Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Obama Joker Artist Unmasked (and it turns out we don't have him to thank for the posters).

Meet Firas Alkhateeb. The LA Times, in a story here says that Alkhateeb is the artist who photoshopped the Obama Joker, initially putting it into a Time cover:

Read the story and I'll have a comment on the other side.

Obama Joker artist unmasked: A fellow Chicagoan
August 17, 2009

When cryptic posters portraying President Obama as the Joker from "Batman" began popping up around Los Angeles and other cities, the question many asked was, Who is behind the image?

Was it an ultra-conservative grassroots group or a disgruntled street artist going against the grain?

Nope, it turns out, just a 20-year-old college student from Chicago.

Bored during his winter school break, Firas Alkhateeb, a senior history major at the University of Illinois, crafted the picture of Obama with the recognizable clown makeup using Adobe's Photoshop software.

Alkhateeb had been tinkering with the program to improve the looks of photos he had taken on his clunky Kodak camera. The Joker project was his grandest undertaking yet. Using a tutorial he'd found online about how to "Jokerize" portraits, he downloaded the October 23 Time Magazine cover of Obama and began digitally painting over it.

Four or five hours later, he happily had his product.

On Jan. 18, Alkhateeb uploaded the image to photo-sharing site Flickr (shown at right). Over the next two months, he amassed just a couple thousand hits, he said.

Then the counter exploded after a still-anonymous rogue famously found his image, digitally removed the references to Time Magazine, captioned the picture with the word "socialism" and hung printed copies around L.A., making headlines.

Alkhateeb's original Flickr page surpassed 20,000 views. The Times found his Flickr site last week thanks to a tip left by a loyal reader of The Ticket. By Friday, the page had been taken down.

On Alkhateeb's page, a manipulated image condemning fellow Chicagoan and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (captioned "epic fail") was mixed in with parodies of the "Guitar Hero" game franchises -- dubbed Quran Hero -- and of Napoleon riding a motorcycle (pictured after the jump).

Flickr had removed the Joker image due to copyright-infringement concerns, Alkhateeb says the company told him in an e-mail. A Flickr spokeswoman declined to comment due to a company policy that bars discussing inquiries about individual users.

Alkhateeb says he wasn't actively trying to cover his tracks, but he did want to lay low. He initially had concerns about connecting his name with anything critical of the president -- especially living in Chicago, where people are "very, very liberal," he said.

"After Obama was elected, you had all of these people who basically saw him as the second coming of Christ," Alkhateeb said. "From my perspective, there wasn't much substance to him."

"I abstained from voting in November," he wrote in an e-mail. "Living in Illinois, my vote means close to nothing as there was no chance Obama would not win the state." If he had to choose a politician to support, Alkhateeb said, it would be Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

Possibly becoming a villain in his home city wasn't his only worry. Time's cover and the Joker obviously aren't Alkhateeb's copyrights to fool around with.

Concerned about a lawsuit, Alkhateeb, an unnamed superstar whose nationally recognized artwork had stunned friends and family, was relieved that the situation had floated for months without any major news organizations discovering that he was the man behind the paint.

After we contacted him, he hesitantly agreed to an interview.

If it's any consolation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that defends digital rights, says Alkhateeb has a strong fair-use defense if Time or DC Comics decides to take him to court -- that is if one even does file a lawsuit.

"You really want to think twice about going after a political commenter," said Corynne McSherry, a senior staff attorney at the EFF. In Time's case, "a news organization probably doesn't want to be in the situation of pursuing political criticism."

Perhaps the strongest case for anyone, McSherry said, is for Alkhateeb to claim money derived from people selling T-shirts with his picture. Is it worth pursuing? "It would be nice, but it's not that big of a deal," Alkhateeb said.
Although Alkhateeb claims he was making no political statement with the artwork, he's plugged into the Washington debate. Though born in the United States, his Palestinian family closely follows Middle Eastern politics.

"I think he's definitely doing better than Bush was," Alkhateeb said of Obama.

Alkhateeb's views on foreign relations align with the Democrats, he said, while he prefers Republican ideals on domestic issues.

Alkhateeb's assessment of Obama: "In terms of domestic policy, I don't think he's really doing much good for the country right now," he said. "We don't have to 'hero worship' the guy."

Someday, Alkhateeb hopes to be a history teacher and high school football coach. He won't be pursuing a full-time career in art, but he'll continue playing with Photoshop on the side. He's honored by Shepard Fairey's assessment of his Joker picture, but disagrees with some of Fairey's comments criticizing the message of the Socialism poster.

"He made a picture of Bush as a vampire," Alkhateeb said about Fairey. "That's kind of speaking with two faces."

Regardless, Alkhateeb does agree with the Obama "Hope" artist about "socialism" being the wrong caption for the Joker image. "It really doesn't make any sense to me at all," he said. "To accuse him of being a socialist is really ... immature. First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?"
-- Mark Milian

Well, I do, but that's another story. This young fellow is hopelessly politically confused. So, we see that the hero in this story (from our point of view) was not Alkhteeb but the anonymous guerrilla who lifted his work, and with the addition of a single word, made it into the most effective anti-Obama propaganda yet seen.

This is task of the guerrilla, to take what tools he or she finds close at hand and craft them into a weapon to beat the regime over the head with. Outstanding!



idahobob said...

And don't forget, Boys and Girls, print out 100 copies of this wonderful Obamaroid poster and plaster yer county with 'em!

Please, remember the milk.


Johnny Deceptively said...

Eh, I still think the "Socialism" tag isn't the correct one to use. It just seems a little trite. People don't respond well to that kind of thing, anymore. Accurate or no, many people don't really think all that badly of socialism. It's unfortunate. Maybe "Fascism"

Or "Fascism + Socialism = Fascialism"

Anonymous said...

"First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?"

National socialism claimed 6 million lives; international socialism has run its own tally to 100 million. If that is not an evil pedigree, "evil" has no meaning.


Anonymous said...

Haha, so the guy who made the image is a socialist.

Irony is so beautiful.

Jim said...

And be mindful of who you let see you do it.
"Clermont, FL City officials, meanwhile, are trying to determine what local crimes might be associated with the posting of the images on public and private properties. They've also been busy ripping down the sticky signs because they're a violation of city ordinance regarding illegal signs."

The blissninnies will be out and about.

Shy Wolf said...

For one, I couldn't spend five minutes looking at that ugly face, let alone five hours. But, dang, I gotta get better at PhotoShop! This could be fun.

David Codrea said...

What this really outs is all those "authorized journalists" who jumped on the "Obama Joker poster is racist" meme.

Where is Phillip Kennicott's retraction and apology for this?

I suspect, like all "liberal" zealots, he'll still come up with excuses to defend his nutty accusation and paint any opposition to his false god as bigotry.

Big Ugly said...

Jim - I just love the term "BlissNinnies".
It pretty much says it all, kinda like Obamatrons!

Anonymous said...

"Alkhateeb says he wasn't actively trying to cover his tracks, but he did want to lay low. He initially had concerns about connecting his name with anything critical of the president -- especially living in Chicago, where people are "very, very liberal," he said."

Delicious irony.