CNN Reports on the Barack Obama Joker Image Circulating

When I first saw the image of President Barack Obama as a blood-mouthed cannibal death zombie in minstrel white-face, I thought swastika. In other words, this image functions, like a swastika, to shock and declare one’s eternal struggle against bourgeois democracy (with its messy compromises and its commitments to moderation, rational calm, and respectful dialogue). What’s on display with this image is the sick projection of the paranoid and racist Manichean mind. And it is a measure of the right’s descent into nihilism and authoritarian projection that this fanatical image has gone viral among conservatives. Notice even the suggestions of stitch marks along the sides of the president’s mouth (as if to convey a longing that his blood smeared monster mouth might be stitched closed permanently). Those enthusiastically applauding this image fantasize Obama as, at once, an outsized bringer of death, and they clearly wish him dead, don’t they?


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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27 Responses to CNN Reports on the Barack Obama Joker Image Circulating

  1. allan says:

    i think republicans are too childish,and i hope they know that they cannot lead anymore so fuck off or we will back u off,rep are stupid i hate that party,they spoil the economy and what next they want to hate on the peoples president,please rep its open you cannot change the world thats why you ars using such stupid and childish thoughts to campaign iam sorry americans are not ready for your shameless thinking

  2. santitafarella says:


    I don’t want the Republicans to fuck off. I want them to be a civil conservative intellectual counterweight to the Democrats. We need a vital two party system that checks itself. My problem with the above image, and with the Republican Party’s drift of late, is with its apparent lack of proportion, and its abandonment, in large numbers, of dialogue and vulnerability in exchange for fanatic Manichean certitude, demonization, hysteria, and impatience with bourgeois democracy qua bourgeois democracy. It creates a climate where the president could get shot, or in a time of crisis, populist authoritarians could come to power who might dismantle much of our democratic checks and balances. Where are the calm William F. Buckleys and George Wills of contemporary conservatism? Marginalized by the Rush Limbaughs and Michael Savages.


  3. jonolan says:

    “It creates a climate where the president could get shot, or in a time of crisis, populist authoritarians could come to power who might dismantle much of our democratic checks and balances.”

    One could civilly and intellectually argue that, in the wake of the Government’s quasi-takeover of the financial sector and automotive sector combined with the Stimulus, Cap and Trade and Healthcare legislation is the works, Obama and the Left wing of the Democrats are exactly those “populist authoritarians” who are trying to “dismantle much of our democratic checks and balances” that you worry about.

  4. santitafarella says:


    I’m not entirely resistant to your argument. It’s a legitimate one. Democrats are frequently under the illusion that a big Mommy Government will stay a Mommy Government. Bigger government certainly can lay the framework for the very real risk of a big Daddy Government. I don’t think its quite fair of you to say that Democrats qua Democrats are “authoritarian.” I think most Democrats are “live and let live” types of people who just want some egalitarianism to maintain social cohesion. I think you are right, however, that big government nanny statism can morph into 1984. I recognize its a real problem. Who will police the police? I worry that another major economic turndown or crisis might bring to power authoritarian Republicans exercising Big Government to freedom-shutting down ends. I don’t think we’re there yet.

    Also, I think that government has to be a certain size to offset big corporations. What that size is should be a matter of debate, obviously. I don’t think reforming health care is going to lead to socialism/communism. We’re still a mixed economy.


    • jonolan says:

      While I agree that the bulk of the Democrats are not “authoritarian.” That’s why I limited my statement to include only Obama and the the Left wing of the Democrats are such.

      Obama’s “truth squads” during the campaign, the behavior he displayed as he became in charge of TARP (AIG and such), his quasi-takeover of the US auto industry and his control over the bankruptcy proceedings of Chrysler, Cap & Trade, the specifics of his healthcare plan, and the latest – his “snitch center,” are all indicative of an authoritarian personality and style of governing.

      Also, let’s remember he has continued and expanded upon GWB’s expansion of the powers of the Presidency with “czars,” signing statements, and executive orders that exceed the scope that used to be tolerated for them.

      As for the average Democrat – They’re a different story and there’s a fair bit of disillusionment and disgruntlement among them.

  5. santitafarella says:


    Obama? An authoritarian personality? That’s an interesting perception. I see a totally different person than you do. I guess, in religion, that’s why the Bible has four gospels.

