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July 24, 2008

Vanity Fair’s Obama Osama Envy

Vf Mccain Fist Bump

Sheesh, this just keeps getting worse.

In a thoroughly clueless act of so-called “solidarity” (or perhaps “molotov cocktail envy”), Vanity Fair has created its own, parallel version of the New Yorker Obama Osama cover.

Not only is this a disaster too, compounding the New Yorker’s original misfire by producing a corollary equally lacking in satire, I’m in complete agreement with Daniel Larison’s analysis at The American Conservative (“Someone Doesn’t “Get It””) that this copycat only serves to lend more credibility to the original hit on the Obama’s.  (You can find my take on the original cover here.)

Larison writes:

The more of these parodies people produce, the more literally audiences may take the New Yorker image.  For all of the people who dismiss the argument that there will be people who won’t “get” the satire of the original, there are an awful lot of supposedly clever sophisticates who seem not to understand how to reproduce what the image tried to do, which suggests that they didn’t really “get” it, either.

(snip)

More than perpetuating falsehoods, the New Yorker cover will now be invoked as a defense for every image that depicts Obama unironically as a terrorist and enemy with some remark along these lines: “Hey, this is just like that New Yorker picture, so there’s no problem.”

At this point, the scariest thing to me is how — after all the discussion and rhetorical insight into the original cover — sophisticated publishing people continue to demonstrate they either don’t understand how satire works, or they do, but they would readily don blinders for the sake of fun, profit and/or competitive ego.

The Power Of Images (Larson’s previous take on the New Yorker cover)

(Illustration: Tim Bower for VF)

  • mcc

    The really weird thing to me about this cover is that the joke has already been done better by David Horsey, in a cartoon that was so similar to this cover (practically every visual element is present, just more clearly communicated and humorously drawn) that it seems hard to believe whoever drew this cover hadn’t seen it.

  • http://robinson-jacuzzi.com/ robinsonjacuzzi

    A Love Parade for Hope! When George Bush first arrived to visit Germany, 150,000 took to the streets of Berlin in protest. This time many more come out to celebrate Barack Obama and unleash a global tsunami of Change. Robinson-Jacuzzi has produced the T-Shirt for this historic occasion – Berlin 24/07 Yes, we can! – robinson-jacuzzi.com

  • jjj

    the image has nothing to do with the candidates, its a self-deprecating joke from vanity fair…the “selflessness” is almost a double-entendre. the masthead is the focus of the image, not the figures.

  • http://www.landsedgephoto.com elfpix

    I’ll bet more people read Vanity Fair than The New Yorker. I wouldn’t worry.
    It’s just not very original. He and Cindy wouldn’t know a dap if one hit them in the face. Better to have spoofed the airplane comment, or have Lieberman doing the dap

  • BRG

    The amount of outrage over the original cover, and the ensuing demonstrations of just HOW outraged people are or just HOW bad the mainstream press is at satire have far surpassed the frustration the original cover inspired. If anything, I’m pissed at Vanity Fair for giving people the opportunity to jaw about it even more.

  • http://www.landsedgephoto.com elfpix

    It’s Larison.

  • croatoan

    It needs a Vietcong flag in the background, and Cindy McCain should be holding a giant Queen of Diamonds card.

  • http://www.jaxxattaxx.com/ black dog barking

    Where New Yorker aimed for parody by linking BHO with muslim extremism, Michelle with violent black radicalism, the American flag burning in the fireplace beneath a portrait of Usama bin Laden — all these elements of fevered rhetorical fantasies of partisan extremists willing to say anything to win an election — Vanity Fair takes dead aim on your local newspaper and network news outlets. The accusations here, Cindy has experimented with self medication, JSM is old, a dazed and confused GWB peers out above the mantel while the Constitution burns in the fireplace can all be found in main stream media coverage. The joke is, if one gives VF the standing to make it, that the fever dreams of a vocal minority are equivalent utterances to the bits of fact that dribble from our news “sources”.
    I rate it “funny” as the word is used in the movie Fargo.
    Marge: OK, I want you to tell me what these fellas looked like.
    Hooker #1: Well, the little guy, he was kinda funny-looking.
    Marge: In what way?
    Hooker #1: I dunno, just funny-lookin’.
    Marge: Can you be any more specific?
    Hooker #1: I couldn’t really say. He wasn’t circumcised.
    Marge: Was he funny lookin’ apart from that?
    Hooker #1: Yeah.
    Marge: So – you were having sex with the little fella, then?
    Hooker #1: Uh-huh.
    Marge: Is there anything else you can tell me about him?
    Hooker #1: No. Like I say, he was funny lookin’. More n’ most people even.
    (YouTube)

