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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)

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I respect you for seeing both sides. Watch your butt though, those Chicago goons aren;t so tolerant: their way or the highway, I also like your comment on what you like about the democrats and republicans. Very honest and wise.
Take care.

Socialism advocates state, public, or common worker ownership.

Looking at what the health care plan that has been attempted to be pushed through, I think Obama with Socialism under his name is only fitting.

Also, Karl Marx defined socialism as a transitional stage between capitalism and communism... So take a deep thought into where this country is heading?

immature? people are trying to spread the word that obama is a villain. its a way to get people's attention. and he's right its not socialism-- its fascism. trying to take away our constitutional rights. ridiculous psh. its not about conservative/radical, race, democrat/republican, its about stopping the New World Order. and their puppet aka obama.

Why do some of you continue to refer to Obama as "czar"?

If you actually think he's a communist, then the person in your scenario you should be referring to as "tsar" is Bush.

I like this guy, Firas Alkhateeb. I agree with him.

Predictably, the uber leftists at the leftist Los Angeles Times thought that the posters were the work of a vast conspiracy of an "ultra-conservative grassroots group". Hahahahahaha! You have to love that it's the work of one of Obama's fellow socialists.

This artist is GREAT ! He said more about Obama in one cool picture than all the pundits, newspapers, talking heads, etc. put together. And he has labeled Obama exactly right and it is sticking !

I find this article to be racist for not dredging up some white guy and putting a noose in his hand or something.

"We don't have to 'hero worship' the guy."

Dude, easy now ... thou shalt not use the Lord's name in vain.

This poster is a perfect example of the political freedom guaranteed in this country. Those that find this poster offensive probably found the Bush posters, bumper stickers, etc. perfectly fine.

I personally find this poster to be a perfect example of what I consider a marxist would look like.

You go kid, and hire yourself a good constitutional attorney to protect your rights.

"Bucky: This guy takes the prize. Good luck with your career at McDonald's."

And Bucky... sweetie... did you object to the Bush joker posters?

Of course not!


Parody is protected free speech.
Political Speech is also protected.

He violated no copyrights.

I have to absolutely say I love the comments by Patrick Hamilton, here is a pure liberal crybaby loading the diapers to the breaking point over some usurper to the throne. First off Pat old bean, your party couldn't, didn't and wouldn't shut the borders to the south so you could pad your numbers in your stinking crime ridden population centers so that you could throw the vote with illegals and now you whine that his "heritage" doesn't measure up???? Well Patty boy, I don't think this kid crawled across the border, he is a student here so man up. Second Pat you blue state flag waver (there's an oxymoron), this guy accurately figured out that Obama was an empty suit and he even said he would vote for Dennis the Menace from Ohio so that alone proves that he is sincere if he can throw in with the likes of Kucinich. Look, nobody likes Obama more than me, I was preaching to all that would listen that this leftward tilt would do us in and it fell on deaf ears and now we are losing a quarter of a million jobs a month, the stock market is in the dump and businesses are closing down faster than gubmint offices on a holiday. Sweeeeet, the best lessons in the world for stupid people are long painful lessons where lives are ruined and economies destroyed. The other upside is rather than going into long winded supply side economic explanations, I can laugh and say I told you so and "How's that Hope-N-change workin for ya?" Sucks living in a blue state huh, glad I'm in one of the few states that had their books in the black going into this self inflicted political suicide at the hands of a puppet head who's only experience was running his mouth. Own it biatches, own it all.

Socialism is immoral...thus it is evil...

who cares about this ? Only liberals who see their Messiah caricatured. Another example of liberal hypocrisy. Any, and I mean Any - mockery of Bush was fine with them. In fact it was considered the height of "patriotism". Now they have an obsession to find out who dared to lampoon "The Great One". Personally I think it is juvenile and low class to deface the photo of our President - but not at all important to the average American trying to find or keep a job and pay his or her bills.

No one said "being a socialist is evil", douchebag. Go find a country that practices it. Don't f-up the one built on individual freedom.

I dont get it... So he thinks being a socialist isnt necessarily a bad thing but he agrees with Republicans on domestic issues? Typical college kid. Doesnt know what he doesnt know yet.

very interesting love the picture, missed the bush one. was he lestat(interview) or james(twilight). sad my daughter has the twilight series and i got hooked, ugh i am 50. does that make me sensitive? lol

Rahm is already assigning his minions to go after and destroy this guy....MSNBC and Keith Olberman. Firas Alkhateeb will learn a lesson as well as anybody who would dare to follow his deeds.

As far as socialism being evil? Oh my...I hope he learns that in his senior year...provided of course it is being taught by an ultra-liberal former-hippie professor.

Hey! Write a public notarized will saying you will never commit suicide or some kind of protection clause somewhere so if they do come after you everyone will know the truth.

remember the DC madam?! Just a thought/good preventive measure.

