in defense of the New Yorker cover

I have to disagree with the critiques - i think it's brilliant satire. The rightwing pundits will try to argue that their critiques of Obama are "on the merits" but if you take their attacks literally (he's a crypto muslim, an extremist, a marxist, etc.) then the cartoon on the cover is in fact the logical portrait that results. Its a mirror reflecting all the ugliness about Obama in the right wing media at once.


I think that the right cant be given a pass on the implications of their rhetoric. This is what they are describing on talk radio and The Washington Times and Fox News. Lets hang this around their neck.

I think if we are too unforgiving of the risk that the New Yorker took in runnin this cover, we are part of the problem of diluting political discourse into "safe" channels and thereby leaching all serious analysis out of it. This cover is tame by 19th century and early 20th century political cartoon standards. We need to be - yes, I am aware that teh word is a bit ironic - post-racial, exactly as Obama argued in his famed post-Wright speech on race. Taking offense at the caricature shuts down critique of the very speech that leads to it in the minds of those for whom this is not satire.

Satire, and Irony, are the two most dangerous tools in the free speech toolbox. When wielded properly, they are devastating. But it takes practice to do so, so we should be more tolerant of good-faith attempts to do so.

I am of course going against the grain here. Two bloggers i respect highly, Kevin Drum and Daniel Larison, both took issue with the cover for more sophisticated reasons than merely "it's racist!" - both see the attempt at satire and attempt to explain why it fails rather than react in knee-jerk fashion to the content without considering intent.

Larison argues that the cartoon was intended for a specific audience, and once it escapes that high-information pool, the ironic edge will be lost:

In an era of instant, mass communication, the image will be, indeed already has been, circulated widely and will gradually lose whatever "ironic" edge it once had.  That the image derived from a New Yorker cover and was intended for an audience of high-information, predominantly left-leaning voters who already support Obama will be irrelevant or will add to the "credibility" of what the image conveys. Then the word will go forth in forwarded emails everywhere: "Even The New Yorker thinks Obama is a secret Muslim, etc..."

Ironically, this is a high-information argument. For one thing, it is precisely the left-leaning supporters of Obama who are the most outraged by the photo, and those are the ones who are most informed about the attacks on Obama by the right-wing. As far as the ordinary average voter goes, if they are low-information then I doubt they will ever even see the cover at all. Suppose a low-information undecided voter does see the image, however. Will they really be inclined to suddenly believe in the muslim smear, merely because of a cartoon from a magazine that they (who are postulated to be low-information, remember) have probably barely heard of anyway? It's a circular argument of sorts and in all likelihood the cover will have no role apart from validating what people already are inclined to believe.

Meanwhile, Drum says that the cartoon isn't ballsy enough!

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. But he didn't.

Good satire should indeed be ballsy, but it also needs to be deft. Would a giant thought bubble emanating from McCain's head containing the image above really be an improvement? Or would it look heavy-handed and clumsy? Especially since Kevin knows full well (as do we all) that it is highly unlikely that McCain believes any of this about Obama, but instead cynically exploits those stereotypes to attack Obama. Of course McCain doesn't get his own hands dirty either. Why tie this around McCain's neck when it really is an indictment of the entire right-wing?

At any rate, my specific disagreements aside, I think my argument above about the perils of censoring ourselves also holds in reply to Daniel and Kevin. I want more of this kind of thing, not less, in our political discourse.

If anything, the brouhaha over the cover cartoon threatens to eclipse the solid journalism of the cover story by Ryan Lizza, which is a tough but fair look at Obama's rise to power and one that should be read by every supporter so that future gnashing of teeth over supposed betrayals of the progressive wing can be minimized.

