'Socialist Joker' Obama portrait goes viral

Associated Press
President Barack Obama.

Update: The creator of the portrait has been unmasked.

Back in 2008, when election fever was spiking, the street artist Shepard Fairey created his famous and controversial image of Barack Obama. (In January, the image was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery, in D.C.) Now a conservative graffiti artist – who knew? – has apparently been papering the greater Los Angeles area with images of Barack Obama dressed up as Heath Ledger's Joker.

Each image appears above a single, block-lettered word: "Socialism."

According to Associated Content, a "string of Obama Joker posters were first seen in Los Angeles, with a few even getting to Atlanta." Now, digitized copies of the portraits have gone viral, spiraling across Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr. That's right kids: the "Socialist Joker" is a real, live Internet meme. Next stop? The front of a T-shirt sold out of Urban Outfitters.

Predictably, the right-wing blogosphere is bursting at the seams with glee. Over at American Thinker, Thomas Lifson proclaims, "It is starting. Open mockery of Barack Obama, as disillusionment sets in with the man, his policies, and the phony image of a race-healing, brilliant, scholarly, middle-of-the-roader." Others see not a piece of societal criticism, but a vicious, race-baiting gag.

Here's Steven Mikulan of the LA Weekly:

The poster, which bears a very superficial resemblance to Shepard Fairey's famous Obama Hope illustration, has been pasted on freeway supports and other public surfaces. It has a bit of everything to appeal to the drunk tank of California conservatism: Obama is in white face, his mouth (like Ledger's Joker's) has been grotesquely slit wide open and the word "Socialism" appears below his face. The only thing missing is a noose.

Meanwhile, the folks over at Bedlam Magazine write, "The Joker white-face imposed on Obama's visage has a sort of malicious, racist, Jim Crow quality to it."

For his part, Robert Dougherty of Associated Content says that everyone is missing the point. "The Joker was many things, but was hardly a socialist," Doughterty correctly points out. "In fact, the Joker is the polar opposite of a socialist, and anyone who watched 'The Dark Knight' would know that. Socialism is the result of an all powerful central government that runs every aspect of life -- but the Joker subscribes to anarchy, one of socialism's polar opposites."

We'll let you be the judge. We can't show you the JPG version currently circulating the web – pesky copyright restrictions – but YouTube is fair game. And here's a video, until someone yanks it down:

Vicious gag? Fair game? Tell us here, or on Twitter.

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