A poster depicting President Barack Obama as Heath Ledger's "Joker" character from "The Dark Knight" has sparked controversy after it appeared on the streets of Los Angeles
By Toby Harnden in Washington
Published: 6:37PM BST 04 Aug 2009
The poster shows the US president with white face paint, dark eye shadow and smudged red lipstick above the caption "socialism", in an apparent attack on the US president's efforts to reform health care and stimulus spending.
It is unknown who created and distributed the image, which some believe has racial overtones because it shows Mr Obama as a black-and-white minstrel in reverse.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, denounced the image and called on those behind it to reveal themselves. "Depicting the president as demonic and a socialist goes beyond political spoofery.
"It is mean-spirited and dangerous.
"We have issued a public challenge to the person or group that put up the poster to come forth and publicly tell why they have used this offensive depiction to ridicule President Obama."
A stark visual contrast to Shepard Fairey's popular red, white and blue image of the president-elect featuring the caption "hope", the "socialism" image has appeared as Mr Obama is facing a growing swell of criticism as he attempts to force through his $1 trillion health care programme.
The "socialism" poster has spread virally across the internet, crashing the website that first displayed images of it and rising to the top of Google's "Today's Hot Trends" list. Paper versions also appear to be spreading, with some showing up in Atlanta, Georgia.
Some Right-wing commentators have seized approvingly on the image. Thomas Lifson wrote on the conservative American Thinker website: "It is starting. Open mockery of Barack Obama, as disillusionment sets in with the man, his policies, and the phony image of a race-healing, brilliant, scholarly, middle-of-the-roader."
The liberal tabloid "LA Weekly", which depicted George W. Bush, the former president, as Dracula on its cover in 2004, denounced the Obama-Joker poster as virulently racist.
"It has a bit of everything to appeal to the drunk tank of California conservatism: Obama is in white face, his mouth (like Ledger's Joker's) has been grotesquely slit wide open and the word 'Socialism' appears below his face," wrote its blogger Steven Mikulan. "The only thing missing is a noose."
Is playing the race card even worth anything anymore?