About That New Yorker Cover…

First off, here it is:

As Andrew Sullivan says, it’s almost certainly intended as satire but as Ta-Nehisi Coates points out:

I think the problem is that it’s very hard to satirize the rumors around Michelle and Barack. Satire needs overstatement. But the cover doesn’t actually overstate the beliefs of the scaremongers. Indeed its the sort of image you’d expect to see at one of the nuttier websites or publications, and so in that sense it doesn’t work very well.

Indeed. Isaac Chotiner at the Plank seems to think the Obama campaign shouldn’t have even acknowledged the cover at all:

What I do not understand, however, is why the Obama campaign has chosen to pick a fight with the magazine, thereby assuring that the story will have legs.

I can think of at least two reasons why this would have blown up anyway, regardless of how the campaign chose to address it:

  • In Chotiner’s own post, he notes that Mark Halperin’s The Page and The Politico have items up on the cover (Jack Tapper’s item at Political Punch went unmentioned). It’s up on the Drudge Report’s front page (which links to yet another item about this on the Politico). Given the sway that these particular blogs and outlets have in regards to the topics that the D.C. pundit class choose to highlight during a given news cycle (not to mention how many other blogs use those same sites as resources) there’s pretty much no way this was going to be a non-story.
  • Going back to Choitner’s post again, he links out to what is certain to be the political piece of the week, a 15,000 word article from Ryan Lizza about Obama’s rise in Chicago. That article appears in this week’s New Yorker, the same issue that sports the already infamous cover.

Part of the issue with this cover is that it expects the person walking by on the street to know that this is a send up. It’s winking at you because you should know that Obama is not and has never been a Muslim (not that there’s anything wrong with that), that he is a patriotic American that doesn’t burn the flag, that his wife is not some Angela Davis style radical. Most of the readership of the New Yorker knows this and they will probably get a self-satisfied laugh from the whole thing. The problem, as Coates noted above, though, is that, for some people this is simply confirmation of what they already think, and now their beliefs have been validated by a “liberal” publication like the New Yorker. The tone-deafness on display here is pretty astounding to observe. Kevin Drum pretty much hits the nail on the head in his post about this whole mess:

I had two reactions, myself. To be honest, my first one was that it was kinda funny, a clever way of mocking all the conservative BS that’s been circulating about the Obamas.

But at the risk of seeming humorless, that reaction didn’t last too long. Maybe it’s because this kind of satire just doesn’t work, no matter how well it’s done. But mostly it’s because a few minutes thought convinced me it was gutless. 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. Because that would have been unfair. And McCain would have complained about it. And for some reason, the risk that a failed satire would unfairly defame McCain is somehow seen as worse than the risk that a failed satire would unfairly defame Obama.

So: gutless. And whatever else you can say about it, good satire is never gutless.

Sigh. All this and it’s not even Monday morning yet. It’s going to be a long, long week.


~ by uvasig on July 14, 2008.

2 Responses to “About That New Yorker Cover…”

  1. “Most of the readership of the New Yorker knows this and they will probably get a self-satisfied laugh from the whole thing.”

    The New Yorker isn’t responsible for translating the cartoon for anyone.

    However, if someone doesn’t understand and watches the cable news networks, they’ll understand soon enough. The media will explain to them ad nauseam, in the best faux-outrage, that Obama is not a muslim and doesn’t hate America.

    There are plenty of people (R) who don’t pick up on things written in the New Yorker. Now because they might not vote for your candidate we should be concerned that the New Yorker explain the cover, or the concept of satire?

    Sig, you’ve got to admit that this bothers you because you want Obama to win….


    Those who missed the point of the cover weren’t going to vote for Obama anyway. Many of these people think Stephen Colbert is a staunch conservative.

    It’s great satire IMO. Like you pointed out though, it’s a damn shame that it will overshadow the article inside. For a guy to come into a city like Chicago as an outsider and accomplish so much is impressive.

    Anyway, um, go terps, like the blog, please don’t stop posting your articles.

  2. LaTroy,
    Thanks for posting! It’s absolutely true that I want Obama to win and so I freely admit I’m bothered by the cartoon. Now, as you said, it’s not the New Yorker’s job to explain the satire and I think they are obviously within their rights to run it. I just happen to think it’s a bad satire for two reasons (and because I’m sorta lazy today, I’m going to outsource my points to some folks that do this stuff for a living):
    1) Seeing something visually tends to make it stick a bit more than it would if you’d just heard a rumor. Jonathan Alter addresses this point in a web article in regards to the Obama cartoon. From his piece:

    “In the same way, the New Yorker cover, now being displayed endlessly on cable TV, speaks louder than any efforts by Obama supporters to stop the smears (though it doesn’t help that barackobama.com makes it hard to navigate to the truth-squading). As the author Drew Westen has shown, negative images burn their way into the consciousness of voters in ways that cannot be erased by facts. With one visual move, the magazine undid months of pro-Obama coverage in its pages.

    Apparently, the New Yorker is losing some subscriptions over this flap. That’s silly. It’s hardly a crime to let a clever idea for a magazine cover (rare) trump political sensitivities (common). Getting too huffy about cartoons is something we should leave to extremists. But let’s not pretend the cover doesn’t play into a lot of garbage that otherwise smart and reasonable people actually believe, and in places far beyond Dubuque.”

    I am in total agreement with that and it leads into the second point, which was made by a conservative blogger, Daniel Larison, about the prevalence of misinformation:

    “It amazes me that we have just come out of an era in which roughly half the population was at one time certain that Saddam Hussein not only had operational ties to Al Qaeda (false) but was responsible for 9/11 (some embarrassingly large number of people still believe this), and yet we still get these harangues from Kamiya and The Los Angeles Times about how harmless and unimportant misinformation is. ”People aren’t that stupid!” they declare. They’re not stupid, but they can be ignorant, and that ignorance can be exploited, just as the Bush administration did in its arguments concerning Iraq. When national polls are finding that nearly 40% of the public believes Obama went to a religious madrassa (madrassa itself ultimately just means “school”) and about one out of eight people think he is a Muslim, you have to be strangely optimistic that this kind of misinformation won’t spread any more than it already has. ”

    Larison makes the point, “that people aren’t that stupid” but they can be ignorant (and by ignorant, that can simply mean that they don’t have all the facts at their disposal to make an informed decision). But it’s the combination of willful ignorance, outright ignorance (people who don’t care to find out if something’s true or not) and the persistence of the rumors about Obama (some in visual form) that make this stuff hard to deal with.

    Some of the folks who saw the cover and didn’t get it probably were not going to vote for him, as you said. The point is that there there are a lot of other folks who will be told about the cover by friends/ co-workers/family members who are hostile to Obama who will be willing to believe that the cover is an accurate portrayal of the Obama’s without doing any further investigation on their own.

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