Actually, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen said Socialism was evil back in the 50's.

Alkhateeb is obviously a thought criminal who committed a hate crime against Our Great Leader Comrade President Obama. Thank goodness the rigid thought discipline of his Chicago neighbors suppressed further deviant speech. Obviously, the political correctness of his neighbors was a strong barricade against public expression of speech that does not conform to the norm all moral people support. At the very least, such "fishy" opposition to Obama should be flagged and reported to the White House for action. Perhaps in the future, as Obama consolidates his control, such hate criminals can be dealt with more appropriately and quickly, before their thought disease spreads, eh comrades?

Note to self: Stop reading comments section. It is clearly the playground for sexually frustrated radical conservatives with too much time on their hands.


"When those from the "Middle East" can come here, utilize our resources to achieve their personal agenda openly without shame is truly the end of life as TRUE RED BLOODED AMERICANS once knew..."

Hey Patrick, Freedom of speech is actually true blue American... and being ashamed to display art is something like living under the crown something that thousands of Americans died for. Maybe you where never American.

I sure hope your taxes are all paid up, because you're sure to get an audit this year.

Sounds like the kid is left of center.

Good for him.

Why so stimulus?

We are indebted to Alkhateeb for the poster weapon, but for his analysis of ethics and economics --- not so much. He says "To accuse him [Obama] of being a socialist is really ... immature. First of all, who said being a socialist is evil?" Inasmuch as socialism consists of stealing property and killing your victims if they put up an effective fight, it is hard to fathom how a man could reach any other conclusion but that socialism is evil. Alkhateeb's creativity and artistry clearly exceed his endeavors in the social sciences, but after he starts making good money, I expect he'll prefer to choose his favorite charities rather than having some government skunks dictating these choices to him, "in the name of The People."

How wonderful that the unknown--now known artist Alkhateeb-- is an Arab. This makes him virtually immune to any public criticism from the Marxist-Trotskyite-Judaic Chicago gangsters (Rahm-Axelrod) or from the Zionist-controlled media (MSNBCLGBTCNNCBSABCNBC). These Red imbeciles would never dare excoriate a minority Arab living on American shores since they'd risk upsetting the minorities who vote as monoliths. Had the artist been a flabby white guy the usual hysterical mediawhorepuppets (Chris Matthews-types or the Zionist Wool Blitzer) would have denounced him as "a racist" (their favorite smear tactic) and pounded the drums for his prosecution. The Rahm-Axelrod gang, I assure you, will NOT forget Mr Alkhateeb. His iconic rendering of Soetoro was an unexpected left hook to the Trotskyites, whose darling Soetoro's ratings are plummeting. The real danger for Alkhateeb is what may happen to him a few months from now when he drops off the radar.

So this guy didn't even vote?
He has no right to criticize any politician.
If you vote, THEN you can criticize.

"Who said being a socialist is evil?" Hey dufus, ask the 120 million plus who are in mass graves and who's lives have been destroyed by socialism just in the 20th century!
Socialism IS evil!
I will name a few famous Socialist since it's obvious you slept thru history class. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Marx, Trotsky, Lennin, Castro and lets not forget dear old Hugo Chavez ,plus others.

This guy is un american. That is all that needs to be said.

No one seemed to care when GWB was portrayed as a joker, but now that the 'annointed one' is, there's a problem? Liberal hypocrisy on action... what a mob of jokers.

Too bad, I think he's more like "Two-Face". So there it goes, another mystery of the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" solved. Better make sure this guy wasn't organizing any "angry mobs" for town hall meetings. If you ask me, "Chairman O" might want keep Gitmo open, just in case.

Lay off the guy, it's not like he's an aspiring artist or anything. If you have comments criticizing the guy's art, please tell us what your DeviantArt account is so that we may bask in your artistic radiance.

As for socialism, you know Sweden and Finland don't have it so bad off and the US has the largest Welfare state in the world; Medicare and Social Security are huge. And George Bush was right in asserting we do have Universal Healthcare, by the fact that if you show up to an emergency room they have to treat you.

Tell Grandma you want to take away here Social Security and Medicare (2 big Ponzie schemes the way they are currently structured) and she'll hit you upside the head.

What's wrong with this art work? No one had a problem when this was done to Bush. It is freedom of speech and it goes for all of us. Our troops live and die four our freedoms to express ourselves. Shame on you people that cannot hear another view or see something that goes against your guy. Go back and look at all the hate against Bush. You're small and have little minds if you can't see it both ways.

Smatter bucky? Can't take a joke(r)?