  • Matt Platte

    Well, I laughed out loud at this one but not the other one. I also enjoy it inordinately when Family Circus characters visit Pearls Before Swine. Better yet, the Get Fuzzy / Pearls mashup.

  • ratfood

    The difference is pretty simple, The New Yorker cover depicted the myths circulated about Obama, the Vanity Fair spoof depicts the realities (albeit in exaggerated form) regarding McCain.
    Whether you love, hate, are merely indifferent, think it helped or hindered his campaign, the Obama cartoon was at least RELEVANT satire. This version lacks depth or subtlety, taking cheap shots at McCain’s age and lack of stature or his wife’s past abuse of prescription drugs. The two legitimate targets are McCain’s association with Bush and his contempt for the Constitution and both are marginalized as a result of being lumped in with the trivial.

  • Karen

    well, I think Vanity Fair understands perfectly how satire works and recognizes that neither The New Yorker cover nor the Vanity Fair cartoon is satire.
    I think the McCain cartoon is caricature, the New Yorker cover is an incomplete caricature on the mind of a low info voter. The reason I say this is because McCain is old, Cindy did have a problem with drugs, McCain is a Bush supporter. In the Obama cover, Michelle is not an Angela Davis devotee, Obama is not a Muslim, nor a supporter of bin Laden. You get my drift.

  • ratfood

    Karen, I would just like to point out that satire and caricature are not by definition mutually exclusive concepts. Websters defines satire as:
    1: a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn 2: trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly
    Accepting the second definition for the sake of discussion, The New Yorker cover used satire to expose and discredit the right-wing smears aimed at Barack Obama.
    The Vanity Fair cartoon is actually a satire of The New Yorker cover, the vice or folly in this instance being the slightly excessive emotional response it provoked in many viewers.
    It is also reasonable to assume the fact that Vanity Fair knew they would sell a few more copies to Obama supporters eager to settle the score played some small role.

  • http://lancethruster.blogspot.com LanceThruster

    Apples and oranges. The New Yorker cover was 180° from the truth whereas the Vanity Fair cover is a fairly accurate representation of the truth. It will take some skill to come up with a New Yorker equivalent for McCain and even then it will be questionable if people see it as such because the same damaging false memes have not been propagated for Sen. McCain to the extent that they have for Sen. Obama.
    For example, do you show McCain as a ‘maverick’ even though the opposite is true, or do you show him as a conformist because he claims he is not? The Obama cover can be effective satire *and still* be able to do damage to him in the general public’s perception of him.
    “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

  • http://www.jaxxattaxx.com/ black dog barking

    It will take some skill to come up with a New Yorker equivalent for McCain …
    Go back to the 2000 Republican primaries where McCain was portrayed as mentally unstable and a miscegenist. I agree that the truly unhinged tales of this campaign are mainly about BHO and find it more than a coincidence that the victims of these delirious fantasies are political opponents of KKKarl Rove.

  • http://lancethruster.blogspot.com LanceThruster

    Good points black dog barking though it runs into the same problem. McCain was portrayed as “unstable” because it was said (or established depending on who you believed) that he had an extremely volitile temper. His misogyny is also pretty well established.
    Funny thing is I met him at a book signing prior to the 2004 election and he really came off as a decent caring guy. He was personable and polite and went out of his way to make sure everyone there got the picture they wanted with him (I got one), a firm and friendly handshake, and would cheerfully make quick smalltalk (and still keep the line for the substantial turnout moving). I told him at the time that I would support him in an independent run if he chose to go that route. He gave a warm smile and chuckled.
    Obviously since then I have totally reassessed my views as far as his suitability for the office of the president. Though he can still occasionally come across as likable, he seems both ethically challenged and overall unfit and outmatched.

