Two weeks after the foofarah (I can now cross that word off my “to use” list) stirred by The New Yorker’s Barack Obama cover, bloggers are now blogoplectic over a poster advertising Obama’s speech tonight in Berlin. One conservative gasket-blower has compared it to a poster of Adolph Hitler, though a blogger at Mother Jones is doing his part to balance the hyperbole, saying the poster “may be the finest piece of contemporary mainstream political art I’ve ever seen.” Read into it what you will — and many are reading into it — at least the Obama poster, unlike this one for John McCain, doesn’t communicate he’s a candidate to become God.
Progressive political candidates should reach out more to the deep pool of world-class artists already down, at least in spirit, with the cause. It would probably take one phone call to get Eddie Vedder to write an entire album of tunes implicitly, if not explicitly, pointing the way to Obama. One artist didn’t wait for the phone to ring. Celebrated street artist Shepard Fairey, known chiefly for his Obey Giant guerilla public plastering efforts, approached the Obama campaign earlier this year about “appealing to a younger, apathetic audience” through a new series of posters. Fairey got the go-ahead. Here’s a point-by-point detail about what he went for in his design.
Still, as with the Berlin poster, some saw something more insidious. Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times opined: “There’s an unequivocal sense of idol worship about the image, a half-artsy, half-creepy genuflection that suggests the subject is (a) a Third World dictator whose rule is enmeshed in a seductive cult of personality; (b) a controversial American figure who’s been assassinated; or (c) one of those people from a Warhol silkscreen that you don’t recognize but assume to be important in an abstruse way.”
For his part, Obama seemed pleased. In a personal letter to Fairey, Obama wrote: “I would like to thank you for using your talent in support of my campaign. The political messages involved in your work have encouraged Americans to believe they can help change the status quo. Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign.“