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Monday, July 14, 2008


Shock and Awe

Like many of you, I found myself appalled by the New Yorker's new "satirical" cover art, which depicts Barack and Michelle Obama in a series of Muslim, militaristic, anti-American, racist stereotypes. However, I'm not (necessarily) appalled by the magazine's choice to satirize the unfounded prejudices placed upon the Obama family...but by the poor execution of the artist and editors in putting this idea together.

To my mind, it's not merely a political and moral failure...it's an artistic one. The cover doesn't go nearly far ENOUGH in exposing the ridiculous, Republican-fueled lies. In fact, the artwork is so poorly-conceived that many uninformed souls could see it as truth-telling. It lacks focus and the metaphoric commentary essential to satire.

In short...as a piece of satiric art, it really sucks. And at worst, it will damage the Obama campaign through the fall.

Now, most readers of the New Yorker (myself included) will probably get the joke, and will certainly explore the accompanying article inside. It's a pretty sophisticated magazine, and has a literate, informed readership. And as my friends Rod 2.0 and Brilliant at Breakfast point out, the culture of manufactured outrage is the real problem here.

But it's not my blogger buddies of the New Yorker subscribers that need the lies exposed...they already know. The people who NEED this information are the people passing this magazine in the midwestern bookstore, or at the corner shop, or reading it at the dentist's office. These are the clueless people who will NOT understand, and who will make a snap judgement about the Obamas based on this cover art. Most people, sadly, do judge a book by its cover...and in this regard, the New Yorker's poorly-executed cover art is a media catastrophe.

Let's hope they find a way to apologize, or something. Because the one thing a daring, unusual, history-making visionary like Barack needs is to have the lies about him inadvertantly reinforced by the media elite.

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Blogger verninino said...

... the people passing this magazine in the midwestern bookstore, or at the corner shop, or reading it at the dentist's office.

My dear friend Gabriel, you do realize that this is an absurd premise. (I've been chuckling about it for five minutes, which is why I felt obliged to leave a comment.) First, it's a watercolor not a photograph. Second, even waiting rooms on the Upper West Side don't stock the New Yorker-- just browsing the damn thing takes an hour, what kind of message would that send.

If Obama were truly transformative he would have exploited it by laughing it off. Besides, everyone expects a Manchurian candidate to take umbrage.

(BTW: For some reason I couldn't post with my blogger ID.)

7/15/08, 1:57 PM  
Blogger ModFab said...

I really respect your opinion, Vern. But you should know that the first time I ever read the New Yorker was in the waiting room of Dr. Herb Johnson DDS, in Athens, Georgia, sometime in the mid-80's. It's more out there than you think it is...and seen by many people who will not stop to read the magazine itself.

As for it being a watercolor and not a photograph, I don't think the medium changes the fact that the image depicted is satirized poorly...without focus, clarity or much sophistication. I realize it's not "reality," but satire is rarely delivered in photographic media.

And I guess you're entitled to think that Obama is a Manchurian candidate if you wish...we're reading different policy papers, I guess. Even if you hate Obama, though, I'm sure you realize that among the viable alternatives, McCain is a frightening prospect. Manchurian or not, Obama is the only realistic choice left for anyone who wants to repair what's broken.

7/15/08, 6:05 PM  
Blogger verninino said...


My point was that even if I were freebasing neoconservative koolaid I'd hardly illustrate my claims with a New Yorker watercolor, especially with the MSM quietly exposing it as a satire.

As a New Yorker subscriber (circa 1993) I'm not one of those right-wing patsies that believes Obama is an Islamic Manchurian. But I think this cover was about as effective a satire as any since I've subscribed. I don't think they try to be any more deep or subtle than, say, John Daily. If Obama reacted with a sense of humor and grace he would have likely appealed to liberals. But reacting with an uptight tsk-tsk it seems obvious he's triangulating right-of-center.

Frankly Obama doesn't seem like an Islamic Manchurian to me. He seems almost exactly like a Third Wave Clinton-- more Clinton '92 than Clinton '08. See for yourself, read the New Yorker article. Last month the New York Review of Books did a long piece on his economic philosophy.

Is O a more progressive than McCain? Sure, but that doesn't make him a progressive. Liberal Senator is an oxymoron (for proof comb the Clinton/Obama voting record); that's what the New Yorker should have built its satirical cover on.

7/15/08, 9:10 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

Vern! How nice to see your lovely name again! But I'm afraid I'm with Gabriel on this one. You see, I have a friend who's one of those people who will be negatively affected by this cover. She is moderate, hates John McCain, but -- I am not joking -- worries that Barack Obama isn't loyal to our country. She has received all the e-mails, and while at one time she asked me what I thought about the claims, she now not only no longer does, but says she doesn't want to talk about politics. In other words, she's bought the bullshit. This kind of imagery reaches down into that mean, scared place that's inside a lot of people. No matter how much they think they want to be informed, all you have to do is touch that reptilian brain and they're a goner.

So I'm afraid I'm with Gabriel here -- this image is going to scare the bejeezus out of people like my friend, because it reinforces their worst fears.

7/15/08, 11:24 PM  
Blogger ModFab said...

I'm not sure I can agree that Obama's reaction -- which by my measure seems muted and mature, and better than I'd do in his place -- is the problem here. You can't really say it's Obama's fault that he didn't laugh the racist, sexist crap off. I mean, you CAN say it, but that seems an erroneous assignment of who's at fault here.

I hear your point...and even agree with your summation that Obama is triangulating right-of-center these days. If you're faulting him on not having hard-left "progressive" bona fides, again I'd agree. I'm just not sure that I disagree with a more nuanced and thoughtful approach than the hard-left party line, even when I disagree with him on some policy decisions.

And I still maintain that the artist of this particular cover didn't go far enough to get the right tenor for this particular satire. But I do think it's important to ask some questions about this moment, before it disappears:

- Why *can't* we laugh at Obama the way we laugh at Bush or (Bill) Clinton?

- Why is the media preoccupied with critiques of the Obamas as people, while leaving the McCains relatively unscathed?

- Why should Obama be expected to ignore (or laugh off) the racist slights against him, or the sexist slights against his wife, or the wide misinformation about him? Will white voters only support Obama if he allows them to be racists?

Stilted question? Yeah, I know. Polemics? Perhaps. But these are the questions that are running around in my head these days.

7/15/08, 11:28 PM  

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