Just in time for Halloween – and next month’s election – a new billboard depicting President Donald Trump as one of the villains of subversive ’80s sci-fi/horror flick They Live has become one of Phoenix’s latest pieces of political art.
The colorful sign, which is located on 16th Street south of Thomas Road in central Phoenix, depicts the POTUS as one of the ghoulish-looking aliens in the 1988 film who attempt to brainwash and control society. The word “OBEY,” one of the ominous subliminal messages seen in They Live, accompanies the image of the alien version of Trump.
Valley native Thomas O’Hanlon, a progressive political activist now living in Oregon, is behind the billboard, which was put up late last month. It was designed by Chicago-based street artist Mitch O’Connell, who created similar anti-Trump billboards in New York City’s Times Square in 2015 and in Mexico City in 2017.
O’Hanlon, a fan of the artist, told Phoenix New Times over email that he raised money over the summer via GoFundMe to have a similar billboard placed near his current hometown of St. Helens, Oregon, because he dug the subversive message of O’Connell’s piece and They Live.
“I recognized where the parody came from and thought it was a creative and quirky approach to political satire,” O’Hanlon said in his e-mail.
After posting about the crowdfunding project on Facebook, local musician and high school friend Ricky Goltz expressed interest about having a similar billboard in Phoenix.
“Mitch’s art and billboards have gotten a reaction out of people in New York City and everywhere else [they’ve] gone up,” Goltz says. “It started making me think about how it could help stir the pot here because Arizona is such a red state.”
Goltz and O’Hanlon launched a GoFundMe for a local version of the billboard in early August. It raised $1,200, which will pay for the billboard to be displayed through mid-November.
The pair originally planned to have the billboard placed across the street from the Republican Party of Arizona’s headquarters on 24th Street just north of Osborn Road to troll local members of the GOP. (“We couldn’t think of a place more fitting than across the street from the Arizona Republican Party headquarters,” O’Hanlon told New Times.)
Their plans were dashed when Outfront Media, the owners the billboard, nixed the idea. According to an email provided to New Times, the company informed O’Hanlon and Goltz that featuring something targeting Arizona’s GOP headquarters would be “against our guidelines.” Outfront Media instead offered to feature it on another billboard it owned in the vicinity.
(New Times was unable to speak with a spokesperson from Outfront Media for comment on the matter).
O’Hanlon says that while the company’s decision was disappointing, the pair were happy to have it displayed.
“Even though the billboard is not directly near the Arizona Republican Party HQ, it still gets a significant amount of exposure in a [predominately] red state, so I think it’ll still make an impact,” he tells New Times.