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July 13, 2008

The “What” Of What’s Wrong With The Barack Osama New Yorker Cover


The contribution Errol Morris made to visual politics earlier this summer, in explaining his Abu Ghraib film, was to emphasize how much the elements of a highly controversial image tend to get missed or "looked past" in the strong emotional and ideological reactions to the overall picture.

With this illustration having the capacity to roil the nets for days, I'm sure you've already seen analysis as to why it's so bad.

(Some of that rationale includes: a.) Otherwise topflight, liberal-minded illustrator forgets that parody involves the employment of imagery to convey something opposite its literal meaning, b.)  Otherwise mistake-averse magazine becomes caught in blind spot after big city liberals get bitter and "cling to rhetorical guns" to express feelings of being jilted by overly centrist nominee, and c). Right wing mouthpieces who have so-far avoided turning into complete bottom feeders have just been handed enough cover for at least a week. )

What you're probably not going to see much of elsewhere, on the other hand, is the actual "what" of what's wrong here.  Here's my list:

1. Set in an Oval Office the revolutionaries have cleared of the desk (because revolutionaries don't do desks, so much as lairs), the self congratulations — especially at this early, pre-convention stage of the campaign — ascribes a massive sense of entitlement to the Obamas.

2. Minus the eye contact of the actual fist bump in St. Paul (and adding the arched eyebrows), Angela Davis Obama's expression is transformed from "I love you" to "You're SUCH an evil genius, baby … and no one ever caught on!"

3. Besides Barack's pursed lips — which have turned into code in the MSM for this arrogant (read: "uppity") black man — the most damning element in this illustration, by far, is Obama's eye.  The furtiveness lends the perfect Machiavellian effect, and the fact it's directed our way suggests we should really know better what this guy is up to.

4.  Of course, the gun, the ammo clip, the cammo pants and the crossed legs (like crossed fingers) suggest what an angry, war-like creature Michelle is.

5. It's not just that Old Glory is on fire ("thank Allah I can finally toss that damn pin!"), the crumpled flag at floor level is reminiscent of the flag good old Bill Ayers was stepping on.

In my "ObamaPhobia" presentation at Netroots Nation next Saturday, I aim to show how various campaign images in the traditional media echo more extreme right-wing hate imagery — conveying Obama as a man with a covert, anti-American agenda, or a deliberate and calculated mastermind, or a closet Muslim and Islamic Manchurian candidate.  In hitting the trifecta here, many will argue this illustration is simply a satiric representation of the sophomoric attacks being tossed at Obama from far right field.

If that's all there was to it, though, than why do I sense Rove is chortling tonight?

The reason — besides the fact that the New Yorker demographic is a pretty narrow one — is that visually-based racial, religious and character-based framing does carry cognitive weight across a spectrum of higher- and lower-level reasoning, and, more than anything, it gains strength and veracity through repetition.

So, forget about "don't think of an elephant."  Try not thinking about the guy's name in the turban-thing without not thinking about his brother's name in the portrait behind him.

(Update 2:37pm) : I've been fascinated absorbing the comments here and at the cross-post at Huffington.  Reading this again, the one thing I don't think I adequately framed above is why the parody fails.  It's not so much that parody needs to convey something opposite, but it does have to execute some form of emotional or intellectual or editorial transformation on the elements put forth.

Interestingly, a number of readers zeroed in on this, and even offered Mr. Blitt ways this might have been done.

Waterrat  says:

Something's missing.

Possibly a group picture on the mantle of Hannity, Coulter, Limbaugh, Beck, Rove, Cheney, and Bush, all snickering with unfettered delight.

Choppedliver writes:

Since the artist meant to skewer not Obama but the media's emerging, misguided portrait of him, it seems the drawing is incomplete. What we see here should be the picture on Obama's TV screen, as he sits in an all-American home with his wife and daughters, eating apple pie.

And Ken Drum at Washington Monthly
writes (thinking audacity had something to do with it):

If artist Barry Blitt had some real cojones, he would have drawn the same cover but shown it as a gigantic word bubble coming out of John McCain’s mouth — implying, you see, that this is how McCain wants the world to view Obama.