    I agree with you about Obama’s curious retention of GWB’s executive powers. That has surprised me thus far with Obama.

    I also agree with you that there is such a thing as a far left authoritarian. I used to not think so, but I’ve actually spoken to some on the Internet. I’m actually shocked by them. I don’t think the political mainstream of the Democratic Party, nor Obama, are authoritarian. I think that they are bourgeois, mixed economy centrists and liberals. I think that to exaggerate what that model means, calling it socialism or communism, is to distort its effects. I think when the Republicans have weak arguments, they simply create straw men and distorted, oversimplified models of reality. Cap and Trade and health care reform are examples of modest, centrist ideas, consistent with a mixed economy, that are being distorted to instill fright in people. See the Obama poster above for exhibit A.


    • jonolan says:


      I think where we’re having the difference in opinion is in our general perceptions of means and ends.

      You keep saying Obama is not authoritarian because he’s “bourgeois, mixed economy centrists and liberals.” To me those describe the nature of the ends that someone wants to reach, not the means by which they want to get there.

      I describe Obama as authoritarian because of how he chooses to attempt to reach his ends, not because of what those ends are.

  6. iBen says:

    This guy cant be serious?

    “What’s on display with this image is the sick projection of the paranoid and racist Manichean mind”

    Racist? I dont think this guy understands the concept symbolism. Obama is depicted as the Joker from the batman move the dark knight. How could he be depicted as the joker if he didnt have white face paint and big red lips? If he were Obama was white the same thing would have been done to depict someone as the joker. Therefore this is not targeting Obama in a racist manner. Its people like the ones putting up these posters that make the world go round. They get us to think about the state of the matter at hand. I have noticed how much people are starting to take an interest into public issues since this poster has emerged.

  7. santitafarella says:


    I’m very serious. Using the Joker film as an excuse for sending around an Obama image in white-face is to have your cake and eat it too. You can make the racist allusion and deny that you’re making it. Perfect! It’s the way for far rightists to indulge their racism even as they are able to distance themselves from racism. Look at that blood smeared mouth, Ben, and the nihilistic death fantasy erected on the image of a black man—and that black man our first African American president to boot!

    Sure, no racism here.


    • jonolan says:

      So what negative depiction of Obama wouldn’t set off your racism alarm, Santi?

      Can I depict him as the Penguin? Probably not; too close for you to White Face again, still nihilistic, the bastardy thing would be a problem I’m sure, and the general deformity combined with the tuxedo would likely bother you.

      Can I depict him as Marvel Comic’s Kingpin without being racist? Or is the perceived link between crime and Blacks too strong?

      Can I depict him as Stalin without being racist? Socialism references were denounced as racist though during the election…

      How about Che Guevara? Oops. Same problem as Stalin and already denounced by the Liberals…

      Can I just exaggerate his features in the normal mode of a characterture? I’m guessing the accentuation of his nose, lips and teeth would set you right off.

      I’m really NOT trying to be rude, Santi, but what depiction wouldn’t make you cry racism? Especially since you see this as a “nihilistic death fantasy erected on the image of a black man—and that black man our first African American president to boot!”

      You don’t seem to be able to see it, or think anyone else can or should see it, as “nihilistic death fantasy erected on the image of the President — and that President being our first African American one to boot!

  8. santitafarella says:


    It’s the old test for pornography. It’s hard to put it in words, but you know it when you see it. And the above image is a contemporary swastika. It shocks. It’s sick. It makes no attempt at humor. It’s deadly serious. People are free to display such an image, and announce their Manicheanism, but I’m also free to deconstruct it.

    As for what conservatives can do that isn’t racist, I would say, for example, that Obama’s ears are fair game as humor. Or his secret cigarette smoking. Or his fussy eating habits. I’ve seen lots of Obama parody that maintains minimal decency even as it doesn’t roll its eyes at our racially strained past, or evoke racist associations.

    Should Republicans be careful about the way they depict our first African American president? I think that’s up to them, politically. I think it says a lot about a person, the way they respond to Obama. I think a decent person doesn’t make light of our racist past, or the difficult path that history took to bring us to having an African American as president. I think that if Republicans were smart, they would disagree with Obama without being disagreeable. Maturity and decency and setting the right cultural tone will reduce the risk of Obama being assassinated. Should that tragedy happen, by contrast, in an atmosphere of conservative rhetorical hysteria and vituperation, it will be an enormous tragedy for our country.