Tags: New Yorker, obama (all tags)

Comments

31 Comments

flame jar

I know I have it coming, but please, be gentle.

by azizhp 2008-07-14 07:28AM | 0 recs
Re: flame jar

You make a good case.  I like what they were trying to do, but frankly such subtlety doesn't work well with most of the American electorate.

by Reaper0Bot0 2008-07-14 07:29AM | 0 recs
Re: flame jar

I don't think the New Yorker's readership really reflects the American electorate.  Unless Mom and Pop Voter in Peoria really really like the Royal Tannenbaums-esque fantasy New York from Talk of the Town.

by Koan 2008-07-14 07:45AM | 0 recs
Re: flame jar

True.  But the picture won't just be seen by those ordering the magazine.  It's all over the news now.  And it isn't being explained properly, I assure you, to mom and pop Iowa.

This was an attention grab by the magazine, nothing more.  And it'll work although I think just as many will drop their subscriptions as a result.  Unfortunately, if the artist meant to show what he claims, there were ways to do it.  The bubble idea being only one way.  The title of the piece actually on the cover is another.

The damage is done and the NY'er likely hurt Obama with this, intentionally or not.  And they did so knowing full well the consequences.  So, as far as I'm concerned, they're entitled to freely display art on their cover but they need to be ready to deal with the results.  In this case, I can't imagine they'll be rewarded.

by SpanishFly 2008-07-14 08:05AM | 0 recs
Re: flame jar

And it isn't being explained properly, I assure you, to mom and pop Iowa.

So Mom and Pop Iowa think that this cartoon confirms that the Obamas are terrorists?  I mean, can you imagine anybody looking at that cartoon and saying, "that proves it!"  I can't.

I think the noise about this cover both underestimates the ability of the American public to get satire and overestimates the extent to which the American public gives a shit about the New Yorker.  It's not a photo of them in terrorist gear.  It's a cartoon.  Nobody takes cartoons seriously.  I'm having a hard time seeing exactly how people are going to "misinterpret" it.

We Obama supporters are a little oversensitive about this kind of thing.  A satirical cartoon is a far cry from detailed emails containing lies and distortions--and that's what we should be focusing on combating, imo.

by Koan 2008-07-14 08:59AM | 0 recs
Re: flame jar

I do think the Obama camp was oversensitive about this. But do not underestimate the idiocy of some of our fellow citizens. When you got people mad at Obama for Rev Wright who they know is Christian, and then some of them still believe Obama is a muslim, what can one say.

by Pravin 2008-07-14 09:35AM | 0 recs
Re: flame jar

Or even weirder, I heard a woman who was dissing him for FIRST being a Muslim, then rejecting that, THEN being a Christian, and quiting his Church over Rev Wright.

So, it's the triffecta: hate him for being a Muslim, hate him for Rev wright, hate him for not sticking with either one?

Racist a-holes will find some reason to rationalize their hatred rather then admit their bigotry out front.

by WashStateBlue 2008-07-14 09:42AM | 0 recs
Re: flame jar

I, personally, 'get' the cartoon....and am not offended by it in and of itself.
What bothers me is that it will be up in cubicles across the country....Republican cubicles.
Long after those who 'get it' have forgotten about it...the ones who don't 'get it' will still be chattering about it and it will be being used as propaganda by those who BELIEVE it.

Also, sadly, I think that there are more Americans who won't 'get it' combined with those who BELIEVE it, than there are Americans who 'get it'.

I see it becoming one of the forwards like the Muslim smear or the No Birth Certificate or any of the myriad of mindless tripe that is passed from one to another. Most may ignore such forwards....but, sadly, many don't. They read them and believe them.....and vote.

So, yeah....
Satire? Check.
Highbrow? Check.
Needless? Check.
Harmful? Check.

I see it as a net loss for Obama.

by Kysen 2008-07-14 09:36AM | 0 recs
Re: flame jar

Yeah, but again, it's a cartoon.  Political cartoons don't convince, they confirm.  If you already believe he's a terrorist or whatever, you'll look at it and say, "right on!  That's so funny.  He is such an islamofascist!"

