Culture of Echoes
This was originally printed over at Marks and Meaning.
I’ll spare you my usual critique of the Post-Warholian aesthetic, but there is no doubt that the aesthetic has permeated our culture. The democratization of art injected into the scene pop culture and, consequently, greater, more fragmented imagery. We became a culture of repetition and allusion, a culture of echoes.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with my geneology, the allusion and repitition is here to stay. Digitally it manifests itself in link blogging platforms like tumblr and its cousin, the retweet. It has even challenged the ideas of authorship and artistic integrity, let’s take Shepard Fairey’s Obama poster as a preeminent example.
There have been a number of comparisons with revolutionary propaganda ranging from Russian to the Black Panthers. The similarities are striking, if you check the previous links, and certainly some of the fundamental ideas of both Russian and Black Panthers, specfically bringing power to the people (where “the people” are the oppressed or ignored and marginalized), were emergent in the Public consciousness during the election.
Second, there are religious allusions, at least if the Warholian echoes are assumed, it reminds me of the Andy’s Madonna Marilyn. The head almost shimmers or glows, he is to be understood as brilliant man (literally and visually). Also, the term “hope” is an religious term, i.e. “Faith, hope, and charity,” and brings to mind an eschatological notions. Here is the man who will bring change we can count on. “Hope,” of course, has is not just a suggestion, but a command. Remember Shepard’s “Obey” posters with Andre the Giant? The tone is admittedly softer hear, the typography is cleaner and unitalicised, firm but not demanding like “yield” as opposed to “stop.” Still, it echoes his earlier work.
Lastly, a uniquely visual metaphor: Obama is not looking us in the eye, he is looking upwards and outwards. We cannot see what he can see, but he looks certain, serious, and purposeful. This is what we want in a President, a man who knows were we must go, a visionary.
The image, regardless of one’s politics, is striking and it is the juxtaposition of these visual allusions which makes the above poster iconic. Again, we see the power of visual rhetoric.