    Likewise, there are depictions I think it would be unwise to make about the first Jewish president, or female president etc.

    You can’t pretend that political opposition happens in a vaccuum. Context is everything.


  9. iBen says:


    wow you really are serious. I cant believe that you would actually think that. Not everything revolves around racism. People have been making fun of presidents and political leaders for years, mocking them. Have you seen how many pistures there are mocking bush? So just because the president is a different colour dosnt meen that he should get special treatment and not be mocked. That would be racism, treating some one different because of their skin colour. Instead of jumping to the conclusion of racism, focus on the main point, he isnt a black man that is president, he is the president, the paradox of socialism and anarchy presented in the image is supposed to make people think about what is happening in government. Dont think that people are racist and will try to make people believe they are not, have a little git more faith in society.


  10. santitafarella says:


    Context is important here. History is important. This is our first African American president and in just six months of his being in office, it’s come to this: white face paint zombie cannibal blood smear mouth. The very image of death set upon him by the extremist right. Isn’t it obvious that they want him dead? That they think he’s as bad as Hitler and must be stopped? You want me to ignore the racial component in this? And the hysteria? And the threat to the president’s life because, well, why? Because liberals were mean to Bush? Isn’t that just changing the subject? Look at that image again. Tell me it is not a descent into the darkest parts of the psyche, and tell me the object of this paranoia, and sexual and racial anxiety, isn’t our first black president. People might attack his policies, but why would anyone demonize Obama qua Obama? His election ought to be a source of pride for all Americans. Basic decency would suggest you not turn our first black president into a monster.


  11. iBen says:


    hahaha, i cant believe that you would actually think that. Have you ever seen the dark knight? Do you understand he is being depicted as a fictional character. Not a white face paint zombie cannible blood smeard mouth. I’m sorry to say this but the truth is the truth, you are ignorant. This image dosnt even symbolise hatred towards him, yet alone to kill him. It is people like you that keep people thinking of other peoples image, rather then their content of character. You may think that you are helping supress the ‘racism’ in the world, but actually you are bringing it to a new level. Focus not on the exterior, what you think is a canible zombie (ha) and focus on theire content of character. In images like these, people are compared and apropriated due to their values and their actions, not due to how they look and what colour their skin is.


  12. santitafarella says:


    Will you please take a look at the quote from “The Hill” article that I posted at my blog here:

    I find it very difficult to coherently defend the image (as you are trying to do). The very point of the blood cannibal mouth (in the film) is to portray the Joker as a metaphysically evil villian. For film, these “knock you over the head” associations are meant to move the action along. We get it. The Joker is the bad guy. But once you shift the image from fantasy in a comic book film, to a real person, you have moved from the realm of fantasy to demonic psychological projection. As the poet William Butler Yeats once wrote:

    “We had fed the heart on fantasy,
    The heart’s grown brutal from the fare.”

    It is the movement from fantasy to brutality that we are witnessing in the transference here from the screen to Obama. The white face paint, now detached from the logic within the film, and brought into the world that we actually inhabit, now takes on different resonances.


  13. docdoormat says:

    Would everyone stop picking on Santi, he’s having a completely reasonable reaction to this poster. If you remember it’s the same reaction he had when Vanity Fair did the Joker face on Bush as well as his outrage to all the times they portrayed Bush as a Vampire. Oh wait….Sorry, never mind.

  14. santitafarella says:


    It is the easiest thing to do: simply shift the terms of argument to Bush, and dismiss my critique in ad hominem terms as coming from a partisan, and then there is no need to deal with my arguments or concerns.

    Regardless of who started demonological political imaging practices, in this particular instance, and with regard to the response of the right to Obama in the first six months of his presidency, is the climate making Obama more vulnerable to assassination? Yes? No? And do those with large national microphones (like Limbaugh) have some moral (not legal) responsibility to avoid ginning up base demonological hatred towards our first African American president? Don’t you agree that the assassination of Obama would be an enormous national tragedy, given our painful history?


