‘Cain’t’ Take My Eyes Off You

Presidential elections are optimum hunting grounds for political artists. With candidates tripping up daily, opponents slandering one another, and important policy questions being answered in all the wrong ways, material for mockery and criticism abounds.

Republican Senator John McCain (Arizona) didn’t miss out on his fair share of abuse back in the 2008 presidential election against Barack Obama. Calling home Austin, Texas, this work of wall graffiti features three smiling “McCain’ts” in a fashion which reflects a flag wavering in the breeze.

"MCCAIN'T" COULDN'T - John McCain received his fair share of mockery in the 2008 presidential election, including being tagged with the nickname "McCain't".

With his outdated ideas—much like his years—McCain was not the young and fresh-faced chap the Republicans needed. Support for policies similar to those of Bush didn’t throw much favor his way either.

In the race against Obama, “McCain’t”, despite the clever new campaign slogan, had no hope of being anything other than the little engine that couldn’t.

Wake Up and Smell the Roses

Another recruitment poster by James Montgomery Flagg, this one is called “Wake Up America!”

With the storm of war brewing behind her, a personification of America sleeps. She wears a Phrygian cap, a symbol of liberty since Roman times, and an American flag as a dress symbolizing freedom.

A CALL TO ACTION - James Montgomery Flagg, a popular American illustrator, produced another famous war recruitment poster entitled, "Wake Up America!" featuring a personification of America sleeping.

With the tagline “Civilization calls every man, woman, and child,” this poster tells all of America to wake up and do their part for the war effort.

While Flagg was both an American artist and illustrator and worked in media ranging from fine art painting to cartooning, he is best remembered for his political posters. Nationalistic in nature, his posters were used to commission soldiers in both World Wars, although many of his political illustrations appeared in books and on magazine covers, notably Life.

Flagg’s most famous poster is the Uncle Sam “I Want YOU for U.S. Army” illustration.


Mixing Old and New

This one plays tricks.

When my eyes first glanced over the images in this picture—and before I’d read the words—I had apparently unconsciously formed the mindset that this would be a propaganda poster about the World Wars or reflect some earlier period of history. I know that I had unconsciously developed this idea because it came as a shock to me that this poster is in fact protesting ‘Obamacare.’

It’s like a time warp: mixing the ideas of today with the design of the past.

WHEN PAST AND PRESENT COLLIDE - This propaganda-themed poster actually leans toward political protest upon closer inspection. Utilizing imagery from the past, it protests a present-day issue.

I’ve decided I like it, although it’s still screwing with whatever portions of my brain distinguishes between past, present, and future.

By no means will I even attempt to delve deeply into the political argument behind this message, however. Health care is quite the sore topic. No pun intended.

In essence though, this propaganda-themed poster satirically suggests that the implementation of ‘Obamacare’ would revert Americans back to a time when rationing was a necessity and citizens were expected to be content with less. In effect, through use of historical imagery, this poster says that ‘Obamacare’ is a step backward, not forward.

Almost Like A Stamp

It’s almost like a stamp.

This piece of political art, showing Bill Clinton—complete with an ‘I’m Awesome’ look in his eye and a stereotypical cool-guy head jerk—is etched on a street corner in Berlin, Germany.

STAMPING GROUNDS - On a street corner in Berlin, Germany, this stamped stencil graffiti calls President Clinton a pimp in reference to his extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinksy.

It reflects an opinion on the Monica Lewinksy sex scandal that came to light in 1998 concerning an extramarital affair between United States President Bill Clinton and 22 year-old Lewinsky, a White House intern at the time. While the relationship was kept under wraps until 1998, it was allegedly begun in 1995 when Lewinsky first began her internship.

The subsequent investigation of the nature of the relationship led to the impeachment of President Clinton by the House of Representatives, although he was later acquitted of all impeachment charges of perjury and obstruction of justice by a Senate trial.

Only six years old at the time, I do not remember the news or the reactions that followed. I don’t remember any detail about Clinton’s presidency, and it’s probably a safe bet that most of the American public doesn’t recall anything other than the scandal. It’s likely even a guarantee that a majority of the public can recite on-the-spot the phrase which is debatably the most famous line ever said by Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” He didn’t know when he was saying it that he’d just created a great punch line.

