Why so… socialist?
Sometime in the past few days, just in time for the President’s birthday, posters of Obama in Joker-style makeup appeared on a Los Angeles overpass. The images quickly spread across the internet and have sparked predictable praise from the right or criticism from the left. Whether or not the posters are unduly offensive to President Obama, they are a serious insult to Heath Ledger’s Joker and his gleeful nihilism. What strikes and fascinates me is the poster’s angry incoherence: under the image of Obama is the word “socialism.” Did this artist even see The Dark Knight? Or perhaps I should ask, what does this artist think socialism is, anyway?
Consider that socialism is associated with the concepts of “central planning” or a “planned economy,” in which a centralized authority manages everything (or at least the economy) according to plan. Now, thanks to a conversation with Brooklyn Law prof Nelson Tebbe, who offered a profound analysis of The Dark Knight, I watched that film with the close attention of a serious academic, ready to learn what it could teach me about violence. I even read the script. And the Joker’s worldview seems pretty antithetical to socialism. Here’s what the Joker has to say about planning:
Do I really look like a guy with a plan, Harvey? I don’t have a plan… The mob has plans, the cops have plans. You know what I am, Harvey? I’m a dog chasing cars… I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it… I hate plans. Yours, theirs, everyone’s… Schemers trying to control their worlds. I’m not a schemer, I show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are.
If the Joker were an economist, wouldn’t he be a free-market guy?
Of course, coherence is no prerequisite for First Amendment protection, and I disagree with commentators who question the artist’s right to compare the President to a crazed movie character. These posters remind me a little of an incident I discussed here on Concurring Opinions a few years ago – a high school student’s suspension for displaying a banner that read “Bong Hits for Jesus.” As I said then, it’s not entirely clear what “Bong Hits for Jesus” means. It seems vaguely pro-marijuana, and perhaps disrespectful to Jesus, but at best it only gestures at ideas. These Obama posters do the same, and I think I get their message: “Obama is evil, and socialist, and I have no clue what socialism is, but I know it’s evil, like Obama.” Sounds like protected speech to me.
Many thanks to Dan Solove and his co-bloggers for the invitation to join them this month.