See, David, it is not so "obvious" that The New Yorker is free from "prejudice and dark imaginings." When you start thinking that your Manhattan geography, your tony circle of liberal friends and your lip service to progressive issues makes you immune from perpetrating the "isms" embodied by that cover image, you tread a shaky (privileged) track. The New Yorker incident is just one more bit of proof that self-professed liberals are as capable of racial tone deafness as their maligned opponents--worse, they lack the self-awareness to recognize and apologize for their missteps.Obviously I wouldn't have run a cover just to get attention — I ran the cover because I thought it had something to say. What I think it does is hold up a mirror to the prejudice and dark imaginings about Barack Obama's — both Obamas' — past, and their politics. I can't speak for anyone else's interpretations, all I can say is that it combines a number of images that have been propagated, not by everyone on the right but by some, about Obama's supposed "lack of patriotism" or his being "soft on terrorism" or the idiotic notion that somehow Michelle Obama is the second coming of the Weathermen or most violent Black Panthers. That somehow all this is going to come to the Oval Office.
The idea that we would publish a cover saying these things literally, I think, is just not in the vocabulary of what we do and who we are... We've run many many satirical political covers. Ask the Bush administration how many.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Satire or slam?
Is Barry Blitt's newly-unveiled The New Yorker cover satire or yet another instance of the mainstream media parroting (and making legitimate) the worst of the racist, xenophobic, Muslim-hating slander against Barack Obama? If early Web buzz is accurate, a lot of people think that the image qualifies as the latter. Trying not to jerk my knee on this one, I tried to weigh the possible objectives behind the controversial cover. In the end, I can only say that I believe The New Yorker failed at...something. I'm not sure what, but whatever they were trying to do, it didn't work. (Unless their aim was to court controversy. In that case: Well done!)
If the cover was meant to be a bit of cleverness on the part of The New Yorker--a poking fun at those who believe the tinfoil hat/Manchurian candidate conspiracies about Obama--then it fails. The imbeciles who still believe Obama is a Muslim are not even alluded to by the cover. The victims of this "satire" are not incurious rightwingers, but the Obamas themselves...oh, and Muslims and black people, which the cover image succeeds in portraying as scary, America-hating "others."
If the cover is meant to illustrate the contents of the magazine's cover story--as cover images are wont to do--then it fails. The article contained within the pages of The New Yorker details Obamas beginnings as a young Chicago community organizer and novice politician. It is this disconnect that makes me question the intentions of the magazine's editors the most. The cover seems incredibly gratuitous, being that it relates to the inside article not at all. If the cover story were to detail the many attempts to paint the Obamas as radical friends of terrorists, the art would seem to stand as a satirical illustration. Alone? Not so much.
And about that cover story...Its contents convince me that the sum of the cover image and article were meant to tarnish Barack Obama in some way. In my eyes, admittedly the biased eyes of an Obama supporter, there is too much sly allusion to how well Obama plays the political game, his cockiness, his uneasy relationship with black folk in the form of the civil rights industrial complex...too many interviews with people who clearly have axes to grind...oh, and Bill Ayers and Tony Rezkco make obligatory appearances. I realize that Obama has his flaws and that good journalists have a right...no, duty, to reveal them as they relate to the candidate's ability to run the country. But this piece of journalism seemed specifically written to dismantle specific aspects of Obama's public persona that are seen as benefits.
If the cover and associated article were meant to diminish Obama in the eyes of supporters, then in my case, they failed. I spent most of my years in Chicago in the Hyde Park neighborhood that the Obamas call home. I frequented the Southside haunts the article mentions (the grocery co-op, the Calypso Cafe) and I watched Obama's political rise. I voted for him as my senator. To be honest, I've been rooting for him since he ran against Bobby Rush and the self-professed leaders in the black community (local Jesse Jackson types) gathered round to question his blackness and call him uppity. They didn't realize it, but they were demonstrating to me why a new brand of politics--Obama's brand--was sorely needed. The New Yorker article reminded me of one of the reasons I have always liked Barack Obama. His intelligence, his ambition, his commitment to do things differently...In his political style, Obama is the maverick that John McCain pretends to be.
The only possible objective for the offending cover image--the only one that The New Yorker has successfully fulfilled--is to fan the flames of controversy. Though editor David Remnick says: