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Obama Joker artist unmasked: A fellow Chicagoan


When cryptic posters portraying President Obama as the Joker from "Batman" began popping up around Los Angeles and other cities, the question many asked was, Who is behind the image?

Was it an ultra-conservative grassroots group or a disgruntled street artist going against the grain?

Nope, it turns out, just a 20-year-old college student from Chicago.

Bored during his winter school break, Firas Alkhateeb, a senior history major at the University of Illinois, crafted the picture of Obama with the recognizable clown makeup using Adobe's Photoshop software.

Alkhateeb had been tinkering with the program to improve the looks of photos he had taken on his clunky Kodak camera. The Joker project was his grandest undertaking yet. Using a tutorial he'd found online about how to "Jokerize" portraits, he downloaded the October 23 Time Magazine cover of Obama and began digitally painting over it.

Four or five hours later, he happily had his product.

Obama-joker-time On Jan. 18, Alkhateeb uploaded the image to photo-sharing site Flickr (shown at right). Over the next two months, he amassed just a couple thousand hits, he said.

Then the counter exploded after a still-anonymous rogue famously found his image, digitally removed the references to Time Magazine, captioned the picture with the word "socialism" and hung printed copies around L.A., making headlines.

Alkhateeb's original Flickr page surpassed 20,000 views. The Times found his Flickr site last week thanks to a tip left by a loyal reader of The Ticket. By Friday, the page had been taken down.

On Alkhateeb's page, a manipulated image condemning fellow Chicagoan and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (captioned "epic fail") was mixed in with parodies of the "Guitar Hero" game franchises -- dubbed Quran Hero -- and of Napoleon riding a motorcycle (pictured after the jump).

Flickr had removed the Joker image due to copyright-infringement concerns, Alkhateeb says the company told him in an e-mail. A Flickr spokeswoman declined to comment due to a company policy that bars discussing inquiries about individual users.

Alkhateeb says he wasn't actively trying to cover his tracks, but he did want to lay low. He initially had concerns about ...

... connecting his name with anything critical of the president -- especially living in Chicago, where people are "very, very liberal," he said.

"After Obama was elected, you had all of these people who basically saw him as the second coming of Christ," Alkhateeb said. "From my perspective, there wasn't much substance to him."

"I abstained from voting in November," he wrote in an e-mail. "Living in Illinois, my vote means close to nothing as there was no chance Obama would not win the state." If he had to choose a politician to support, Alkhateeb said, it would be Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

Napoleon Possibly becoming a villain in his home city wasn't his only worry. Time's cover and the Joker obviously aren't Alkhateeb's copyrights to fool around with.

Concerned about a lawsuit, Alkhateeb, an unnamed superstar whose nationally recognized artwork had stunned friends and family, was relieved that the situation had floated for months without any major news organizations discovering that he was the man behind the paint.

After we contacted him, he hesitantly agreed to an interview.

If it's any consolation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that defends digital rights, says Alkhateeb has a strong fair-use defense if Time or DC Comics decides to take him to court -- that is if one even does file a lawsuit.

"You really want to think twice about going after a political commenter," said Corynne McSherry, a senior staff attorney at the EFF. In Time's case, "a news organization probably doesn't want to be in the situation of pursuing political criticism."

Perhaps the strongest case for anyone, McSherry said, is for Alkhateeb to claim money derived from people selling T-shirts with his picture. Is it worth pursuing? "It would be nice, but it's not that big of a deal," Alkhateeb said.

Although Alkhateeb claims he was making no political statement with the artwork, he's plugged into the Washington debate. Though born in the United States, his Palestinian family closely follows Middle Eastern politics.

"I think he's definitely doing better than Bush was," Alkhateeb said of Obama. Alkhateeb's views on foreign relations align with the Democrats, he said, while he prefers Republican ideals on domestic issues.

Alkhateeb's assessment of Obama: "In terms of domestic policy, I don't think he's really doing much good for the country right now," he said. "We don't have to 'hero worship' the guy."

Someday, Alkhateeb hopes to be a history teacher and high school football coach. He won't be pursuing a full-time career in art, but he'll continue playing with Photoshop on the side. He's honored by Shepard Fairey's assessment of his Joker picture, but disagrees with some of Fairey's comments criticizing the message of the Socialism poster.

"He made a picture of Bush as a vampire," Alkhateeb said about Fairey. "That's kind of speaking with two faces."

Regardless, Alkhateeb does agree with the Obama "Hope" artist about "socialism" being the wrong caption for the Joker image. "It really doesn't make any sense to me at all," he said. "To accuse him of being a socialist is really ... immature. First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?"

-- Mark Milian

No joke, click here for Twitter alerts on each new Ticket item. Or follow us @latimestot or @mmilian

Photo credits: Firas Alkhateeb

Comments () | Archives (980)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Just look at this great (artist??), it's easy to see what he is. A cry baby that just did'nt get his way, so he resorts to childish acts of revenge. But that does'nt deter from the fact that President Obama is a very intelligent, classy, educated man with enviable self control. The repubs just don't have anything real to attack him with so they invent nonsense which shows how stupid they really are.

It would appear that Alkhateeb will have no worries. After reading his comments he's likely to be hired by the DNC. What is actually horrifying though is this quote:
"It really doesn't make any sense to me at all," he said. "To accuse him of being a socialist is really ... immature. First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?"

This is the product of leftist, subversive education of today. He obviously has no knowledge of history while wanting to be a history teacher. Any surprise in that? So who rewrote his history teachings? How is it he does not know of the over 56 Million people murdered in the last century alone by socialists taking power and maintaining their dictatorships? Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Min, Mao, and the count still continues today. The 'dumbing down of America' continues and this is a textbook case of how it happens. Subversive direct from the now open archives of the former KGB from the late 50's into the late 60's. Insert the professors in colleges. Then teach teachers. The teachers teach the kids. Send them to the colleges that promote this. They in turn go on to teach, an so on. Is it any wonder why he asks; "First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?"

Here's a simple test. Answer these. 1) What constitutes a Right? 2) Contrast a Right with a Privilege. There are three kinds of answers to these. Those who don't know the answer, those who do know the answer, and those who do know the answer, but will not tell the truth because it will undermine their socialist agenda to expose the truth.

As an alumnus of U of I, I congragulate Firas and thank him for this great gift to America!

It is impossible for minorities to be racist. That is the white man's burden.

These are the same people that wanted to kill the artist of the Mohamed with the bomb in the turbun picture.

Give the picture creator a MEDAL.

Good for Firas. At least he recognizes what many in this country don't.

Take a look at those without ideas, they just call others names.
The artist has an original idea, that made a point with the freedom of speach he still has, and all the left can do is say nah, nah, na,,,,,

Congratulations Conservatives you have won the FIRST battle against the Kenyan.
The Second battle will be harder and you must work harder to rid America of shame and abuse:

We must Push now to have the Kenyan Impeached since Nobody has seen his Long Form Live Birth Certificate. No Senator or Congressmen or Congresswomen have seen Obama's BC.


Americans are forbidden to call Obama President since we don't know if this man is Eligible yet.
Our Troops are in no onligation to salute or obey this imposter.

Obama and his Nazi troops in the House and Senate will continue to push their HealthCare on Us.
Unless you join KUIN!!


Well are there any really important Socialist who have benifited mankind and or improved their country or area?
What about Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Castro, and others?Did they improve their country with Socialist measures or did they just improve their own personal power?
I say Socialist measures only improves the power of government not the people.

Go figure how did socialism get to be something embrased by the Liberals? Liberals say they believe in individual rights, yet socialism takes away the rights of the individuals. Not sure the Liberals have thought this all out? Freedom flows from economic freedom which is Capitalism.

since when does following a tutorial in photoshop make you an "artist" ?

Socialism itself is not 'evil'. There have been certain individuals who can easily be called 'evil' that called themselves 'socialists', but applying the evil label to all socialists is just narrow-minded.

How disappointed the mainstream media must be today to find out that it is not an angry white redneck teabagging racist that did this, but a Palestinian. There is no criticism of him in the article because, well, you just can't. We know how different the story would be if if it was one of the aforementioned "angry white racists". Can't you just feel the air going out of their collective sails?

Firas Alkhateed, you surely have the right to free expression, but with a name like Firas Alkhateed one would hope that your common sense would have over rode your silly sense and not thrown fuel into a flame (all these crazy wing-nuts) who would see one such as your self and shoot first on the belief that with a name like Firas Alkhateed and looking like a cousin to President Obama that you are surely something they should hate and fear. All you Dennis and Ron supporters must know that there is no way in hell either of these very extreme candidates have a ice cube's chance in hell of winning the presidency of this nation. Folks are not into extremism.

This is interesting. Is it "racism" if the perp is also a minority? Of a different minority?

Posted by: chotii | August 17, 2009 at 07:16 PM

Wow! What a stupid, ignorant question! Do you really think that white people are the sole perpetrators of racism, or that the definition of racism requires that a white person be involved?
That being said, this has absolutley nothing to do with racism!