Another equally brilliant line uttered by Clinton, although perhaps less well-known, was in reference to the meaning of the word ‘is’ (since that clearly confuses so many). In response the truthfulness of his statement that “there is not a sexual relationship, an improper sexual relationship or any other kind of improper relationship,” Clinton answered that it depended on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. Now THAT’s desperation. Talk about REALLY reaching for something.

Whatever good may have been remembered about Clinton and his presidency, it was, and still is, completely overshadowed by that scandal. The Lewinksy affair is a dark mark on his term in office and on his reputation as a man.

Almost like a stamp.

‘The Bigger the Government, the Smaller the Citizen’

For the last six months, I’ve parked near a Toyota 4Runner with this bumper sticker. And for all six of those months, I scoffed at it.

A different medium of political art, this bumper sticker’s phrase was coined by Dennis Prager, an American conservative talk show host, columnist, and author. In his argument, Prager asserts that big government takes away liberty, individuality, and character from the citizen.

I mean, honestly: “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.” It sounds like a conservative party tagline. Consequently, I labeled it (and the car’s driver) as being radically right-wing—someone who believes no government is the best government.

But today, after sticking by my conviction for this long, I decided to look into the phrase, and…maybe I jumped the gun a bit too much with my assumptions.

The phrase was coined by Dennis Prager, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, columnist, and best-selling author who has been broadcasting shows five days a week from his Los Angeles base since 1982. He is noted for his conservative political and social views on almost every topic.

Prager filmed a five-minute explanation of his phrase (video available below), and unlike the majority of talk show hosts I’ve encountered—who are nothing less than frightening in their sense of self-righteousness and would rather YELL than talk—Prager is reasonable, calm, and actually possesses common sense.

He first asserts that America has always realized that its citizens needs to be “big, important, individual, autonomous, and strong.” It follows, then, that America’s success as a democracy is directly derived from granting its citizens the most power in society. Prager continues with the assertion that “the land of the free, the home of the brave” is impossible to achieve as the state gets bigger. A government which has too much power and control, Prager says, limits liberty and individuality and lessens the citizen’s importance.

A political graphic used in Prager’s video showing a big government diminishing the Statue of Liberty, and symbolically, citizens’ liberty.

Prager also makes a more dramatic argument that human character actually diminishes as the size of government increases. When a population depends on its state, Prager argues, citizens begin assuming that the government will take care of them and naturally begin neglecting to care for themselves. In other words, big government takes away citizens’ self-reliance and makes them dependent.

As a big government continues over time, its citizens gradually become more preoccupied with trivial things—Prager notes countless European strikes over vacation time—and become less concerned with work, which in turn hinders their character development.

The notion of citizens lacking character, Prager says, is not an ideal on which this country was founded.

I can’t say I entirely agree with all of Prager’s ideas because for some countries, the existence of a big government has proven to work quite well—take Switzerland, for example: perhaps the most peaceful country in the world, but under a very large and regulatory government.

I can, however, agree with the notion that ‘big government,’ which Prager means more in reference to regulatory powers of government than size of government, is not something cut-out for America. Our very independent ideals and historical notions of freedom and democracy by the people would make the achievement of such a state unlikely.

In any case, I’ll stop scoffing at the bumper sticker.

Watch the Dennis Prager video, “The Bigger the Government, the Smaller the Citizen”: 

To read some of Prager’s latest columns, click here.

‘President of the 1%’

As long as there is a government, there will be plenty of opportunities for protest. And nothing gives more reason for protest right now than the 2012 presidential election, where government, people and policy all come into play.

My latest piece of protest art comes from Thursday, March 1, where over a hundred protesters gathered outside a Mitt Romney fundraiser in Bellevue, Washington.

Carrying signs and posters protesting the wealthiest candidate in the presidential election (if elected, Romney would be the wealthiest president in terms of raw dollars), members of Working Washington, a labor union in Washington, made clear their concern over whether Romney could relate to poor and working class Americans.

The largest protest sign at the rally was a spinoff of the U.S. Constitution reading “We the Corporations” with a “Rmoney” (a clear mix of the name ‘Romney’ and the word ‘money’) cutout pasted over it.

The largest sign carried by protesters at a Romney fundraiser was a spin-off of the U.S. Constitution reading "We the Corporations."

Another large sign read “of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%,” an out-of-context version of the popular closing line from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Another sign at the protest took a line out-of-context from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Romney has had a difficult time convincing the poor and working class that he could relate to them if elected.