But it's not going to convince anybody who's on the fence or unsure or even ill-informed.  Those emails filled with factual lies and distortions are much more insidious, because people read them and say, "wow, I didn't know he attended a madrassa and that he was born in Kenya" or whatever.  A political cartoon is not going to change anyone's factual perception of Obama the way those emails might.

by Koan 2008-07-14 09:48AM | 0 recs
Re: flame jar
I doubt if very many people who subscribe to the New Yorker will cancel their subscriptions as a result. Guys, this is the New Yorker, the goal of most serious writers, fiction and nonfiction.
by redstocking 2008-07-14 09:28AM | 0 recs
Re: flame jar
People have a completely wrong picture of the New Yorker. I recall having a two-hour debate with two New Leftists friends defending the New Yorker in the middle of the Vietnam War.
by redstocking 2008-07-14 09:27AM | 0 recs
Re: flame jar
I thought this was a link to subscribe to the New Yorker:)
by redstocking 2008-07-14 09:25AM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover

The problem here is that the ironic context is implied.  Something this volatile needs more explicit framing.  The McCain bubble idea has some merit, except that McCain's connection to these tactics has not been established.  Sure, he's got a swift-boater running his Orwellian-named 'truth squad,' but he has not been linked directly to these smears as far as I know.  Something like that would then boomerang into being accused of smearing McCain with the racism of others.  Maybe if it were on an easel and the artist had '527' on their back...

Regardless, this picture needs a frame.  Otherwise, it's up for grabs and deeply problematic.

by Strummerson 2008-07-14 07:53AM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover
The likelihood that any subscriber or regular reader of the New Yorker would think it is a racist attack on Obama is exactly zero. My prayer is that now every single child and teenager in America will want a subscription to the New Yorker for their birthday.
by redstocking 2008-07-14 09:25AM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover

I don't think that it is the subscribers and regular readers of The New Yorker that people are worried about.

It's the other 99.9% of Americans....50% of whom are less intelligent than your AVERAGE American.

--Personally, I want kids to subscribe to Discover Magazine (though, I would not be disappointed if they subscribed to The New Yorker as well)  
;)

by Kysen 2008-07-14 09:40AM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover

I saw something funny on tv the other day. A woman gave birth to biracial twins, one black and one white. All her white friends said, "How cute!" Her black friends all said something along the lines of "OMG."

I haven't seen the cover of the New Yorker, but I'm sure it's funny.

by misscee 2008-07-14 07:55AM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover

I think the cartoon should have been inside the magazine. Putting it out on the cover does more harm than good because the average person is too misinformed to know better. Even now, quite a few people think he is really muslim. It is sad how dumb some of our citizens are. Even if they are misinformed, you would think common sense would take over and lead them to realize Obama is a christian because, after all, Obama got into trouble because of a CHRISTIAN reverend's rants.

Having said that, I think some of the reaction was little too overheated. We are getting outragerd over every damn thing lately.

by Pravin 2008-07-14 07:58AM | 0 recs
I believe folks are thin-skinned

I believe it was great satire -- lookng at it, I realized how ridiculous it was, ala satire from The Onion or National Lampoon.  The article was highly informative and rankly, made me feel better about him.

There are no scared cows in politics, especially in presidential campaigns.  I believe all the folks the heaping amounts of righteous indignation over the cover need to get the hell over themselves.  The Obama support response is more indicative of the fear from that he may actually lose this thing.  If that's the case, then they'd better get to work, rather than getting worked up.

by dcrolg 2008-07-14 08:02AM | 0 recs
I wish y'all would stop linking to

the Lizza article; I'm trying to wait until my copy arrives!

By and large, I think you're right, and I am bemused at the reaction of supposed high information voters in the blogs.

I suppose it's a fair critique to say that the cartoon will be blown out of context when distributed to "low information" voters in places like Faux News, but the people who watch Faux News aren't going to be Obama voters anyway.

With regards to the New Yorker, one thing I've noticed with some consistency the last few months - the lead article in Talk of the Town, usually penned by Hendrick Hertzberg, Jeffrey Toobin, and David Remnick, have overwhelmingly slanted in Obama's favor, first over Clinton, now over McCain.

