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'V' is for Obama? Not So Fast

5 years ago
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A few months ago, posters depicting President Obama as "The Joker" -- Batman's nemesis as portrayed by Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight" -- began popping up around Los Angeles. Some conservatives quickly seized on the image, making it a popular Twitter or Facebook icon. Now, a new ABC TV science fiction series, titled "V," has acquired a political meaning.

"V," a remake of a 1983 series, premiered Nov. 3. It depicts the arrival of aliens claiming to come to Earth in peace. The visitors (V's for short) are lizard-like creatures disguised as attractive and engaging people. Despite promises of mutual benefit, the visitors actually have sinister motives, and that story line has inspired a handful of conservatives to appropriate "V" for their partisan purposes.

To be sure, this is not a huge phenomenon on the right. It's not as if Fox News has added a "V" to Glenn Beck's logo, or anything. But to a subset of conservatives, the imagery is starting to catch on.

Could it be that ABC is intentionally seeking to tap into the sizable number of Tea Party activists, many of whom view President Obama's motives as sinister? It may be smart marketing, but it doesn't make for smart messaging. It's one thing to believe Obama's policies are harmful, but quite another to believe he is seeking to destroy the world. Some conservatives and libertarians are probably just having harmless fun with this comparison, but one can't help finding it disturbing that some – and let me stress some – of these folks may literally embrace it.

At a recent health care protest at the U.S. Capitol, The American Spectator's Philip Klein noted a sign with the letter, "V" and the words: "The Lizards Don't Really Want to Help Us." Obviously, it was an attempt to compare the Obama administration to the TV aliens and their nefarious plans.

While one might think the Obama/"V" analogy is a stretch, The Boston Globe cited the following line, spoken by Anna, the alien leader: "Embracing change is never easy, but the reward for doing so can be far greater than anything you can imagine.'' The Globe writer went on to ask, "Doesn't Obama own the trademark on the word 'change''? Hasn't he been accused of the kind of dispassion that Ana, whose speech is as even-toned as that of a voice-mail operator, cultivates so effortlessly?"

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic noted the script jumps out of today's headlines: Anna "promises to use futuristic technology to heal humans. 'You mean universal health care!' gapes a reporter, who, naturally, has been co-opted by the aliens."

To be sure, the phenomenon of anti-Obama forces appropriating pop culture into their activism is a clear sign that something new and interesting is afoot. This is not your father's stodgy old conservative movement. On the other hand, political-pop culture comparisons are always up for interpretation and reinterpretation. When "V" first aired in 1983, some assumed it was a metaphor for the Reagan administration.

Fundamentally, the problem is the interpretation that "V is for Obama" is a way of viewing the world through the prism of hyper political interpretation -- and seeing things that aren't really there.

When the Obama/Joker graphic surfaced, many liberals accused the artist (and the conservatives who used the image) of racism. When he dropped his cloak of anonymity, the creator of the image turned out to be an apolitical 20-year-old Photoshop user and college student reacting to over-the-top Obama supporters. Yet both sides interpreted the image as having a much deeper meaning than it actually had.

The "V" uproar may prove to be much ado about nothing or it may pick up momentum. Either way, though, while it is true that Americans must continuously be vigilant against totalitarianism, we must also guard against paranoia. There is a real danger in assuming that every effective practitioner of politics we disagree with -- be it Reagan or Obama -- is a tyrant.

Promiscuously accusing your enemies of the most sinister of motives only serves to diminish the value of those same words and ideas when you really need them.
Filed Under: Media
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