Why Artist Shepard Fairey Obey Artwork Is Open To Interpretation

The dark side of art?

Why Artist Shepard Fairey Obey Artwork Is Open To Interpretation

Shepard Fairey is a well-known American contemporary artist, graphic designer, and activist. His paintings, posters, and illustrations generally consist of social and political messages and agendas. The artist has also designed the famous OBEY line— a clothing label that he is the founder of. 

Among his famous and iconic artworks, 'They Live 2', released in 2011, is one of his more brilliant but relatively unknown artwork pieces. John Carpenter's 1988 film inspired the poster They Live, and like the film, Fairey's poster has undergone various interpretations not originally intended by the artist. 

He first rose to the art scene with his influential urban  'Andre the Giant Had A Posse' art sticker campaign in 1989. 

They Live: Inspiration Behind The Poster

(Idea not property transitioned contextually, it was a campaign and not only about the poster. Furthermore, this subheading has failed to talk about the campaign's elements and connect them to the movie narrative; the author doesn't mention its stickers.

To know what the poster actually tries to convey, we have first to know what the movie, They Live, tried to tell us 32 years ago. 

The movie's premise is that aliens have taken over the world by controlling humans and exhausting all its resources. The aliens control humans through subliminal messages using billboards, advertisements, money, and the like. These subliminal messages, however, can only be properly seen by wearing a special kind of sunglasses. Using the glasses, the protagonist of the film discovers the truth around him that most of the important members of his society are, in fact, aliens. 

The aliens in the movie represented corrupt politicians and business people, while the subliminal advertisements in the movie represented uncontrolled capitalism. The 1988 sci-fi horror satire movie was director/creator John Carpenter’s critique on Reaganomics- the then-U's economic policies. S President Ronald Reagan during his term.

The Message In They Live 2

The poster tries to convey many of the same messages that the movie does. Unquestioned obedience, manipulation, and the power game are the main issues that Fairey illustrates in the painting.

Why Artist Shepard Fairey Obey Artwork Is Open To Interpretation

Shepard Fairey's They Live 2 poster (Photo: Obey Giant)

The man in the poster with the skeleton-like face denotes the corrupt figures who manipulate the general public with fake faces. Furthermore, the words "This is your God...Obey your dictator" (around the dollar sign) illustrate how obedience is the most valued currency. The lines, 'This is your God was used as a subliminal message on dollar notes in the film, while 'Obey your dictator' were subliminally used in the film's billboards.

All this and the blatant 'They Live' phrase on the poster background denotes the artwork's inspirations from the film. 

Possibility Of Different Interpretations

As is the case with any art, They Live 2 is also subject to interpretations of various sorts. People from one walk of life may see this poster differently than people from other walks. 

Upon its release, the movie had its fair share of interpretations, other than how Carpenter intended it to be understood. While Carpenter intended the movie to be about “yuppies and unrestrained capitalism,” people from the other end of the political spectrum saw it in a whole another way.  

Why Artist Shepard Fairey Obey Artwork Is Open To Interpretation

In recent years, the movie has also become a symbol for neo-nazis, anti-Semites, white supremacists, and anti-Zionists. These hate groups have misinterpreted the movie and used buts and parts to suit their own agendas. They even went on to claim that the film “is an allegory for Jewish control of the world.”

Conspiratorial Explanation From Alex Jones And Roddy Piper

One such example of misinterpretation is from Alex Jones- the infamous conspiracy theory fanatic. Jones had his own conspiracy theory of the movie, which he discussed with Roddy Piper, the actor who played the protagonist in the movie, in the interview below.

According to Alex, the movie showcases the mind-control of the general public from the powers that be. However, he does not take a partisan view on this and says that both Democrats and Republicans are involved in this manipulation and control.

They Live 2 Vulnerable To Such Explanations

This brings us back to the poster. If the movie, with such clear interpretations and explanations, can be misconstrued, then Fairey’s poster, born from the movie itself, can be a victim of the same.

In fact, the poster is even easier to misinterpret because there isn’t an explicit explanation about things that it wants to convey. People can take it in any way they want and put their own spin to things.

This makes Fairey’s They Live 2 artwork a strong candidate for being turned into a symbol of politically-charged agendas amongst hate groups in society. 

Samantha Xia
Samantha Xia

Specializes in researching trending real-time news and data of distinguished personalities, and composing innovative text based on the subject. Interesting Fact: I eat squid, but no crab. Strange, right? Most Important Lesson Learned "The comfort zone will kill you." Favorite Movie: Me Before You.