    • docdoormat says:

      Yes, you’re exactly right! I am dismissing your critique in ad hominem terms as coming from a partisan. For the simple reason that I’m sure you didn’t make as much as a squeak when the movie depicting Bush being assassinated was released. You can’t have it both ways Santi. I guess I’m not as focused on color as you are, I see a potential presidential assassination threat as a bad thing whether the president is white or black. For that matter, what about a vice-presidental candidate being hung in effigy, didn’t that heighten Sarah Palin’s chances of being assassinated? As far as Limbaugh goes, yes he does have a large microphone. Thank God, because otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone to balance the overwhelming amount of propaganda we are force-fed on a daily basis from the mainstream media.

  15. santitafarella says:


    If I am being hypocritical or didn’t show proper outrage at demonological projections onto others, it is more than fair to call me out on it.

    But just to be clear. You endorse Obama’s depiction in the terms above? And you endorse Rush Limbaugh’s statements about Obama with regard to this poster? Yes?

    In case you don’t know what Limbaugh said, here’s a link:


  16. docdoormat says:

    Yes and yes. If all it took to fuel an assassination attempt was an insulting poster and some harsh words Bush would have been dead years ago.

    The anger building against Obama has nothing to do with this poster, Obama’s race or anything Rush said. It has everything to do with Obama himself and his policies. America is waking up and realizing that while they weren’t paying attention the country that they love is being changed into something they don’t recognize.

    At this very moment the president has a website for people to turn in there friends and neighbors who disagree with the President and his policies, I find that bone-chilling and you should too. His cabinet remains relatively moderate while his list of “czars” are being more and more radical.

    I don’t know what I find more disturbing: the special advisor for health policy who is a long time advocate for Age-weighted Medical Rationing. The science czar who is in favor of forced abortions, “compulsory sterilization,” and the creation of a “Planetary Regime” that would oversee human population levels and control all natural resources as a means of protecting the planet. Or how about the “Green Jobs” Czar who is a Self-Admitted Black Nationalist and Communist. I won’t even get into Acorn and the SEIU and their thug enforcement tactics. How can you not be frightened or at the very least a little uneasy….

    “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”

  17. santitafarella says:


    Wow, you’re way in deep on the conspiracy side of the anti-Obama “kulture kompf.” And could you provide a link to the “turn people in” Obama site?

    Your unhesitating endorsement of the most inflammatory and (I believe) hysterical rhetoric directed at the president leads me to ask a simple question: How will you feel if the right-wing climate is such that it leads to Obama getting shot? Will you perceive it as a tragedy?


  18. docdoormat says:

    Here’s the link you asked for:
    I’m curious about which fact that I listed above you consider incorrect. All of the things listed are a matter of public record, even the media doesn’t dispute that. They rarely report it, but they don’t dispute it.

    And, yes I would consider the assassination of any president black OR white a tragedy. Thank goodness Obama has had to deal with a lot less insults directed at him than Bush ever did. But President Bush handled it with the dignity that normally accompanies the White House. He even stood up for the freedom of speech rights of those who maligned him.

  19. santitafarella says:


    The weight that you give to your facts (if they are indeed facts) is what I would take issue with. For example, Obama’s science advisor is a highly respected member of the scientific community. Perhaps he belongs to (say) a zero population growth organization or has endorsed China’s one child policy, or has said in a speech that he thinks that a global civilization without national borders will come a century from now. So what? You want the world to freeze in place with Ozzie and Harriet? Do you seriously think that the world is going to be recognizable to us fifty years from now (regardless of who is president)? You really think all the static surrounding Obama is going to matter—or be remembered? The reality is that our children will live in a wealthier, more energy efficient, less nationalist world than we do (just as we live in a wealthier, more energy efficient and less nationalist world than our parents and grandparents grew up in). It will have different problems than the ones we worry about. The world is changing and you’re putting all that rage against change on an object: Obama. Obama is the symptom of the change, not the cause of change. Demographics and technology are sweeping away the familiar world of mid to late 20th century America and people are scared. It doesn’t matter. The change is coming. Change is always coming. The way that Republicans are responding to change is with rigidity.