I didn't hear one stinking word from the liberal press when the drawing of George Bush was painted as the joker typical liberal B.S. L.A. Times included

OMG - UNMASKED! THANK GOD we know who this eveil person is! Blah, blah, blah - let's talk important stuff like Madonna taking a crusie with her adopted kids and fake accent- now that's really IMPORTANT!

This phoney upset is too funny - where was all the outrage when Hilter-like drawings were used against President Bush.

Ha, ha, ha, ha,.........!

What is the proper role of government?

According to Jefferson, it is to secure the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus, the proper role of government is security. It is that simple.

We willingly consent to give up a small portion of our possessions to empower a group of people to exercise force under due process to control invasions, banditry, and other infringements of basic rights - that is, we hire a big force operating within our laws to put down other forces operating outside of our laws.

Being compelled to give up possessions beyond this role moves toward the area of wrong-doing. It takes days of your life to accumulate possessions; when a government takes them, it is equivalent to appropriating time out of your life. It is part-time slavery.

That is why socialism is wrong.

Great poster -- the only thing missing are the devil horns -- Obama is going to destroy this country -- if he doesn't give it away first. We are going to run out of "other peoples" money pretty soon.

I love it! I bet that Olbermann, Maddow, et al. were hoping that the "artist" in this case was some white frat boy from Kansas. Goes to show you that there are people of all races who think Obama is a fraud.

History will attest:

Socialism is evil.

Democrats are misguided and fall for the farse that it is a solution to support the less fortunate or make all equal. However, it causes the opposite of efficiency or wealth building. And, it comes down to this:

Government of dependency versus government which enables a fair playing field for competitive the private enterprise to supply choices for consumers...and power to the people to choose what they consume and what they make.

Anyone recall how successful the USSR was?!!!

How stupid can we be to forget so quickly?!!!

It's the principle. Don't be fooled!!!

''First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?"

I said it.

Posted by: Anne | August 17, 2009 at 07:54 PM


I bet you can't even define Socialism. To you it's just a word you heard Rush Limbaugh, or Sean Hannity say!

I dont understand this guy. He agrees with republicans on domestic issues but would have supported Dennis Kucinich for president?!

This college student is telling it like it is - Obama is a joke to the Middle East. They know they can do absolutely anything they want, continue to commit acts of terrorism anywhere they desire because Obama will not do a thing to prevent it. Of course they like his foreign policy! I hope this college student graduates, gets rewarded with an extremely well paid job for his hard work, then gets taxed to the limit so others who are on welfare and also illegal immigrants get to reap the benefits. Then lets here what he says about socialism. Oh I forgot, he won't be allowed that freedom under a socialist regime. Oh and then he won't be allowed to do these photoshop pics either because he will be sent to prison. Go socialsim.

Patrick Hamilton, what is a "true blooded" American? Are you referring to Native Americans because that is the only aspect of American society that is truly American.

My family has been here since the 1600's but I don't pretend that I am somehow more American than anyone else here.

Those of you calling Obamas names are ignorant. You are telling us more about you than the president. He is not evil nor is he a Socialist. Go back to school, everyone.

Obama won't ruin this country but your hateful rhetoric will if you don't stop inciting the simpleminded.

I wonder how Alkhateeb is going to like it when I "Jokerize" Muhammad the Prophet of Islam? I find this graphic to be an abomination, yet if he feels that he has the right/freedom to denigrate President Obama, I definitely have the "freedom" to denigrate the Prophet!...please stand by....he ought to look as desecrated as President Obama would be if he saw this lurid graphic.

The Joker (from the Dark Knight) was more of a Nihilist. He really had no value in anything (money, power, life, etc), except the desire to create chaos out of order.

Obama is unintentionally accomplishing much the same thing, but under a different political philosophy. He will not make this country great by demonizing success (companies and people) and entitling the rest.

Q: Who said being a socialist is evil?

A: More than 50% of the US population obviously. If memory serves correctly I believe the Constitution makes it pretty clear as well.

It seems pretty clear to me that to prevent this from happening again we need to outlaw Adobe Photoshop.

Gabriel: So, you want “principles” in your elected leaders and you suggest Ron Paul as a solution.

Ron Paul is an anti-Semite who does not want the US to support Israel; REAL CHRISTIANS WILL NEVER ALLOW FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF ISRAEL!

Ron Paul wants us back on the “gold” standard, YET THERE ISN’T ENOUGH GOLD TO COVER OUR DEBT!

Ron Paul wants to end all abortions, yet as a physician he KNOWS that 6-7% of pregnancies end in sepsis and MUST be aborted to save the life of the mother!

Ron Paul KNOWS that the US is a pluralist system that prospers ONLY with a strong two-party system and that supporting a “third party” would result in rendering this country as a weak “parliamentary” type system as in Europe!

