Heath Ledger version, rather than Jack Nicholson or Caesar Romero) used to enjoy all sorts of goofy jokes at the expense of President George W. Bush.

Yes, because the image brings to mind the look of minstrel shows, there is a racist element to the wannabe joke when you put that makeup on Obama. But, to be fair, that’s what the same makeup on Ledger looks like, too, because it references the old theatrical blackface look as it would appear in a negative.

The weird part of it is the “socialism” caption under the art. Isn’t that similar to putting a Hitler mustache on Obama? Neither make any sense to me. It mostly says such Obama-bashers don't understand their isms very well.

All of this stuff is meant to piss off Obama’s supporters. So, I’m not going to let it bother me. As long as I can draw a picture of Karl Rove looking any way I like, it’s all in the game.
Dr. StrangeRove gasped, "It would not be difficult, Mein F├╝hrer! Nuclear reactors could easily provide, heh... I'm sorry, Mr. President."
Apologies to Stanley Kubrick, et al

Freedom of speech isn’t always pretty.

And, if Sam Moore has become the newest spokesman for the Republican Party, if he has become Richmond's crackpot anti-Democrat, well, that’s OK by me, too.

-- Joker image from The Atlantic. Words and StangeRove image (2006) by F.T. Rea

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