by Damozel | I admit it. I am afraid I thought the infamous cover was hilarious. It didn’t occur to me till the condemnation started rolling in that it could be detrimental to Obama in the wrong hands. I can’t imagine that anyone with a sense of context (or humor) could possibly have taken it as anything but a knock at those who buy into attempts to demonize Obama.
But I understand the concern of those such as Jesse Taylor at Pandagon who perfectly well understand the intent while still feeling concerned that the cover might just give legs to the rumors. And if you don’t believe that there is a segment of the public prepared to swear that the cover is an absolutely literal and accurate accurate depiction of the secret life of the Obamas , see here, here, and here. Finally, there's a good piece today by SilentPatriot at C&L about why some people are so upset about the cover that may pretty much undercut what I've written here. You decide.
The question I ask myself is: does it really matter to the campaign what these people make of the cover? What are the odds that Dems or swing voters are going to take the cover of The New Yorker (because: The New Yorker) literally? Seems to me the reactions of those who believe the ‘terrorist fist-jab’ rumors, affect to believe them, or can even listen to them with a straight face are just not likely supporters of any Democratic candidate.
And I have said it before: I believe in the power of pointing and laughing. 'Don’t fear the smear!' I say. But then...see this cartoon at TMV.
Am I crazy? Satirist Jon Swift is on hand to give his sensibly conservative views on what I shall call Satire-gate. Among much else, he writes:
My first impression on seeing this cover was that the New Yorker had written an exposé revealing that Barack Obama is indeed a Muslim, Michelle Obama was a member of the Black Panthers (or the Mod Squad) and that the Obamas hate America and burn American flags in their fireplace. Then David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, issued a statement saying that the illustration is actually intended to be satire, a decadent form of humor invented by the Romans shortly before their civilization was overrun by barbarians.
If the editors of the New Yorker actually believe that Barack Obama is not a Muslim, Michelle Obama is not a dangerous revolutionary and that they do not actually burn American flags, as Remnick now claims, couldn’t they have just said that? Wouldn’t it have been simpler and clearer to run the illustration with a big X over it so that we knew what they were trying to say? We are not mind readers. It doesn’t make much sense to say the opposite of what you mean and then attack people for being unsophisticated because they thought you were sincere…. Real Americans, I think, prefer straight talkers, like John McCain, who means what he says when he tells us that he doesn’t know very much about economics, can’t figure out how to use a computer and believes that we will be in Iraq for 100 years….
Kevin Drum, whose expertise in comedy is rivaled only by his knowledge of politics, helpfully suggested that the illustration should have been in a thought balloon emanating from the head of John McCain. Of course, thought balloons are in and of themselves funny because the whole notion of a person having a balloon coming out of his head is very comedic. Just thinking about it makes me laugh as I type this. I think his main point, however, is that if you are going to use satire, you must make it very clear that you are distancing yourself from the ideas you are expressing. It is much easier to do this in person because you can express the ideas in a funny voice or contort your face or body in a bizarre way so that the listener knows that you are pretending to be someone else, but in print a device like a thought balloon can have the same effect. You would think the editors of the New Yorker would know that….
Christopher Hitchens (right-tilting expat writing for British publication) finds the response to the Blitt cover a satire on a satire. I kind of agree with him. I hate it when that happens.
Mr Blitt himself could hardly have been more anxiously literal, contacting the liberal "Huffington Post" blog to assure them that "depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness it is". Let us by all means be certain that there is no ambiguity about our satires….
If reassurance is what was wanted, it would have been nice to hear Barack Obama agreeing with the New Yorker’s people that the cover was (a) a joke and (b) a pro-Obama joke and then adding (c) that he and his wife "got" the said joke. No such luck. A statement of extreme lugubriousness from Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton announced that "most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive – and we agree"….Take that, you broad-minded and humorous rabble! Satire can do no more.
Maybe it’s just that I’m married to a Brit that I can’t take the threat presented by this depiction seriously.. My Brit relatives are always telling me that Americans have no sense of irony. This used not to be true. But isn’t the best response to people who believe the nonsense that Blitt was mocking to point and laugh?
Cf. this jab from left of center, via Salon:
It’s official: The Bush era has made liberals so terrified of right-wing smears it has caused them to completely lose their sense of humor. Much as I hate to repeat one of Rush Limbaugh’s flat, stale and unprofitable applause lines, that’s the only conclusion I can draw after witnessing the left-wing blogosphere’s bizarre reaction to the New Yorker cover..I don’t know what lugubrious planet these people are on, but I definitely don’t want any of them writing material for Jon Stewart..
After 9/11, some pious nitwits, suffering from an America-centrism akin to the medieval belief that the Earth was the center of the universe, intoned that "irony was dead." Seven years later, they’ve been proven right — but not in the way they intended. Irony may have been killed, but not by sincerity — it’s been killed by cynicism. Vast swaths of the left have apparently been so traumatized by the Big Lie techniques employed by the Bush administration, its media lickspittles like Fox News, and the right-wing attack machine that they have come to regard all images or texts that contain negative stereotypes as too politically dangerous to run. If you satirically depict Obama as an Islamist terrorist, in this view, you are only reinforcing and giving broader currency to right-wing smears….
A satirical drawing is a satirical drawing, regardless of which magazine’s cover it runs on. Regardless of the context, one can still "read" Blitt’s drawing, and what it says is very clear: These attacks are ridiculous and absurd, and it’s OK to laugh at them in any way you want. If you want to smile over sherry in a drawing room, go right ahead.
Of course, not all satire is created equal.
See Memeorandum for more.
The Flip-Flopping Label Has Jumped the Shark