    All the things that might be freaking you out about Obama (health care reform, cap and trade, relaxed mores with regards to gays etc.) are things that are tied up intimately with 21st century demographic, environmental, and economic trends. The pressure of the world is towards less nationalism, more environmental awareness, more energy efficiency, more multicultural openness. React if you must. Resist all you can. A different world is coming. It’s not communism or socialism. It’s a complicated high technology, mixed economy civilization that is going to be increasingly global and interconnected.

    Erecting your resistance around Obama is just finding a thumb to suck while the world changes around you. There’s too many dike holes for you to put your fingers in—the flood has already begun. Your dam is crumbling. You’ve lost. Your choice now is adjustment to new circumstances or irrelevance. And you know what I’m saying is true.

    You and your fellow conservatives are still in the denial stage. That’s the stage where you shake your fist at the sky. You’ll calm down anon.


    • docdoormat says:

      All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

      Well, I think the sleeping giant is starting to awaken and the silent majority won’t be silent any longer. You may think America has lost it’s fighting spirit but you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

      Keep on thinking this is all about race, you’ll be in for a big surprise. This is nothing about race!! This is about saving our country and our constitution. Believe it or not the majority of us still value both and we will fight to keep them.

      You belong to a very small minority and you will find that out in 2010 & 2012. If everyone agreed with what Obama really stands for, why does he have to lie about it and try to sneak it past us. Let’s face facts, if he had been open about what he really planned to do to this country when he was a candidate he would have never won the election.

  20. iBen says:

    OMG! im so annoyed that i havnt been participating in this ordeal! docdoormat knows what he is saying!! finaly someone with some common sence. Santi definatley needs to open his eyes. Santi, you have tunneled vission, you choose to only see race and conspiracy, you have little if any faith in mankind and society, you believe that people will and are conspiring against progression. Docdoormat obviously knows what he is talking about. Learn the facts and ideas behind making good decisions and maybe someday, Santi, your eyes will open.

    =] iBen

  21. santitafarella says:

    Docdoormat and iBen:

    My perception is different than yours. My guess is that you two are on the fringe, that most people don’t stew about these things the way that you do, and that the “silent majority” has dwindled to a minority that will be increasingly frustrated by subsequent election cycles. As for the constitution, it’s Obama who is moderating the extra-constitutional excesses of the previous administration (as with torture and habeas corpus). Truly, you guys sound like 1970s John Birch throwbacks.

    The overriding global trends are towards interconnected problem solving with other nations (with regards to the environment, technology, and energy efficiency), coordinated global economic policies (which means a mixed economy, not socialism or communism, which both failed as experiments), and greater understanding among people (which means things like tolerance for religious diversity, rights for gays, and less overt political expressions of racism and sexism). If you’re fighting on the wrong side of these global trends, and see the world’s direction conspiratorially, or erect your rage on an object (Obama), then you are simply boxing at the air. The world will simply pass you by.

    Do you imagine, for example, that SUVs are going to be driven a decade from now when gas is 8 dollars a gallon? It won’t be Obama’s fault that the country moves away from gas guzzlers. It will be global energy pressures that lead us in “liberal” directions such as ecology and efficiency in the use of energy. The cultural changes that accompany these things will make for ripe conspiracy plots, but it will just be the world evolving. The American way of life, with its gas guzzlers and wasteful energy usage, is going to be a thing of the past, with or without Obama. Cap and trade (and things like it) are going to be the way that the United States adjusts to new environmental and energy factors, not the product of a conspiracy to change Americans’ “traditional” lifestyle.


  22. docdoormat says:

    I have no doubt that what you just described is what Obama and those of you on the extreme left are working towards, however you’re way wrong if you think the majority of America agrees with you. Why do you think Obama’s numbers are dropping like a stone? People want no part of the snake oil that he’s trying to sell. It took awhile for the blinders to come off and there’s still a lot of people who are in the process of waking up, but it’s definitely happening.

    You see, unlike you we love our country just the way it is, if that makes us throwbacks then so be it.

    People all over the world would do anything to live in America and all you guys want to do is try to make America more like the places these people are trying to escape from.

    If you like the way other countries are run there’s nothing stopping you from going to one of them. I’m sure we could even take up a little collection for you if you’re short on cash. Hey, maybe your new country could use a new leader and some congressmen. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. God bless America!!

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