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Please Believe, Please Vote

Please Believe is a smart and skillful graphic designer. His most interesting work in 2008 has been his witty, but problematic, portrait of Barack Obama.

by Mike Mosher

Please Believe, whose MySpace page lists him as "26 year old male in Saginaw", Michigan, is a smart and skillful graphic designer. I’ve followed his work around my university. In the campus art magazine he published photo-based works, including a portrait of James Baldwin, in a style that evoked urban streets, all with a characteristic Krylon spraypaint drip.

He distributed a quarter-size mini-zine he created, also called Please Believe. The issue I saw reminded me of Waterdrinkers, published in San Francisco 25 years ago by a female disco singer, which included contributions by Craig Baldwin and Michael Peppe. Besides giving tips on midnight poster wheatpasting, Please Believe magazine seems to urge youth and college students to eschew apathy, to believe in something, anything. At first sight, its title made me wonder if it was a Christian project beckoning youth with cool graphics. For I’ve become wary of stealth evangelism, after moments when some Punkish pop-rock on the radio was enjoyed and then the shock to discover they're singing about surrendering everything a savior giving eternal life, when that kind of song is supposed to be about girlfriends or hating the government.

Please Believe was in an art class I taught, and proved to be an intelligent guy who worked hard. He always listened attentively, watching through the big eyeglasses which he's sometimes used (most recently on a panda) as a personal logo. He worked late one afternoon to complete the class’ mural in an inner-city Saginaw neighborhood community center. Car-less, he sometimes arrived late to class since the local bus system is slow and quasi-dependable. In his blogs around the web, he berates himself as lazy, and has written about how bored he is in Saginaw. Yet for a year he distinguished himself among his university peers by always sharing resources (opportunities, art shows, new classes available) with them in a school art club that communicated through FaceBook. Sometimes he seemed oblivious to how much peer respect he built up there. When he missed his bus to the university the day our class was to depart on a field trip, he turned around and went home to bed...unaware of several class members calling him and leaving Facebook messages, offering to come get him to bring him to the tour bus before it departed.

There have been various interesting things to buy at Please Believe’s online shop stall at Red Bubble. His name proclaims certitude, yet he's also a savvy media critic. To print upon a t-shirt the words "Misfits Skull", instead of the iconic Misfits band logo, is very cool, and a commentary upon how what was once Punk rock chic has now become classic or clichéd. In a similar vein, the Ann Arbor-based ‘zine RAW #3 (August 2008) reprinted a flyer for the Versificators that gave the Misfits’ skull the eyes and pipe of another alt-graphics trope, Reverend Bob Dobbs of the Church of the Subgenius. Please Believe has also created works that demonstrate he’s suspicious--as threads of suspicion shadow the commitment to this candidate so many of us feel--about the 2008 juggernaut campaign of Senator Barack Obama.

His most interesting work in 2008 is probably his witty portrait of Obama, the Big O, where the initial O becomes a halo right out of a Renaissance painting of a saint or angel. Obama’s hand has two fingers raised in a Victory or Peace Sign which become the Y in the word HYPE. The Senator’s skin is a dark yellow to suggest an indeterminate ethnicity. Not what the black community once called "high yellow, and not the whitebread Simpsons’ bright ballpark mustard yellow. The designer is a visually indeterminate ethnicity himself (Mexican? Mixed? I should have simply asked), in a midwest industrial city whose city politics are largely polarized between black and white.

Beneath HYPE on the Obama graphic is is a line “Talk, no matter how inspiring, is a wasting asset.” At the side appears a smaller statement “The problem with prophets in politics is that they do not reliably deliver the goods. Politicians, particularly but not only in democracies, must demonstrate to the people that they have a grasp of political reality and are capable of performing concrete political tasks.” Whose quote is this? His own? A media critic or political theorist? I put it into google, and nothing came up. Only on the shirt’s web page he says “P.S. – I got the text from The Modern Prince by Carnes Lord. A great book. I recommend it.” This 2003 book was published by Yale University Press. Carnes Lord, who served in the National Security Council and as Vice President Dan Quayle's chief foreign policy adviser in the George H. W. Bush administration, is a translator of Aristotle’s The Politics and follower of the conservative political philosopher Leo Strauss. Professor Lord teaches Military and Naval Strategy in the Strategic Research Department at the Naval War College in Newport, RI.