To give us an appreciation, or a sense of outrage, or even a poke at any truth this picture might contain (especially the rapidly growing, but less openly discussed meme of Obama as Machiavelli, as opposed to Osama II), the illustration has to take us outside or beyond the manifest content here, and then show it to us again through a different window — be that a different context or a different point of view.

As a more instinctual way of explaining the problem, warincontext points out (making me think about last night's last-minute Remnick HuffPo interview) that satire isn't satire if it has to be labeled as such.

David Remnick On That New Yorker Cover: It's Satire, Meant To Target "Distortions And Misconceptions And Prejudices" About Obama (HuffPost)

(illustration: Barry Blitt.  New Yorker cover.  July 21, 2008)

  • eatbees

    Brilliant! Says it all.

  • Karen

    I get the joke and find it clever. But it’s a risk without a reward of much substance. Many won’t get it. After it’s reproduced all over cable news for the next three days, I guess we’ll get an idea of how this plays out. The good news is that most doctors won’t put THIS issue out in their waiting rooms.

  • Audrey Marx

    Inside jokes are not approprate for popular consumption, and for good reason. Try replacing, in your mind’s eye, the words “New Yorker” with “New Republic”. Makes all the difference, doesn’t it? Just as it makes zero difference to the average media consumer…

  • db

    Without the context of the article, I don’t like it. There seems to be a “look at the artist’s other stuff” defense. But looking at that other stuff, I see insight about actual issues, not rumors. In this illustration, I only see representation of what is being called a “whisper” campaign against the Obamas, though nothing so blatant can be called a whisper campaign.
    Unless the article is about how these false rumors are being perpetuated, I don’t see how Blitt’s illustration does anything but perpetuate these fictions. As it is, I am stunned at how many people are falling for this tripe. There is no need for any endorsement of the conspiracy, but rather for a questioning of it. This illustration does not seem to do that.

  • jonst

    This is gonna be trouble. This is Maureen Dowd ‘cute’. I agree with Karen, much risk, little reward. It’s message? Look what the ‘dunces’ out there believe. Why is it helpful to push the fact that ANYONE believes this? Why raise the possibility? I don’t care who the readers of the New Yorker are. In my local barber shop, where I go to get my beard trimmed, there sits the magazine. Nah, it ain’t good. It is not a disaster, and we will quickly pass on to the next circus event, but all and all, it ain’t good.

  • black dog barking

    The New Yorker’s gag looks a lot like this offering from the hysterically unfunny ½ Hour News Hour(YouTube) — with some cultural transliteration. Both pieces depend on their viewers accepting presumptions so “obvious” they need not be stated — rubes believe weird stuff on the one hand, liberals are stupid on the other. Limbaugh’s dittoheads believe liberals are stupid because that’s what Rush says fifteen hours a week. The New Yorker’s authority on rubes is less clear to me.
    I agree with comments up thread, this image is going to be misread and misused.

  • elfpix

    Ill advised. Sadly, the article doesn’t address any of the items in this week’s cover, although the article is pretty hard on Obama while well within the parameters of the New Yorker. In fact, the article is very good and Mr. Obama’s supporters should all check it out.
    The real sadness is that the journalism of The New Yorker is so far away from the MSM that this cover is probably all 99% of literate Americans will ever experience from it. I have learned during this campaign that if I want to get the full scoop I need to read Mayhill Fowler and the New Yorker.
    And the other problem is that the cover is not recognizable as satire, to me.

  • Douglas

    This is ghastly. But what I like most is the possible unintended indictment of this image by the magazine itself, by the image itself: note that the “1a” which I assume is intended to point to the Oval Office is on the floor and on the wall. Where it is on the wall, though, puts it right at the head of “The New Yorker” indicting this image, this magazine, as part of that very “whisper” campaign, perhaps putting this as the “floor” (footing, foundation) of the accusation…

  • Wayne Dickson

    It doesn’t matter whether it was intended as a joke.
    It doesn’t matter whether one gets the joke.
    It’s the frigging IMAGE!

