He poked fun at common right-leaning claims that President Obama is ruining America by putting out a painting showing Obama literally standing on the Constitution, which had of course been left on the ground like a discarded piece of trash. The image portrays the metaphors used by right-wing pundits and shows how ridiculous they really are. Can anyone look at an actual depiction of the US President wiping his feet on the literal, physical, actual Constitution and not think, "Wow, that's actually kind of stupid"? Even better, though, is the fact that Obama is standing almost absent-mindedly while behind him a gaggle of Founding Fathers rip out their hair and gesture helplessly at the document under Obama's shoes. One can almost imagine that, an instant later, Obama will turn around to see what on earth the commotion is behind him, glance down at his feet, then avert his eyes and put his hands in his pockets as he sheepishly tries to wipe the Constitution off his shoe, as though he'd come out of the bathroom trailing toilet paper.
"Oh, man, Ben Franklin will never let me live this down!"
McNaughton's pièce de résistance, however, is, of course, his painting known as "One Nation Under God". Much has already been written about this work, so I'll be brief, but if you haven't already seen it, it's a painting that uses conservative Christian symbolism with the type of finesse rarely seen outside of a baby using a Claymore explosive device. The mix of obvious artistic skill and ham-fisted talk radio ideology creates a collage of jingoism so strong it will actually make you hold your head in your hands. It's as if McNaughton recorded hours and hours of Glenn Beck's various shows and played them on a loop while visualizing what on earth the various noises emitted by Beck might mean. His deconstruction of the oversimplified binary of Christian right, Satanic left is shown by literally having conservative Christians on the right hand of Jesus while the liberal intelligentsia squirm uncomfortably on the left. (As a side note, perhaps my very favorite aspect of McNaughton's satire is the use of the notion of "literally;" he takes these vague metaphors and expresses them as a literal situation, thus putting their silliness on display. Well done, Brother McNaughton.)
I have to admit, though, I found his most recent work a bit much, even for me. I don't think of myself as either conservative or liberal--I prefer to think I'm fairly middle-of-the-road--but even I began to feel sorry for the conservative targets of McNaughton's unusual political commentary. Sure, the notion of Obama destroying the Constitution is fairly commonplace, but even I have to call out McNaughton on the fact that the vast majority of conservative people probably don't mean that Obama is literally going to burn the freaking document while doing his best to mimic Anthony Perkin's smile from the end of the film Psycho.
You see, while his previous paintings displayed an acerbic fondness for carefully disassembling the often complex and self-implosive ideologies of the religious right, this picture takes the easy road and just goes for the jugular. It's as if McNaughton succumbed to the liberal elitism many artists fall victim to and, either out of contempt or just laziness, went for the cheap laugh instead of the detailed commentary.
The one redeeming grace? This self-aware passage from his wonderfully straight-faced blog:
Oh McNaughton. You're my favorite liberal satirist."I have to say, I am amazed at the insight so many of you showed as you deciphered this painting. I have many subtleties hidden in this painting that have not been shared, but several of those were divulged in this Facebook contest."
If only that's what you were actually trying for.