People who see this particular issue (cover and/or Lizza article) as proof of the New Yorker being anti-Obama don't know what they're talking about.

by aggieric 2008-07-14 08:05AM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover
The Huffington Post has just run an interview with the editor of the New Yorker, David Remnick. His intelligence and seriousness are a joy to behold. Maybe I can figure out how to link to it. David Remnick Interview
by redstocking 2008-07-14 09:22AM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover

It just goes to show you that the left at least has a sense of humor and attempts satire from time to time.

The right?

Could you imagine the WSJ running a cartoon with Phil Gramm as Scrooge McDuck, beating Huey/Duey/Loey and Donald with his diamond studded riding crop, for whinning about their financial situation, all while sitting on a pile of gold coins, oil stocks, and cold hard cash.

Oh, wait, that is an accurate image of Phil Gramm, not a satire. Maybe that is why the right doesn't do satire so much.....

by WashStateBlue 2008-07-14 09:33AM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover

I think it is a mistake for the Obama camp to come out and say this is offensive.  They could have used this opportunity to show they understand the word "satire".  

by JustJennifer 2008-07-14 09:45AM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover

me too, i also think Colbert is funny when he uses right wing nutty smears to mock them.  No one thinks he's really giving fodder to the right wing.  

It's not just free speech that's at issue, it's also humor.  And, no one's perfect, and everyone needs to learn how to roll with the jokes.

At this manufactured outrage, it's sooo depressing.  

by anna shane 2008-07-14 10:38AM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover

"At this manufactured outrage, it's sooo depressing."  

Sorry, I have to laugh at that comment, Anne, knowing your history here.

I remembered WALLS of dairies about if Obama had given Clinton the finger, and WALLS of diaries about the "Brush Off-Shrug" situation.

MyDD seemed like the world HQ of manufactured outrage back then, in the glory days of Alegre and Texas Darlin' dominating the Rec list.

by WashStateBlue 2008-07-14 10:45AM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover

ah, but there was no outrage, I thought it was plausible and also funny.  What's also funny is you can notice where I may be holding two standards, but it's wrong for me to notice about our politicians?  That cover is damn funny and makes it clear that these smears aren't just ridiculous, they're laughable.  

by anna shane 2008-07-15 05:14PM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover

What this reveals to me, more than anything, is the extent to which many liberal and progressive bloggers and media people believe that the average American voter is an idiot.  That's pretty sad.  It's hard to win elections if you have contempt for the people who you're asking to vote for you.

by daria g 2008-07-14 10:38AM | 0 recs
It also shows that some

Obama-hating deadenders will defend any hateful portrayal of him.

How many McCain points have you earned today?

by Geekesque 2008-07-14 11:13AM | 0 recs
I'll stand up and admit

I think the average American voter is easily swayed. "idiot" goes too far, but I certainly don't believe our electorate makes informed decisions.

And yes, I have trouble winning elections.

by Neef 2008-07-14 01:05PM | 0 recs
Re: in defense of the New Yorker cover

absolutely right. I have also been dismayed by the tendency of the plolitical chattering classes - including by and large the entire netroots, who are convinced by righteousness of their superiority over the massess of proles - to be so unbelievably condescending as they are. this episode brouhgt ot a lot of that sentiment into the open and it is ugly.

by azizhp 2008-07-15 02:06AM | 0 recs
Reincarnate Phil Ochs
I hope the Republicans get in the habit of using New Yorker covers. There are wonderful ones about Bush. No wonder there are no satirical protest songs. The equivalent of Draft Dodger Rag and Love Me I'm a Liberal would be offensive and tasteless. Reincarnate Phil Ochs. Maybe my English husband has spent enough time in the US and we should move to England.
by redstocking 2008-07-14 11:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Reincarnate Phil Ochs
Don't leave Redstockings... To paraphrase Red Emma If I cant laugh I don't want to part of your revolution.
by Ida B 2008-07-14 12:42PM | 0 recs

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