  • steve

    This smug, self-satisfied publication strikes again. They see nothing wrong because they’re all so pleased with themselves. I know that sometimes there’s good reporting going on but you have to wade through all the other stuff first.
    10 years ago, something like that, they did a similar cover about same-sex marriage. When I wrote to complain I got an extraordinarily snotty letter from some sub-editor explaining that I perhaps wasn’t intelligent enough to understand satire. I wrote to point out that the two grooms in the cartoon were drawn in what was obviously meant to BETTY the manner of Charles Addams. Hence they were monsters. The style carries the meaning. It’s not the racist elements that will do the damage here – it’s the effete self-congratulation of the pair.
    Of course the New Yorker doesn’t do satire – it’s much too dentists’ office safe for that – but they like to think they do. As if they’re some edgy, downtown rag instead of somewhere to advertise expensive cars.

  • Neil

    There’s something seriously wrong with any editor who thought this was going to work. I don’t see the National Review foolish enough to put GWB on the cover with a swastika on his podium, to “satirize” extreme left-wing views.
    Compare with this image:

  • Stan B.

    Haven’t gotten to the article yet, but the main thing obviously is the illustration… and ya gotta love it! If they can’t handle satire coming from “friendlies,” run with it, and possibly turn it to their advantage, what the hell they gonna do when it gets real down and dirty as it no doubt will?

  • ratfood

    I was initially outraged but have since softened my view of it. Part of the reason people are experiencing such a visceral reaction is that everyone was caught quite off-guard. The duration of the controversy will indicate whether like the wing-nuts, we progressives lack a sense of irony. The Obama campaign issued an immediate condemnation and has now put it behind them. People upset about the cover should follow their lead. Remember, the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, NOT the right to go through life without ever being offended.

  • Karen

    Now that I’ve read your analysis and thought about this more, I see more than the completeness of the captured-fear image and wink and nod over the stupidity of others — others being NOT New Yorker readers.
    Beyond the gleeful jab at the American heartland, there’s something insidious here that I didn’t immediately think of: the idea of Michelle Obama being angry isn’t solely held by bigots, nor is the the idea that Obama may not be as genuine as folks think he is, but actually a politician (something actually touched on by the article inside the magazine) as contrasted with the “hope” message. The idea that the Obamas are entitled and arrogant is not solely possessed by Appalachia, it was/is a frequently heard complaint of Clinton supporters.
    The “are you clever and liberal enough to get this cover” narrative distracted me from the fact that the concepts “lampooned” in the cover are held by more than just “hard working white Americans.” While one laughs at the Angela Davis/Muslim imagery (it does, as you say plant that connection in the minds of many), I think it’s easy to ignore the more subtle messages embedded in the cartoon….i.e., “you’re being played.” That message, whether intended or not, has a wider audience than most would admit.

  • ratfood

    Dang, Michelle’s gun is an AK-47. The Obamas must hate America so much they won’t even buy our weapons.

  • jean

    Well I just CAN’T wait for McCain’s cover: Rambo?, a Lawrence Harvey look alike? a flipflop on his head? Can’t wait for that cover. Equal opportunity and all that.
    And in other news: Don’t think of an Elephant. I think ‘you are being played’ is a pretty subtle and sophisticated reaction. I may be wrong about that, but more and more we are hearing that thinking is not the strong point of the voting public.
    I don’t know about rove chortling…google ‘rove flees country’.

  • Victoria

    db looks at the artist’s other stuff and sees work about issues, not rumors. I looked at his other White House covers (HuffPo – “Barry Blitt Defends…”) and saw works that take aim at the characters depicted (the “cartoons” themselves) This one makes fun of the viewer – or, better said, people the discerning viewer has heard about;in other words, he’s “cartooning” folks several orbits out. This is a weird space. I’m still getting my head around it.
    David Remnick’s response: “We’ve run many many satirical political covers. Ask the Bush administration how many.” I guess I need to compare this one with one they did that revealed the dark fears and self-delusion or just plain stupidity of Bush lovers or loathers.