This is odd. I never would have envisioned Please Believe as an illustrator of Straussian dicta. Yet repeated readings of the quote affirm the old definition of politics as the art of the possible. While he’s certainly generated excitement as a potential departure from the Bush era, he hasn’t presented himself as a “prophet”. This quote may not exactly be the intersection of the Punk self-help ethic of Anarchy with conservative results, or it may be. For on the shirt’s page, Please Believe writes:

“I just took a political science class. That on top of 8 years of Republican bullshit combined with 8 months of this Democratic party super-delegate bullshit has totally left me jaded to the entire political process. I can’t buy all this hype. All politicians are tools for their parties. All politicians play Washington games. Thats how politics works and has always worked. It’s politics. It’s not virtuous. You can’t make it virtuous. You can’t sit at home watching TV and telling yourself “he/she seems like the right guy for the job. He’ll/She’ll get us out of this mess”. It’s up to us as a people to get ourselves out of this mess and stop putting so much power into the hands of so few over and over again and expecting different results.

That’s my little rant.

God bless America.”

Patricia Williams, Professor of Law at Yale University and regular contributor to the Nation magazine, told a group of faculty after her talk at Saginaw Valley State University in January, 2008 that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were two of the most intelligent and qualified people she had ever met. I personally have come to respect Obama for his previous experience, as a community organizer and a college professor. Here’s the chance to elect a temperate intellectual after eight years of the unquestioning, unteachable fratboy. The personality of the first black US president is not going to be that of an Al Sharpton (too much fronting, though a good organizer) but more of a Steve Erkel. McCain can be rejected for his Republican politics in general, but it is his moral failing--he supported the War In Iraq to Keep From Pursuing Osama Bin Laden--that most disqualifies him for the Presidency.

In September I dug into my own graphics archive to put on my office door a Ludacris flyer, from his 2005 concert at our university (for which he was purportedly paid $80,000 of Student Association funds). This was my shout-out for Ludcaris' topical pro-Obama track, with its gratuitous but slaphappy disses of Hillary and Jesse Jackson. I think the line about McCain in a wheelchair was funny in light of the Colonel's advanced age, as Republican Jay Leno might make the same jibe (I also applaud Lloyd Dangle's "Troubletown" comic a few weeks ago that punctured McCain's POW mythos). But if Obama really didn’t like it, instead of having a spokesman act shocked, shocked, the Illinois Senator might’ve more effectively snapped “Lude, that’s wack. Just shut up and vote.”

Between August 2 and August 10, 2008, I found Please Believe’s Obama HYPE images, as well most of his other graphics, removed from his Please Believe page on the Red Bubble website. When I couldn’t find them I concluded it was because he now thinks the campaign season has moved beyond the time of skepticism to one of firm decision, action and organizational labor. But further searching revealed that wasn’t the case. The shirt has been moved--and supplemented with his new red and brown versions of the shirt--to a page Red Bubble has dedicated to Obama shirts by various designers. Here you can get shirts that reprint the full text of Senator’s speech on race in response to Rev. Jeremiah Wright, you can get shirts that show the name Obama in the font made famous by the band AC/DC, that say “I’m the Hip Hop”, “Size Matters--Vote Obama”, and show Obama as Abraham Lincoln in stovepipe hat. The same page has a shirt with a photo of Ms. Hilton captioned “Paris for President”; after John McCain’s TV ad comparing Obama’s worldwide celebrity to hers, maybe this message is a veiled endorsement of Obama.

Looking again at his powerful graphic of that multi-ethnic black American celebrity of much, much more substance than Ludacris, I still hope Please Believe maintains his grain of skepticism of Senator Barack Obama, and of man-on-horseback mythification of any representative leader.

And I hope Please Believe--and each and every one of my !@# &$%^!? students!--is registered to vote, and gets to the polling place that morning in November by foot, car, or bus, in order to vote for Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States.

Mike Mosher is an artist and designer teaching in mid-Michigan.

Copyright © Mike Mosher 2008. HYPE graphics © Please Believe Inc. 2008. Versificators flyer from RAW, box 8223, Ann Arbor MI 48107. All rights reserved.