  • Zzyzx

    I’m afraid we have all lost the eye for, the ability to satirize anything. As I believe both Harry Shearer and Jon Stewart have said, among others, how can anyone satirize this stuff. What has been happening for the past 7+ years is so over the top it is impossible to satirize. Now everyone’s eye for satire has been warped and no one can tell the difference between a cartoon and a satire. It’s like they have half of the opposite of the New Yorker cartoon, and half of the caricature of the McC’s. It just doesn’t make sense. The “terrorist fist bump” all by itself says what? And coupled with the burning constitution and W’s portrait says what?

  • mcc

    It just doesn’t make sense. The “terrorist fist bump” all by itself says what? And coupled with the burning constitution and W’s portrait says what?
    “Buy this magazine!”
    Hey, the ‘controversial’ issue of the New Yorker sold out everywhere, right? Why wouldn’t Vanity Fair want in on some of that action?

  • wire

    This Vanity Fair stunt in no way compounds or legitimizes the the New Yorker piece. It simply points out how, at root, we are victims of stupid and irrelevant “editorial” takes on the race.
    This makes us see how much farther we need to go to surmount the base politics that inform our leadership.
    It’s friightfully stupid!
    The press is effectively dead in this country.

  • cenoxo

    Compare: is Vanity Fair, or is Condé Nast(y)*?
    It’s an election year: enjoy the picture show.
    (*They publish The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. Who says you can’t work both sides of the street?)

  • time warp

    I wonder if it is meant to evoke the elbow sex sequence from the Rocky Horror Show. Or maybe that’s only because Cindy looks a lot like Riff Raff.

  • john blumenthal

    Having written satire professionally for over twenty years, I’m surprised that nobody seems to have figured out why The New Yorker cover doesn’t work as satire. What people like Tim Rutten, David Remnick and countless others fail to realize is that the New Yorker cartoon is not effective satire because the people ostensibly being satirized are not in the picture. The reader has to go an extra step or two to get it, which makes the whole thing way too fuzzy. The cartoon should have depicted a beer-guzzling rube watching Fox News on his TV, with a bubble-image of the New Yorker cartoon above his head. Nobody would have been confused by that.

  • tina

    John Blumenthal’s got it precisely.
    That’s also why the Vanity Fair cover “works”–because it’s an exaggeration of things that are true about the McCains…
    whereas the New Yorker cover does not work because it’s playing up a set of accusations that are false…how can you make fun of the Obamas for being radical Muslims/flag burners when they are no such thing, without implying that they ARE?

  • http://mutuallyoccluded.tumblr.com/ joneilortiz

    many of the arguments that take a hard line against the new yorker cover fall back on the claim that “the people won’t understand that it’s intended as satire”, which is to say, “only we critics do”. well, if ‘you’ do, then perhaps everyone does. i’m sure ‘the people’, which presumably includes everyone but said writer, are able to read images just fine and don’t need an extra level of explicitness to drive home the message.
    the other argument is that the people being satirized aren’t included in the image itself, and therefore the meaning is not direct enough for the public. (and yet we are able to know, by reading the image, who is referenced by it but isn’t included? isn’t this the same thing as being included?) insisting on a more literal pictorial inclusion of the satirized places an arbitrary (and i would say harmful) restriction on satire, especially when so much political satire is by definition forced or obliged to ‘not’ show who or what is being satirized. which is to say, what constitutes inclusion or explicitness in a work cannot be reduced to common sense ideas of visual indication (a constant theme of BNN, no?).
    all in all, the critics’ objections belie their secret understanding that it is in fact crystal clear who or what is being satirized in the new yorker cover.

  • cenoxo

    At least there’s one unmistakable American ’satiricon’ that makes the concept a little clearer for the left and the right.
    Worry.

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