  • cmac

    I laughed when I saw this cover. Yeesh, people, get a grip. The Michelle-Malkiners and Sean-Hannityites of the world aren’t going to get it. So what? Was there a cover that would have changed their minds about Obama? Um, noooo. Are we obligated to please them? Um, noooo. Are we allowed to laugh at them? Yes, yes, yes.

  • rchsod

    i`m not sure why this is “political satire” but i do know i should have finished my art degree…

  • donna

    It gets people talking about the whisper campaign and the hidden issues. That is the positive part.
    Sometimes political art just has to do it’s friggin’ job. I have a cartoonist friend who does a huge number of strips, that I am sometimes reluctant to post on my blog because they are simply this inflammatory. But I admire the brilliance of what he sees, and bemoan that he can’t get a job as an editorial cartoonist somewhere.
    I think most of us who have been following politics in the last few years are simply exasperated that the American people are so. damned. stupid. The fact that they believe all the whisper campaigns and garbage the right throws at them are exactly what has led to what is becoming the more and more desperate state of this nation as our wealth flows into the pockets of the rich and our national power evaporates.
    All while we get excited over shit like this.

  • gussie

    I came here to see your take on Barack Obama’s gaze, which I didn’t find furtive but … well, sort of a sidelong look of ‘well -you- get the joke, don’t you?’
    Which was compounded because during the dap moment between Michele Obama and her husband on stage, I thought to myself, “That’s how you tell a real couple.” My wife and I, like all long-married people with a relationship like our, can say almost -anything- in about a millisecond, with a gaze alone. And that flash of an eye from Obama looked to me like he’s saying, ‘Yeah, this is just the kinda shit they pull.’
    So I’m a little surprised to hear ‘furtive.’ I’m gonna have to think again’, as you’re far more sophisticated on this stuff than I.

  • gomer

    But where are all the sexually satiated, freshly-impregnated white women with mixed-race blastocysts blooming in their ovaries?

  • Asta

    It’s a good thing that The New Yorker isn’t the magazine you find on the racks while you are checking out at the grocery store.
    I’ve always known that it is impossible for a stupid person to understand what it is like to be an intelligent person. But I think after reading some of these comments, that the intelligent are just as obtuse when understanding what it is like to be stupid. Ignorant is one thing, but stupid is another. And I see a lot of Stupid in our society lately. And they seem to be proud of it.
    The cover illustration for The New Yorker is totally over the top. Will there be a cover depicting the McCains as Louis the XVII and Marie Antoinette before the French Revolution? I think not.
    But Happy Bastille Day to you guys!!!! (Coming to a village near you. Soon.)

  • Cooksey-Talbott

    I have read New Yorker since I was a child and I am old, well not as old as McCain but old enough to know when I am being spun.
    Who owns New Yorker ? I guess it is a little obvious… the RWNM.
    As usual on the Bag an excellent analysis of a contemporary image.

  • mc

    Have we really all missed the fact that “Michelle’s” fro changes the masthead to NFW?

  • Riggsveda

    Oh, sweet Jesus. When can we expect the pitchforks and torches? I can’t believe the entire left blogosphere, including those whom I most admire, are in turmoil over this cartoon. It’s a JOKE…and a damned clever one. It encapsulates, and eviscerates, every foul and imbecilic thing that has been said or implied about Obama and his wife since he began to rise from the foam, and the very over-the-topness decried by so many well-meaning people is the very thing that the artist was trying to get out there in the first place. Let’s not pretend that the New Yorker is the equivalent of Reader’s Digest, and that its appearance is going to raise the gorge of every American from Cheesequake to Sacramento. And even if it did…cartoonists don’t have answer to the hoi-polloi. Even if they include liberals.

  • Riggsveda

    Oh, and by the way, despite what Kevin Drum thinks, real satire doesn’t come with a user’s manual.

