There is something unsettling and very familiar in the Obama poster campaign which has plastered his image over the country. The posters depict the same graphic closeup of the candidate with one block word either "Hope," "Change" or "Progress" at the bottom. I knew that I had seen this before, and then it came to me that this image appropriates the graphic style of totalitarian Soviet propaganda. It recalls the idealzed portraits and personality cult of the "Beloved Leader" such as Stalin and Lenin. The leader, face illuminated by a "holy" light, looks off to the horizon and sees the truth that is not available to his mere mortal followers, who must look up to his image.
The one-word message offers a simple (simple-minded) promise of a utopian existence. These stenciled words bring to mind They Live, a 1988 film, in which secret alien gods take over Los Angeles and control the inhabitants by subliminal billboard messages which display the word "Obey." Coincidentally or not, the website for the artist, Shepard Fairey, who designed Obama's posters is called Obey and boasts on its homepage, "Manufacturing quality dissent since 1989," and the artist bills himself as an agent of "worldwide propaganda delivery." Perhaps the common ground between Obama and Fairy is not only technique, but message. Fairy's other work romanticizes revolutionary/terrorist figures. Obama's association with figures such William Ayers, who boasted of a dozen bombings between 1970 and 1974, has been reported often. Obama was among only 22 Senators who opposed an amendment designating Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps a foreign terrorist organization. (Unlike the other 21,however, Obama missed the vote.) Fairy's art also reflects a common theme of the Obama campaign: America is a nation that oppresses. It is the America in which Obama's wife Michelle can take no pride and that Obama's spiritual advisor damns. It is the vision of America and its place in the world by one who is unfamiliar with history and who has the luxury of American freedom to express his distain for the country. What is then unsettling about the Obama poster campaign is that it may be perfectly suited for a man whose candidacy is based on a personality cult, who promises overly simplistic remedies for complex issues, and who seems to have more respect for America's critics than for the nation he hopes to lead.Update -- Tim Bruner writes:
Who could forget this one from 1932: