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Sep 28, 2008

Your Turn: Trickster McCain

Acevedo Mccain

In the progressively evolving search for the perfect visual McCain analogy (as Mac continues to reveal himself), this feels chillingly incisive.  I'll leave it to you to elaborate why.

The image was created with Photoshop by graphic designer Marco Acevedo inspired by McCain's campaign "suspension."  I encourage you to read Marco's entire post, titled "Joker's Wild."  He accompanies the image with the following quote:

"Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just do things."  —the Joker in The Dark Knight

:  A friend just took issue with me for posting this image, especially in light of the recent Jill Greenberg controversy.  Given The BAG is primarily dedicated to the analysis of (unaltered) political imagery, I thought I'd bounce this issue off you, as well.  ... I would briefly say, however -- and I think this is what Acevedo was getting at here -- that  visual interpreters of all kinds have an opportunity, in fact, a moral obligation even -- without undo malice, which is what Greenberg was so affected by -- to expose, for the American people, a candidate who is so blatantly not who he poses himself to be on the surface.

h/t: Loret

(photoshopped image: Marco Acevedo/Hokum at Open.Salon)


I don't think what you've done here can remotely be compared with Jill Greenberg's McCain photos: she took those on The Atlantic's dime and manipulated McCain the man, not McCain the found photo to do so. You're also clearly presenting this as an artistic statement, not as a professional submission.

The comparison is a remarkable and chilling one, to be sure.

I think it's fit for the cover of The New Yorker.

I love this image, and the joker quote that you've used to accompany it. Really sums up what he is about and why we should be very wary if he gets elected by a scared electorate.

I was startled by this image, but not at all offended by it.

The Jill Greenberg photo was a good deal more subversive than this one. Anyone viewing the Greenberg photo without a caption explaining the set up for the shoot has to reach into themselves to interpret the photo. It was a "real" photo; ie, while the lighting might have been "staged," you had to think about that photo to recognize the effects the lighting had. There was an appeal to the subliminal, which was independent of cerebral intervention (not sure I said that well, but I think you know what I'm getting at?).

In this "photo" the effects of "artistic intervention" are plain. You can ask yourself for a split second if John McCain would ever pose made-up for such a shot, but it doesn't take a nanosecond's of of reflection to arrive at the conclusion that it was "photo-shopped." Then, you get to think about what the artist is trying to convey. IMHO, and inexpert opinion, There's no subliminal appeal here. The viewer is in full control.

Each of the photos are creepy in their own way, but the path to creepiness is different. Greenberg's photo is instantly creepy. Marco Acevedo's "photo" becomes creepy as you think about it.

There is a blogger out there who has written a number of satirical pieces about McCain as a clown (Rove as ringmaster). It was those satirical pieces I thought of when I first looked at this image. The analogy to a contemporary The Joker isn't one I can follow. I leave that to better minds - or, at least those more immersed in contemporary culture.

The Dark Knight presents an up to the minute argument that our heroes are so culturally important that maintaining a hero's stature is worthy of a lie, a whopper if necessary. This somewhat infantile hero worship fetish certainly fits with the Modern Republican Party approach to informing the public -- don't tell the public what you observe, tell the public what to observe.

As for photo-shopping, etc, there is a very real problem here that needs recognition: it is perfectly possible to electronically alter images in real time to make anything *appear* to be real. We need to accept this (un)reality and work out a system for maintaining objective awareness and truth.

What you do best, and what sets you apart from anything else I read and keeps me coming here every day, is the way you interpret -reality- as it is captured, or manipulated, by the media. I loved, for example, your interpretation of the Obamas' fist-bump moment on the night when Barack won the primary race. This image of McCain=as=Joker is in another category. I think it's as unfair and puerile and obvious as Greenberg's stuff, but more important, it's just not as interesting or relevant as the real-time media images you discuss here.

This is fine.

It captures exactly how I visualize McCain lately. Demonized. A dark and vile creature. A manipulator without a conscience, a pathalogical liar without shame. It has gone from bad to worse, and where exactly in the spectrum of ethical decline do you expect it to stop over the next 40 days? Barack Obama, a good and decent man is being tortured and he hasn't been broken yet, so this reptile is certainly meeting with his henchmen to turn the pain up a notch. Reference William Wallace in the final capture scene of Braveheart for Obama's analogy.

I didn't see the Joker at first, but lipstick on a pig. And I agree with Robert S. comments - this is not an image designed to trick, but to provoke.

I think you're right to present the image. I'm not sure where a good definition of "unaltered" would come from, and frankly some of the processing that we seem to consider natural does more to alter our perception of people and events than this image of McCain, which is plainly satirical.

You yourself showed what a little creative cropping could do in the first image in "Outside the Crawfish Shak" a couple of years ago (still my favorite post, and one I use to teach visual rhetoric). Somebody was allowed to present that as a "real" image, even though its political agenda was fairly obvious.

This is going too far. It can't be said to be a photograph with any meaning outside of the alterations done by the artist. I have little respect left for John McCain, but I do not think this visual is helping the discussion at all. There are plenty of undoctored images, words and actions to choose from without resorting to weird, wonky smear.

And as for the message, I think this kind of hyperbole should be left to the right wing. They caricature Obama as a communist or terrorist every chance they get, but progressives need not wallow in the same mire to win in November. Do I think McCain's campaign is a mess? That the man himself has lost his way? That he's dishonest? Perhaps unstable? Yes. But this image portrays him as a crazed psychopath. Come on.

It's a free country, and an artist is welcome to say what he wants. But that doesn't necessarily make it worth our serious consideration.

I think the image is brilliant -- and belongs here -- if ONLY because it points out, by contrast, what so called "real" photographs
purport to do/fail to d, i.e., measure some sense of the "truth." One can disagree with the affect of this image or its implications
(as we did with the New Yorker cover of Obama) BUT in agreeing or disagreeing ... and figuring out why ... we find ourselves pushed
to talk about what we might otherwise not discuss -- or to figure out what the real measure of decorum is AND WHY IT MIGHT
MATTER. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that we NEED images of this sort every once in awhile to situate the kind of work
we presume to prefer and to force us to reflect upon our normative assumptions and desires.

That said, I find the metaphor invoked here particularly compelling even as I want to admonish myself for liking it.

Hmm.. okay, since you asked, I agree with your friend who thought you should pull it.

It's a good stunt photo and there are sites where it belongs but I think it lessens, however slightly, your site's credibility. I think I'd have much preferred one of the many news wire photos of McCain along with the Joker quote, which fits him perfectly.

no .. not okay. it's not a news image. it's a manufactured cartoon. a good cartoon, but not true to your site's stated purpose.

Terrific images. But not on this site. I don't come to you for artistic interpretations or poetry. I turn to you to help me see not so much to imagine.

Your instincts are good - trust 'em.

This certainly falls within your mission statement: dedicated to visual politics ... and the support of "concerned photojournalism". And this is visual politics at its very best/worst.

a clever pic but a cheap shot

Is it art, is it journalism. Is it real?
Is it politics, or is it showbiz?
I don't know, but it sure is fun.

It was certainly startling to see this McCain Joker here--my first thought was, "holy shit, did McCain dress up for Halloween around the wrong photographer??!!" And it was a letdown to read it was photoshopped.

On the other hand, the image WAS interesting: I can only look at so many photos of rich posturing white guys in suits (pretending that they alone know what's going on with The Economy) before I start to lose interest. zzzzz. ("This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with spin-bred ennui..."?)

Maybe there can be a compromise? A real-photos-only policy for your main site, and then a side-side--a "check out this cool picture" link or section, where you relax the rules a bit for the sake of analysis and/or interesting things?

"Given The BAG is primarily dedicated to the analysis of (unaltered) political imagery, I thought I'd bounce this issue off you, as well."

I have been reading for a couple of years or more and would have thought that the BAG was more dedicated to the proposition that there IS NO (unaltered) political imagery. At least in the sense that photography is a deliberate act; and in the case of your images largely performed by professionals, while the published images are selected, often from many candidates. The Atlantic did not select one of the "Vincent Price" images of McCain, so that is not a factor. You certainly suggest that the editors of Time, Newsweek, NYTs and others are guilty of attempting a similar distortion through selection.

As to the Joker, when combined with the quote, it seems to me to suggest something fundamental about the McCain campaign. I would not like the BAG to become an outlet of every cheap political Photoshop job on the net, but suggesting that "unaltered" images are more true is less evident to me than you seem to believe.

I thought the Joker-McCain idea drew a relevant connection when I posted my version on my blog back on 10 September.

I could see McCain as Pagliacci, but not the Joker.

I see McCain killing the things he loves, his own self image and the lives of those around him, not as trying to generate chaos intentionally.

He has become a sad shadow of his former self, really.

I'm thinking "Crazy Joe DaVola"

I saw the image only a few hours after watching Dark Knight. I think that if I had seen the image first, and had only hearsay about the movie to go on, I'd have supported this particular distortion of the McCain image. The Joker was a villain: unscrupulous, slightly demented, unpredictable. All that, but still approximately human.

Having seen the movie, however, and Ledger's version of the Joker, I think differently. This Joker is beyond the human pale. And while I think McCain has proven himself not only unfit for the White House, but unworthy as well, I don't think we can reject him absolutely.

So I vote no on the image.

oh, you know i just love this image, Michael. i think you should post the video of Mrs. Palin in her church, next. Oh, you know, the one that mocks her religious beliefs and strange rituals? Which reminds me, btw, happy Rosh.

Brilliant - absolutely brilliant, simply because it portrays the truth about McCain - he is not 'all there' AND his psychopathic tendencies, while not as overtly obvious as the Joker's, are running beneath the surface strongly enough to leave most psychologically stable people with the impression that something is just plain 'off' about McCain, yet they can't quite put their finger on it. This? This puts the finger on it...

It's a powerful image, and it does connect on a few levels. That is, it's not just a shallow mockery like Sarah Palin's head on a bikini model or some such nonsense. There are a million trashy little websites for that sort of thing.

That said, I don't think this site should be dipping into deconstructing art, because that's what this really is, and that topic is going to be too broad. It also opens up avenues in which all unaltered photos on the site become suspect.

So my vote is to stick to real, published photos that are unaltered, unless the publication of an altered image (such as the darkened OJ in Time) is in the a mass media and is presented to the public as if it's unaltered. That is, deliberate deception.

this isn't intentionally self-promoting, but the only image of the anti-palin protesters in downtown anchorage this weekend that I managed to capture before my phone started acting funny was one of a sign with HER as the Joker:

The image was strangely compelling even as a homemade sign and it was startling to then see john mccain staring back as the same character.

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