  • grammarian

    Fanatical Obama supporters are reacting to this image in the same way as Muslim fundamentalists were outraged by the Danish “anti-Muhamed” cartoons. Hey, it’s only a magazine cover …

  • Johanna

    I love what ratfood said.

  • Zzyzx

    This cartoon is, I believe, a coy inside joke. It is also classist (if I’m not being too PC, here).
    New York City is so wrapped up in itself and its wisdom and wise-choiciness (take that! Colbert), that they continuously are surprised when the rest of the country slaps them upside the head.
    What this cartoon says to me, in addition to all the things The Bag listed, is that the New Yorker people think that all of us dumb oafs out there in the other 49 whatever……really believe this shit. ‘Just look at how dumb they are…..we get the joke, but they won’t.’ The cartoonist is saying to his confreres, look how clever I am. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
    What is it about some liberals that makes them have to prove that they are even more blase’ than the other guys? The tragedy in this is idiocy is that the 20% undecideds are being bombarded daily – hourly – by emails, ‘news reports’ and talk shows filled with Obama hatred and lies.
    Karen triggered my thoughts in a different direction. The depiction of Michelle sets up all those fears by men of strong, competent women, which Michelle definitely is. The ditto-heads and their testicle locks. Plus, Obama is being feminized by wearing a dress. All the triggers are there and one wonders if Blitt is even aware of them.

  • Den Valdron

    It’s not a joke and it’s not satire. A joke or satire amounts to an exercise in cognitive dissonance, an overturning of expectations, an undermessage which conflicts with the overmessage.
    That’s not what’s going on here. The images don’t subvert anything, there’s no cognitive dissonance, no undermining of expectations. It is utterly harmonius in its portrait and message. There’s nothing undermined.
    In terms of actual humour. In terms of wit, satire, the formal structure of jokes or comedy, there’s nothing here. This isn’t bad satire, thin satire, or failed satire. It’s not satire at all.
    It’s simply a cheap wallowing in stereotypes and slurs, assembled together into an ugly collage, and gentled up with a wink. But it’s not funny, and it doesn’t conform to the technical requirements for comedy.
    It’s merely cheap and sadistic. Some people will laugh at shoving a firecracker up a cats bottom and lighting it. But you know what. That’s not a joke either. And it tells us more about the guy laughing at it.

  • Den Valdron

    Riggsveda, real satire does actually come with a formal structure. It is a defined term. Setting a dog on fire and then laughing at it, for instance, doesn’t amount to satire.

  • Donut

    ” It’s not so much that parody needs to convey something opposite, but it does have to execute some form of emotional or intellectual or editorial transformation on the elements put forth. ”
    I know I’m late to comment here, but, yes, yes, when I first saw this image and then heard that it was being couched by the New Yorker as satire, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I kept staring at the damn picture trying to figure out what was being satirized. If the object of satire is the VRWC or RWNM, then why the hell aren’t those people epresented in the image in some way? I think the piece fails to convey anything but “ugly” – on a dozen different levels – precisely due to the fact that the image is merely a repetition of right wing talking points. The image has not one whit of CONTEXT.
    I do respond to it on another level as a terrific and quite sharp representation of the caricature the right wing has created (is that supposed to be arugala on the mantle, BTW?), but the piece seems to me to state that this caricature now stands and lives on its own. That by mere repetition it has taken on its own life, or has real legs to it.
    I don’t know about that. This image would work better or have more validity, I think, if a majority of Americans actually believed the lies that it represents. Instead, it just represents lies that probably not even most Republicans believe, and the distortions that this image presents have to be constantly flogged and repackaged and restated, pushed in to the mainstream from the far corners of right-wing world.
    I guess I’m saying that EFFECTIVE satire, to me, would show us some element of truth next to the ridiculousness. I don’t see it here.

  • Donut

    Fanatical Obama supporters are reacting to this image in the same way as Muslim fundamentalists were outraged by the Danish “anti-Muhamed” cartoons. Hey, it’s only a magazine cover …
    Posted by: grammarian | Jul 14, 2008 at 05:00 PM
    No. In 2005, Muslims were rioting in the streets around the Middle East over those images, which they considered idolotry. Something like 100 people were killed in the disturbances. This is a bunch of jagoffs on the Intertubes, me included, reacting (and sure, perhaps overreacting) to a provocative yet questionably executed piece of magazine cover art. How are these two things analogous, exactly?

  • Gasho

    I first saw this cover on the local news on TV. I was pissed, thinking, What the Hell is THAT??
    After reading the Bag, my thoughts are that a) this doesn’t function as satire but b) perhaps it WILL function as a ‘vaccine’ to inoculate the campaign against the future full strength whisper-virus to come.
    I still don’t like it.. but maybe injecting this image directly into the system will make us feel sick right now, but keep us alive in the long run.

  • Stan B.

    Effective parody can be subtle, or as in this case, the over the top, in your face variety. In the case of the latter, added cues and other embedded context meant to reassure the viewer as to meaning and agenda (as suggested in updated comments) demeans both the viewer and the parody itself.

  • truthHurts

    the new yorker has obviously fallen victim to “poe’s law”.

    as atrios observes:

    it represents the basic stuff that you get from the right about obama, but it neither mocks nor exaggerates them. it’s a sad state of affairs that conservatives are hard to satirize or parody because they’re so insane, but that’s where we are.

    so the new yorker obviously didn’t try hard enough.

    they didn’t take the non-stop paranoia the right wing smear machine force feeds its minions all the way to its (il)logical conclusion:

    the real limbaugh-hannity dittohead fantasy nightmare:

    THE DATE: january 21, 2009

    THE SCENE: a large outdoor prison labor camp, manned on its perimeters by doberman-walking, heavily-armed, aviator-shaded, afro-&-sideburn-sporting, toothpick-chewing, purple revolution-jumpsuited soul-brothers.

    behind barbed-wire, under the hot sun, bent over rows of cotton, wretched white slaves toil in close chains as strains of parliament funkadelic waft out of the guard towers.

    one slave curses himself for having been a brainwashed libtard dumbocrat tricked into voting for president barack obama. enraged at the confession, someone throttles him with his own chains. the guards fire into the air and bark for order as the slaves scatter and the victim’s last spasms subside …

  • charlie

    mc, what do you think NFW stands for then? only thing i can think of is “no fucking way.” what are you getting at?

  • JJF

    Seems to me the whole episode was a clever way to show that people who cover politics don’t have a sense of humor. Fine, if you don’t find the cover funny. You get it or you don’t. But all the endless analysis, and especially the suggestions for what the cover should have been, make me think that a lot of people in the blogosphere just don’t know how to laugh.

  • rita forsyth

    the cover is not satire, nor was it designed as such. The “victim”of the satire is always pictued, or indicated in someway,or referenced in a caption. The cover is only of Michelle and Barack with Osama and the american flag as indicators of the Obamas suspcious conduct. Where or where are the right wing nuts?????? Direct aim was taken by the very savy New Yorker Staff, bingo, Mission Accomplished. Why???
    The cartoonist fell in love with his idea, the Edtiors wanted to sell magazines and the Obamas received a direct hit. Not satire and not funny.

  • FlipYrWhig

    Does it matter at all that the title of the image is “The Politics of Fear”? Or is the image so overdetermined in its offensiveness that the context falls away and ceases to matter?
    I hadn’t noticed the eye positions, so thanks for that; I think it does change the point of the image to something like “Look what we just got away with — everything you heard about us was TRUE! Bwahahahah!” But isn’t the “emotional or intellectual or editorial transformation on the elements put forth” the prolific superaddition of _so many_ of the anti-Obama rumors?

  • FlipYrWhig

    The “victim”of the satire is always pictued, or indicated in someway,or referenced in a caption.
    Or, perhaps, in a title. Like “The Politics of Fear.” Which is the title of this image.

  • LanceThruster

    I find the drawing accurate in terms of the nonsense used to smear the Obamas, but worry about the memes planted with those who do not deconstruct the image any further.
    “I don’t care a straw for your newspaper articles, my constituents don’t know how to read, but they can’t help seeing them damned pictures.” ~ Boss Tweed

  • Richard Palzer

    For readers who appreciate the satire as intended, the parody works to criticize the absurd, rumor-mill notions rampant over the Internet. (Yes, I understand also some of the more subtle messages pointed out in other comments.) But viewed by the general public on network and cable news shows and reprinted in newspapers, the objects of the satire have much less chance of being understood. The New Yorker has a narrow, more sophisticated audience; any anticipation that the larger audience would obviously get the point of what’s being satirized was a reach, and the publication had to know the flap that would be caused as a result. Visuals are more powerful and memorable, and too many people believe what they see on the surface. Perhaps, as has been suggested, the inside story could have focused on the cartoon’s intent or provided in the cartoon itself more observable indication of the targets. In any case, the Obama campaign had no real choice but to condemn the cartoon–but not just because of those who would misinterpret by taking it as face value. Keeping the outrageous beliefs in the public consciousness presents a problem as well.
    We have experienced–and will undoubtedly have to continue to put up with–more than enough “gotcha” and spin on both sides, aided and abetted by the media, always looking for the “gaffe,” regardless of how innocent the comment. misconstruing the intent, taking it of context, using only part of what was actually said. Unfortunately, we also know the effectiveness of such tactics. People can be so gullible (unaware? manipulated? even stupid?)In that all-to-true light, we shouldn’t be surprised at the uproar over a parody, either from those who just don’t get it or those who object because people don’t get it.

  • mcc

    As a more instinctual way of explaining the problem, warincontext points out (making me think about last night’s last-minute Remnick HuffPo interview) that satire isn’t satire if it has to be labeled as such.
    Hm, you know, where I come from, we have a word for “satire that you aren’t able to clearly recognize as satire unless you’re specifically told”. We call it “trolling”.

  • billofwrites

    wow, great to see so many here going all “Danish” on this cartoon. and an excellent lesson in free speech / free press in spreading american democracy around the world.
    fwiw: the cartoon caption is “the politics of fear.”
    at ease, sphincters! at ease.

  • Victoria

    I commented earlier that I was having a hard time getting my head around this – then it came to me: the problem is that it is flawed satire. Where was the editor who could have worked with the artist to bring the concept home? – Over at TalkingPoints Memo, commentary by Dan Tynan nails the matter: “…the cartoon isn’t satirizing the truth, it’s satirizing a lie. When the New Yorker depicts Dick Cheney as Archie Bunker and George Bush as the meek Edith, or as the Bush cabinet floating in chest-high water after Katrina,
    that’s satirizing the truth. Portraying Obama as a flag-burning Muslim
    friend of Osama and Michelle as a Black Panther is the modern equivalent of portraying Jews as fat money-grubbing plutocrats in 1933,then claiming you were merely satirizing Hitler. It propagates the lie, not the truth. And that’s what David Remnick doesn’t get. As a satirist, (the) job is to propagate the truth.”

  • Den Valdron

    The New Yorker is sophisticated?
    How sophisticated do you have to be to shout “N*gg*r!”
    If my son takes a big shit on the living room rug in front of a bunch of strangers at a party… how sophisticated is that?

  • i foot

    It’s the same meme all the time – Muslim = terrorism. Just like the bomb in Mohammed’s turban in the Danish cartoon.

  • Mick

    Ape Trollop, man!
    I really like The New Yorker. But would we ever see this type of “satire on the left” on any cover?

  • jean

    “It propagates the lie, not the truth” Thank you, Victoria.

