Back when Shepard Fairey and his fans were covering the known world in those Andre the Giant stickers, he explained the project in his Giant Manifesto, a mercifully brief bit of RISDian hoo-hah that, looking back now, set the tone for an entire decade of winking, diffident artistic style:
Giant stickers are both embraced and rejected, the reason behind which, upon examination reflects the psyche of the viewer. Whether the reaction be positive or negative, the stickers existence is worthy as long as it causes people to consider the details and meanings of their surroundings. In the name of fun and observation. [sic as necessary]
From ironic obscurantism, Fairey went on to make a career out of co-opting Soviet constructivist iconography and self-consciously using the word “propaganda” often enough to signal that he’s actually encouraging dissent from, like, the Man, or something. Only a square or a reactionary would think that the overt totalitarian allusions reveal any frustrated tyrannical impulse. Any vestigial will to power is certainly denatured in such a caustic bath of irony, right?
Maybe not. The newest (and most prominent) Fairey product is his line of elegant Obama posters. Explaining how he chose the image for one poster, Fairey tells the Washington Post that the source photo of Obama appealed to him because (and I’m not making this up) “he is gazing off into the future, saying, ‘I can guide you.’ “