Let's review the recent evidence:
- He's a self-made man, who actually did enough "street art" on actual streets to earn gold-plated props. Heroic!
- He was already famous. But he got ten times more famous last year for the Obama posters. And he donated the proceeds to Obama. Heroic!
- He does other work for worthy causes like gay marriage. Heroic!
- The AP looked like it was bullying him over using its Obama photo. He was under siege. which made him look...heroic!
- Hey, he makes legal threats against small little artists for using his copyrights just like the AP was doing to him. Tool!
- And you know, the AP can really use every penny it can get these days, without other people making huge money-generating projects by stealing AP stuff without licensing it. Tool-ish.
From a very strict, hardcore, graffiti-centric, fuck-the-man perspective, it's easy to judge Shepard Fairey as a tool. It's equally easy to judge him as a worthless vandal, from a conservative perspective. But the guy goes around the world doing legal and illegal street art that, you have to admit, is pretty fucking cool; he's politically conscious, and put his money where his mouth is; and at the very least, he has well-considered reasons for the things he does, rather than just making shit up as he goes (see the clip below where he explains his rationale for fighting the AP).
In other words: chances are he doesn't even sell out as much as the average one of us does on an average day. The only reason people get so pissed at him in the first place is they really want the guy who makes those fresh ass shirts to be as righteous as his wheatpaste posters. Yea, he can be a hypocrite, and he's definitely not a purist, and times that pushes him into tool territory. We're all tools sometimes. At least he's a cool tool.