My Own Private Guantanamo

Pranks, Power and Pop Culture


Obeying the Zeitgeist

April 8, 2009

picture-31I woke up this morning to a couple of messages informing me that my “Obey” spoof poster was featured on last night’s Daily Show. Well, not exactly. The graphic in the screenshot here is different in one key way, from the poster I designed. They’ve used Obama’s logo to replace the “o” in “obey.” When I designed the original “Obey” spoof, I found that other spoofers– mostly of the right wing variety– had come up with a similar idea. Shepard Fairey’s work has long spoofed propaganda, and so when he decided to make an unironic endorsement of candidate Obama, replacing the word “Hope” with his usual “Obey” signature (itself lifted from John Carpenter’s film They Live) seemed like an obvious rejoinder for many pranksters on the left and the right. Bottom line: while I’ve spent the last few months wondering if I’d be the target of a Fairey copyright infringement lawsuit, I woke up today to friends and family asking if I’d planned on suing Comedy Central. It’s a funny idea, but no.

As many of you may know, Fairey himself is in a complicated legal battle with the Associated Press over his unauthorized use of the photo from which the “Hope” poster is based. Fairey is also countersuing the AP. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is trying to figure out how to reign in unauthorized merchandising of the President’s image. To me, this is a bit like trying to put the genie back in the bottle. President Obama is so popular, and so iconic that he represents a one-man stimulus to the consumer economy.


It’s not for nothing that he won Advertising Age’s “Marketer of the Year” award in 2008. In fact, the marketing of Obama as a vehicle for “Hope” and Change” was so successful that it helped inspire re-branding campaigns for Pepsi (ironically, one of Fairey’s bigger corporate clients) and Ikea. ikea-change1

Personally, I’ve been on the hunt for bizarre Obama merchandise. So far, my two favorite personal finds are this Obama votive candle (I still wonder if this depiction of the President as savior/messiah is ironic) and First Family dog tags (sorry, but that’s just creepy).


In fact, as much as Fairey might protest that he didn’t make a dime off of the “Hope” poster, his profile as an artist/brander, and thus his market value, have both risen dramatically. The “Hope” poster is now a part of the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian and the artist has been a guest on Terry Gross, Steven Colbert and Charlie Rose. He recently landed a gig with Saks Fifth Avenue, applying his cheeky socialist aesthetic to a high end retailer, even while America’s economic climate teeters on the brink of class warfare.


Issues of fair use and Obama merchandise aside, it’s distressing that The Daily Show, and indeed much of Obama’s liberal base has been largely silent on recent developments in his foreign policy. Would liberals really sit still while a President McCain deepened the occupation of Afghanistan or displaced half a million people in Pakistan through bombing raids? And what if McCain had maintained the Justice Department’s stonewalling on the rights of detainees and investigating warrantless wiretaps? In short, when are we going to set aside the hero worship and the “hope” rhetoric and push Obama to roll back the rightward shift in American politics? The campaign is over. Obey, indeed.

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