Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obama avatar

So aside from ranting and raving on here I also host a photography community/forum. And further from that... I'm a staff member on a forum for forum administrators. Someone recently posted a poll about an image (included in this post) and whether it should be censored/removed or not. After 4 pages of ranting and raving and me telling everyone to behave, someone asked my opinions on the image. The rest of this post is my response...

Well I was asked a question and it's not like me to not respond. I was waiting until I had the time to dedicate toward an answer.

I'm not offended by the image. I don't think all individuals of that area of the world want people to submit to them. I think there are extremists in every race, culture, and religion. The dregs of society are spread across color, ethnicity, creed, etc. I don't typecast people. I know white people who are brilliant and others who are a drain and can't be trusted. I know black people who are mentors to me in my career and others who I wouldn't have in my home. Once, a good friend was an Iraqi national who was against Saddam (before his ousting) and part of a nation anti-saddam movement in this country working with our government to find him. I don't like individuals as individuals, not as a category they are pigeonholed into.

I said that to say this. Despite my ongoing attempts at impartiality as a leader in my job, an American, an admin, and a human; I understand that many people don't feel the way I do. I also see that the image that started all this is not racist, in my opinion, but it is in others'. For me to define that image would be to say it's "racially charged." It's not a portrait of the man. It's meant to make a point. It's meant to cause a stir.

The arabic style writing and the turban are there to evoke emotion from the viewer. The turban and font are plays on the facets that the republican party ran rampant during the campaign. Obama said "my muslim faith" and he was touted as being a muslim. His middle name is Hussein which was likened to Saddam. Obama/Osama - one letter apart was all over the media. These are subtexts of the photo left open to interpretation of the viewer. The actual text is "Change - You will submit to Obama." The inferred meaning is that you will do it because he's arabic.

Does that make the image racist be definition? No. Does it make it racially profiled? Yes. Does it mean that you will have a divide within your community over the inferred meaning? I believe so.

The end result is that it is, in fact, inferred meaning. It's composed in a way to let people apply their own values and come up with their own meaning. Because it's not spelled out as to what the author/designer meant, people have to decide for themselves. These are beliefs that you can't change.

Is an avatar worth a political split on your forum? Is freedom of speech (on a PRIVATE forum) worth an uprising among members?

Satire has been used and I agree that's what it is, but satirical items can be based on lots of parts of life. Nazi Germany has had satirical political cartoons done for many years. Nobody wakes up and raises their hands. Why? WWII was over 60 years ago - SIXTY! It's not a threat.

Muslim extremists are a current threat. Not muslims, but muslim extremists. During the crusades, Christian extremists were the threat. The word fanatic has the word fan in it. Someone who is a fan to an unhealthy level that they become a fanatic.

Take a heated political/presidential campaign, the first black man running for that office, add in the current hot button issue of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a general fear (albeit misguided) of arabs and muslims in America and put it all into a cartoon right now, not 50 years from now and you end up with a recipe for angry, emotionally charged debates. It's playing to the emotions of all sides. Republicans get pissed because they say "see? we were right about him." Democrats get pissed because they say "He is NOT a muslim." Christians get pissed because they say "We shouldn't have a turban wearing president that looks like and has a name like those trying to kill us." and Muslims get pissed because they say "We don't ALL believe you have to submit to us."

It's not racist but it IS offensive, in some way, to basically everyone. I'm not offended by it because I know it's meant to offend me and I won't allow myself to lose sleep over a political cartoonists satire and fall victim to his game. But I still wouldn't allow it on my forum. My forum is about photography and I wouldn't let the spirit and intent of my forum get disrupted over an avatar. It's not worth it to me.

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