An interesting thing happened today on the ThinkState Facebook fan page. Manolith.com had posted a propaganda image of Barack Obama (on his birthday no less), depicting him as the Joker (Batman's nemesis) along with the label of 'socialism'. I happened to find the image via my friend Charlie Ferguson's posterous page. The image is certainly evocative, but what really struck me was the power of individual use to convey a sentiment that, regardless of its basis in fact, had a perceptible impact that transcended the words themselves.
The thought arose: if we label people - especially public figures - we should be prepared to visualize them in that context. In other words, imagery can shape semantics and can impose a cultural value system upon us, no matter how small or self-contained.
So my longtime friend and colleague, Adam Goldberg, responded: "We should also be prepared to suffer the consequences of our own labeling and lies. And if need be, own them. If slanderous propaganda, God forbid, incites some kind of vigilantism against Obama, do you think that those who disseminated those mistruths will hold themselves accountable? No way. Freedom of expression should be a two-way street."
Then he posted an augmented image of his own to the comment thread and labeled it 'racism' - the image you see above.
This through me for a loop, because now there was a clear and conflicting relationship between the words and the image. It jumped right out at me.
Was this new augmentation suggesting that Obama represented racism, or was he the victim of it? Was it saying that he was two-faced, or the victim of party posturing?
This is just one example - where the possibilities can reach epic proportions - of how media influence and social currency can shift perceptions in an instant. Looking at this hypothetically, imagine if the images had reached a wide, long-tail net of users. Further, imagine the lengths to which people could attack and counter-attack using these productions of words and imagery. Who knows, they may by tomorrow, or sometime in the next hour. We can never underestimate a groundswell of elicit conviction and perceived moral fortitude.
Ultimately, it forces all of us to ask ourselves about the role we play in sharing the responsibility of our messages and their subsequent actions.
Going forward, what role will you play?