Friday, August 28, 2009

Playing the Hand That's Dealt You

Overlooked in the overwrought and often simple-minded debate over the nature of the now famous photo-shopped image of Obama as the Joker, is the underlying and essential playing cardness of it all. The Joker is after all, the quintessential wild card in the game. Even 5 of a kind is possible when the Joker is in the deck. Obama as the Joker strikes me as a possible metaphor for devious political shape-shifting or changability, and as such, is a completely legitimate means of graphically expressing a complex idea in a complex arena.

Is the image racist? I don't see it, but I can say that it's entirely irrelevant to the artist's message--that is, to the artist who seized the internet image from the original phot0-shopper and put the text SOCIALISM under Obama's photo-shopped face and turned the image into a political poster. As such the two of them became accidental collaborators in a type of gestalt pattern recognition relay of messages. In the aggregate it strikes me as more of a warning to the voters, not to Barack Obama. What he looks like isn't what he is--He can be anything.

Wikipedia states:

The Joker's use is greatly varied....Often, the joker is a wildcard, and thereby allowed to represent other existing cards. The term "Joker's Wild" originates from this practice, as does the game show of the same name....The Joker can be an extremely beneficial, or an extremely harmful, card.

In the Tarot deck there are different properties associated with the card, where it known as the Fool, and from that it's apparent that the figure of the Joker is an ancient one having varied and subtle cultural meanings over time. Batman's Gotham nemesis was fond of leaving a Joker behind as his calling card. Whatever else may be true, it is clear that when you decide to play with the Joker in the deck, the normal rules will no longer apply. In your hand, the Joker can be what you want. But what happens when the Joker can make you become what he wants?

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