  • Ché Pasa

    This idea that “everyone in America is an idiot except me and thee, and I’m not so sure about thee” with regard to this cover is — mercifully — crashing and burning. Yeah, even people at FOX “get it,” and they’re dambed pissed off about it, too. Kinda pulls the rug out from under their plans for the general election season. They’d just as soon their audience never see this magazine — let alone read it — at all, ever. The New Yorker is by definition subversive to FOX’s particular brand of wingnuttery. The fact that the other cable outlets and the broadcast nets have been all over the story, usually with the upshot of discussing and debunking the lies and smears depicted in the illustration, is like Kryptonite to FOX and their nefarious plans.
    No, the illustration is not genius, and it may be offensive to some people whether they “get” it or not. But to call for the obliteration of the New Yorker because of it, as some have done, is way over the edge into stark raving madness. It doesn’t matter whether you like the New Yorker and its snootiness, and its long, intricate investigative reports by Sy Hersh and Jane Mayer among others, and its sniggery cartoons and its oh, so superior attitude toward everyone and everything, the fact remains that the New Yorker is a stalwart on “our side.”
    The only people who benefit from trashing the New Yorker are on the “other side.”

  • Hariman

    The basic problem is that the target of the satire is not clear: is the cover lampooning the Obamas or media coverage of the Obamas? The magazine says it is supposed to be the latter, but how would we know at a glance? If, for example, the cover had shown the Obamas standing as they usually are dressed in front of a mirror labeled Fox News, with the current cover image in the mirror, the satire would have been on target. The actual cover should have stayed on the drawing board.

  • lambert strether

    Maybe if they’d added a “snark” tag?

  • Zzyzx

    I read somewhere today, maybe MoJo, that had the cartoonist substituted Cindy and John McCain in this same cartoon, then it would be satire. Of course, the republican media would be O*U*T*R*A*G*E*D!!!

  • Zzyzx

    …..and don’t you actually have to pick up and open the magazine to see the title? Sort of diminishes the effect of the title.

  • tina

    zzyx–Obama is not being feminized by wearing a dress; it’s probably some kind of non-specific Arab or Afghani robe.
    truthhurts–I have seen actual novels written with this scenario in mind and sold to right-wingers. It really taps into what Michael Moore recognized, that the whole problem with gun nuts is that they’re fearful racists. Check out “The Reconquista” by some guy named Bracken, and read the first chapter. Sick.
    And yeah, bad editorial call on this cover–that’s all there is to say about it.
    They’ve got one New Yorker cover with Bush dressed as an emperor, playing a fiddle while some city in the background burns to the ground. That was a gr–
    Wait. That wasn’t a satire either.

  • Lenoxus

    You know, one argument that’s been made a lot about the cover that I definitely disagree with is the notions that it depends on its context to be understood as satiric. As far as I’m concerned, the absurdism is so obvious that if I saw this as the cover of a known conservative magazine, I wouldn’t think “Holy cow, even they’re willing to be that racist,” but “Holy cow, they’ve become liberal.”

  • cenoxo

    With tongue in cheek, a liberal, left-leaning rag rags on a left-leaning liberal and progressives don’t get the joke. Must be that vast right-wing conspiracy at work again.
    Lighten up, guys, it’s an election year. Enjoy the picture show.

  • Kelly Logan

    I think the point that satire isn’t satire if you have to explain it is key here, but perhaps not in the way the author intended. Satire doesn’t have to be pointed out as satire when it’s too ridiculous to be true. So the question is, why have so many people, including HuffPo contributors and this author, not seen this as patently ridiculous?
    Are you all that frightened of corporate media spin? If so, then please get a spine or get out of this business now. We aren’t going to revolutionize the media and build a powerful and positive source of information for the public out of people that are in shock and awe of corporate power.
    This was an ideal opportunity to point out how infantile and ridiculous the corporate media has become and to show these images as farcical, not iconic. Instead people wailed and railed against them, granting a power to them that they never had on their own. You can’t laugh at what you fear, and as long as you fear FOX News, CNN and the rest of the corporate spin cycle, you can’t change it.
    P.S.: Brava Victoria and the others who got the joke. :^)

  • Kelly Logan

    Here’s a mind excercise:
    What would the Bush or McCain version of this be? I mean, there must be some claims about them that are overblown or ridiculous to the point of satire, so what would they be?

  • Art Dissertation

    Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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