Romney’s overwhelming personal wealth has had the effect of isolating him from a large majority of the American population. Despite repeated claims that his own social status would not obstruct his thinking when enacting policies affecting the poor and middle class, he has already gained the nickname “The President of the 1%.”

Political Signs Become Local Attraction

***Names have been changed to Mr. and Mrs. X to protect privacy

One yard in Fredericksburg, Texas is attracting quite a lot of attention—and not for the landscaping.

At the home of Mr. and Mrs. X, two large signs sit blatantly in the front yard. They’re hard to miss, and townspeople have taken notice.

The first, placed in the yard approximately two years ago, features a picture of former president George Bush waving and the words “Miss Me Yet?” underneath. The second, introduced about a year later, shows a picture of President Obama and reads, “Voted Obama? Embarrassed Yet? You Should Be!”

The first of two politically-charged signs to be placed in the front yard of Mr. and Mrs. X in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Mr. X was prompted to create and purchase the signs after being disappointed by the 2008 presidential election. While he discovered the Bush design through an e-mail thread, he designed the Obama sign himself.

The Obama poster was the second to arrive and was designed by Mr. X. Both signs have now been in the front yard for approximately two years.

The signs, a familiar sight to Fredericksburg residents, are now attracting the attention of visitors.

“Lots of people come by to take pictures,” Mr. X said. “Many tell me the merchants on Main Street are sending them by, like a tourist attraction. It’s actually very difficult to get yard work done on weekends. Everyone wants to stop me to visit about the signs.”

In conservative Fredericksburg, the signs have received a lot of support.

“We’ve only received two negative comments in two years,” Mr. X said. “One unsigned card from a Chicago resident passing through, and the other from a lady I go to church with.”

While Mr. and Mrs. X have been lucky to receive relatively little backlash, both signs have been vandalized once. On the Bush sign, it appears that George may have a pink mustache, while there is a hole near Obama’s eye in the Obama sign.

“Some kids drove by late one night and shot at the Obama sign with a paint ball gun. They missed twice, but hit once in the eye, making a hole,” Mr. X said. “I suspect some kids from down the street marked on George with a Marks-a-Lot. When my wife cleaned it off, the cleaner lightened the picture in some spots.”

The sun, too, has faded the Bush sign from its original bright pink color. Currently, Mr. X is working on a new sign to replace it, featuring both George and Laura Bush with the words, “Miss Us Yet?”

While plans for the new sign are underway now, Mr. and Mrs. X did contemplate removing the signs after about a year of having both displayed.

“To our surprise, everyone we mentioned it to begged us not to because they had someone they hadn’t been able to show the signs to—kin from out-of-town, things like that,” Mr. X said.

So for now, the signs will remain a Fredericksburg landmark. But despite their touristy aspects, the signs deserve recognition as political statements. Furthermore, they foster political awareness and have generated a good deal of political talk in the community.

“We get to meet a lot of folks that come by. All have been fun to talk to and hear their take on the current political situation…even if they keep me from getting my yard work done,” Mr. X said.

Bumper Stickers Target President

This video was sponsored by Veer to the Right, a company which offers a variety of pro-Republican t-shirt designs and right wing bumper stickers, along with other conservative political memorabilia.

Video compilation of anti-Obama bumper stickers: 

As a marketing scheme, Veer to the Right compiled what they call “the best anti-Barack Obama bumper stickers” in this three-minute video. Now, I couldn’t even definitively say what political party I support more, but I do think this video is fairly disgraceful—not because I’m a liberal taking offense, but because I think it’s sad that art, in this case, is used to target someone.

The bumper stickers range from the more popular, such as One Big Ass Mistake America” and “Nobama 2012,” to the less-known, such as “I Hated Obama Way Before It Was Cool.” Another celebrates what could be his last day in office with “1-20-13: Obama’s Last Day!” while yet another cites his supposed lack of experience with:

“What a surprise that a man who served 7 years in the state legislature and 3 years in the Senate is not prepared to be President. What. A. Surprise.”

Others focus on his accomplishments in office, or lack thereof, as this one would have citizens believe: “Why pick on Obama? It’s not like he’s done anything!”

Finally, there’s a number protesting Obama’s policies, such as this protest on his support of Medicaid and other programs for the poor: “Work Harder: Millions on Welfare are depending on you!”