I love this country. Our freedom of speech and press. The Obama Joker Socialist poster is an example of our freedoms at their best. People forget when President George W. Bush had worse poster about him like a vampire and Hitler.
A major movie studio even made an assassination movie of Bush. Constitutional freedoms are great ...either for good or bad. You got to love it !!! What goes around comes around..:)

HELLO, the Flicker people are dishonest.
The image would NOT be copyright infringement.
Fair use allows parody and use of the image to make a political comment gets first amendment preference.
They are lying.
They just don't like the message.
Think that the internet gives us extended free speech? It doesn't.
Think that fascists only wear jack boots and march in neat rows? They don't.

Have this man setup a paypal account and a webpage with a donate link. He has helped create a valuable public service!

Obama exposed... To hot for TV.... Socalist Clown revealed to the SHEEPLE!

"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."

I lived in Illinois during the last election and nothing could have kept me away from the voting booth to cast my vote. And NO I didn't vote for Obama. I must admit I had the same feelings, that my vote wouldn't matter but it was MY vote. Chicago seems to rule in the state of Illinois but if more people would have just got out there and pulled that lever against such a horrible administration.....who knows!!!!!! Your vote does count America, use the God given chance you have to make a difference!

It still does not answer WHO in Los Angeles put up the posters. This is the real mystery.

Once again..We’ve been hearing about this for weeks that this defacing of the President could have only been by an evil Right-Wing creation… and has turned out to be perpetrated by a Left-Winger (he would vote for Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich). Anyone else seeing a pattern? Remember “James von Brunn” the evil “Right-Wing” shooter at the tragic Holocaust Museum who turned out to be a Left-wing socialist and atheist, white supremacist piece of garbage (didn’t see much of that correction in the press did ya?). I just wish the media would do its job and “fairly” cover all aspects of the news. I am not afraid of the truth.. I would just like to hear it more. The current media is so in the tank for the Dems its sickening. The TRUTH is all I ask for… I wonder if this will get any coverage at all that this kid was a lefty? I have “ZERO ISSUE” with him doing it, just report it accurately “WHO DID IT” so the conspiracy heroes can find something else to go and play with. Maybe the liberal guy who drew on Obama’s face just wanted to “start a conversation” about Socialism (oh that’s right.. he didn’t write the Socialism part.. just the photoshop’ing of the President as the Joker. It was probably a “Right-Winger” who put him up to it). They need to change the 1st Amendment to “Freedom from the Press”, not of it.. at least until they cover “all things” fairly. I’ve spent the past 27 years defending this nation in the US Army… I’d just like to see the Press take their job just as serious… but maybe the truth just isn’t as interesting and doesnt sell papers.


I toast your brilliant sense of reality and artistic honesty, USA is a DEMOCRACY with free speech (and health care).

Socialism SUCKS,

One who knows

Obama is like the Joker in the sense that his appearance and image disarm and distract people while he conducts his madness.

While humans may one day see a functional communism / socialism, it ain't happening anytime soon simply because human nature in its current state does not allow for it to succeed. God help us if Obama foists it upon us now.

Funny how Alkhateeb IS a liberal! It's even funnier how "liberals" can't tolerate even the slightest joke from fellow members of their OWN political views (or delusions to be more accurate)!

Just goes to show that liberals are typically partially educated people who know nothing about basic accounting or national defense. That explains why they are so good at only looking at half of the information in any argument. Also explains why they would so blindly follow Obama or any other politician, which is never a good idea. Obama and "partisan support" will never be associated with one another, will they?

"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?"

Are you kidding? Really?

Socialism has been responsible for almost 100+ millions of dead throughout history. People haven't just lost their freedom or their livelihood, but their lives because of collectivists like Chavez, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, etc.

Would you call Nazis - The National SOCIALIST Party - evil?

Socialism is evil.

But don't worry, you're going to find out how evil - those left-winger collectivist socialists will be coming after you Acorn-style for daring to offend The Obama. Remember, we're all socialists now.

"Nothing about socialism is immature..." no, except for the lunchmeat-for-brains crowd who holler "Socialism!" at everything Obama does, because Rush or somebody told them to.

Yes, it's fun when you learn a new word, but repeating it inappropriately and out of the right context for months on end ISN'T going to help you retain it.

According to R. J. Rummel's article in the Encyclopedia of Genocide (1999)the top three most murderous regimes are: (1) the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 62 million deaths, 1917-'87; (2) People's Republic of China, 35 million, 1949-'87; (3) Germany under the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, 21 million, 1933-'45. Socialists are nuclear bombs. Socialism is nuclear war.

So I'll say it too...Socialism is evil.

joe, i'm an ivy league snob from the upper east side but your diss of chicago art is uncalled for and uneducated. first of all, you are probably a suburban bumpkin who went to a state school and lives in northern virginia. sorry but chicago is far more cosmopolitan than anywhere you've ever been.

I say socialism is evil. Were it not for mankind's inherent greed it would probably work, but then if there were no greed, there would be no need for government at all.

Learn to history, dude. Liberty and socialism are mutually exclusive.

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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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