Ron Paul is a goofy, old, anti-American fool who is only a Republican one day each year! In even number years, he is a Republican on Election Day (to get elected) and on odd number years, he is a Republican on the day he gets his committee assignments. The rest of the time, he is a nutzo, two-faced “libertarian” which is closer to Democrat than Republican! He us a masterful LIAR who should be in prison for election abuses!

"First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?" This is why I'm glad I have three History degrees. It's not rocket science, but you're expected read about things before you voice an opinion. Shepard Fairey might take note of this.

oh great. this kid wants to teach history---as if the distorted rendition of history that is being taught now weren't bad enough. can you imagine what he will be throwing down to his little charges?

He abstained from voting because"his vote means close to nothing", but wants to be included in the political discussion. Why don't we paint him as he really is,and that is as another self promoting ill informed "artist" whose opinions don't amount to anything constructive. If you don't put your two cents in in November then your opinion isn't worth a dime.

He says (and I quote) "To accuse him of being a socialist is really ... immature. First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?" DUH???

What a complete let down for all the Left hate mongers out there, including the media. But for once, I have heard a Lefty actually not slobbering all over Obama. That says something, I guess, since he's a homey of the Prez in Chicago and all.

it's not racist it's Ugly -you idiots with it on your T shirts will make yourselves even more Ugly than you already are.

Mr Alkhateeb presents an interesting person. Disassembled, he presents the modern face of Islam in the West. He hates the American liberals on domestic issues yet hates a strong American foreign policy presence. It seems odd that he has no problem with "socialism", until one recognizes that socialism is the tool-of-choice used by anti-Western dictators worldwide (Hitler, Mussolini, Castro, Pol Pot, Chavez, Evo, Soviets and Sandinistas, etc). It might make even more sense when we note that most Arab governments are socialist dictatorships that impose a moral domestic agenda.
Maybe Mr Alkhateeb would like co-eds at U of ILL wearing burkhas?
With his domestic political bent, can Mr. Alkhateeb explain why he likes Kucinich???

Saturday my four year old granddaughter worked all day in the hot southern sun to sell lemonade. She got a few dollars out of the cut. I told her to set aside half of it to send to obama so he could give it to the little girls who refuse to work.
She looked at me like I was crazy.......

Alla Akbar!!

Firas Alkhateeb's inspiration has been adopted by tens of millions of Americans. That Firas Alkhateeb has Arab ancestory is mildly interesting, but surely a disappointment to all the leftist racists praying the aritist was an angry white southern male. Better luck next time, Fools:)

Maybe the Joker should sue for being associated with "Dingle Barry!"

I love the morons on here who are saying "Socialism is evil". I'm a History major and your ignorance is really disturbing. I want you all to tell me what Socialism is and why it is evil and then I want to know what aspect of Obama's policies are Socialist. If you don't like government assistance then you should forfeit your medicare and social security benefits. Ask the veterans if they want to get rid of their benefits as well. I wish you would just think with your brains and not with your ideology.

I'm so tired of uneducated morons coming onto these boards and spreading misinformation. We get it. You Republican types don't like Obama. I didn't like Bush but I also didn't go online and make up facts about him.

If you dislike Obama, vote in 4 years. This is a Democracy. But trying to incite people to anger and violence because you dislike the political party that is in charge at the moment is really shameful.

"All the property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it."

Benjamin Franklin, letter to Robert Morris, December 25, 1783

There was NOTHING "cryptic" about the posters AT ALL, and this "bored" student did NOT creat the image at all so the "photoshop" point is a flat out lie (there are other programs).

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. Racist this, racist that. I'm soooooo tired of hearing that same dry and boring line by the same people over and over to silence any critics of Barack Obama. Is there nobody in the entire Democratic party that can come up with some new and accurate material?
How far should white guilt take this country and exactly where do you want us to go? After the way the Democrats treated our last president they have left little, to no wiggle room for themselves under President Obama. Either grow thicker skin or learn to shut your big mouths during your off seasons.

It's amazing that the GOP's numbers have dwindled down to the point where they have to get middle easterners to do their artwork for them.

I will be making a $25,000 donation to the artist of this picture. His work is truly magnificent and I think its time for everyone to learn who obama is: a joke and a liar.

Obama's lips are purple, not red.

Bright young man. Political satire is as American as apple pie.

Right on, Firas!! I loved it from the moment I first saw it and hey it is not near as dark as the one made of President Bush last year!! Have seen the site that is selling the T-shirt and mugs AND bumper stickers!!

The American people DID elect a joker, liar AND of course a socialist!!

Being a socialist is not evil at all if your not the President of the United States

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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