It’s not like I haven’t seen these bumper stickers or variants of them before, but seeing them all together in one long roll is a bit more shocking. One alone can come across as funny or clever, perhaps even despite a person’s party affiliation; in a group like this, they are nothing more than hateful.

Political Signage

It’s protest art in a different style.

As of yet, I’ve stuck to covering paintings, posters, graffiti, and street art. But there’s a whole other world of political and protest art out there in the form of metal signs, bumper stickers, buttons, t-shirts, etc. The genre is positively teeming with variety.

This metal sign (i.e. a part of the ‘other world’ of protest art) was spotted in the Fredericksburg General Store in Fredericksburg, Texas, my hometown.

This sign was spotted in the Fredericksburg General Store in Fredericksburg, TX. While the store houses mostly antiques and nostalgic memorabilia, it also has a small collection of political signs and wall-hangings, mostly conservative in nature.

Citing a paraphrased version of the second amendment to the U.S. constitution, (the actual amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”) the sign reflects heated arguments over the issue of gun control in American politics.

Unmistakably created to protest regulation of firearms, the sign’s latter half employs a condescending tone which intends to call out the opposition on their ignorant misinterpretation of the second amendment.

While the second amendment appears straightforward, its meaning has been a subject of debate for centuries and regulation of firearms remains a hot topic in politics.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), founded November 17, 1871, has long been considered America’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights. While the NRA was not initially a lobbying organization (it only formed its Institute for Legislative Action in 1975), it is a major political force today. The NRA is staunchly opposed to any firearms regulation and favors civilian control over firearms.

On the other hand, those supporting gun control cite as their single most important reason the safety of individuals. Those in favor are of the opinion that implementing gun control laws would reduce the number of firearms-related accidents, prevent guns from landing in the wrong hands, and regulate who gains ownership of guns.

As for the sign, Fredericksburg General Store owners Ron and Donna Nordstrom say it’s a store favorite.

“It’s a popular buy among locals and tourists,” Mr. Nordstrom said. “With the amount of hunting that goes on around here, it’s no surprise that residents and visitors alike support the sign’s message.”

Fredericksburg, in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, is widely regarded a prime destination for hunters across the state.

The General Store, one of many unique shops to grace Fredericksburg’s Main Street, boasts a wide selection of quality souvenirs, collectibles, toys, candy, and nostalgic items. While it is not home to large number of political art pieces, it does house a few, mostly conservative in nature.

Banksy: The Street Art Phenomenon

I’m undergoing an obsession (likely a fleeting one) with Banksy, arguably the most well-known, albeit controversial, street artist in the world.

I’ve mentioned him several times, but to review: Banksy is a graffiti artist from Bristol, England, whose artwork has appeared throughout London and other cities around the world. Despite being wildly popular, he’s managed for the most part to hide much of his identity from the media. Nobody can even say for sure what his real name is, although many assert that it is Robert or Robin Banks. However, he sings all of his works of art with the stenciled “Banksy” logo.

On the occasion that he has agreed to be interviewed, Banksy refuses to call himself an artist, although he is obviously considered as such by other artists and by viewers of his works. His street art style is very unique and most commonly employs a distinctive stenciling technique.

Banksy’s art is often heavily controversial and almost always politically loaded. His works offer commentary on a wide range of societal problems, but tend to focus most on urban decay and subjects in urban environments. His political leanings, which many believe to be left-wing, are often not appreciated by certain members of society. Sometimes viewed in an offensive light, his art is not always received well by older members of society, but he has generated somewhat of a cult following among younger generations.

In addition to his street works, Banksy does paid work for a few organizations and sells some canvases for a steep price.

In 2006, Banksy generated an unprecedented amount of controversy when he stenciled nine images on the West Bank Barrier, the 425-mile concrete barricade separating Israel from the Palestine territories. Israel constructed the wall as a security measure against suicide bombers. Painted on the Palestinian side of the barrier, one image depicts a hole in the wall with an idyllic beach, while another shows a mountain landscape on the other side. Still another shows the head of a white horse appearing to poke through, while he also painted a ladder going over the wall.

Banksy condemned the wall, but also described it as the ultimate holiday destination for graffiti artists.

Here’s a video documenting his work on the West Bank Barrier: 

Here’s another showing a number of his works around the world: