Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Is this Satire?

with 11 comments

One of the side effects of writing Doug’s Darkworld is an increased interest in politics. Although not because I am becoming interested in politics per se, but because it is a central theme in the tightly interwoven matrix that is human culture and society. In simpler terms, politic is important because effects us all. And sometimes things happens in the political realm that are interesting enough to blog about, so once again I will deconstruct some current event and see what I can see.

And today I am talking about the infamous cover that is running on the 21 July 2008 issue of the New Yorker magazine. The cover of the magazine shows a caricature of Obama and his wife. He is dressed in traditional Muslim garb, just like the picture of Osama Bin Laden on the wall. His wife is a caricature of a sixties black radical with the afro and carrying a gun. An American flag burns in the fireplace behind them. The New Yorker magazine claims this is satirical in nature, lampooning those who have spread the nasty rumours that Obama is a Muslim terrorist.

Right. I’m a little unclear here, defines satire as :

1. The use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.

2. A literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule.

Wikipedia describes satire as “In satire, human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, ideally with the intent to bring about improvement.”

So, I’m confused, what vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings of Obama and his wife are being held up for examination and improvement here? The New Yorker claims that they are satirizing the people who are making the claim that Obama is an America hating Muslim and terrorist sympathizer. I don’t see Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, or other right wing pundits on the cover, I see Obama and his wife. So how is illustrating the oft repeated claim that Obama is a Muslim terrorist sympathizer on a national magazine “satire” of the people making these basically racist and insulting claims?

I am a big fan of satire and strongly believe that satire is protected free speech (and thankfully the Supreme Court agrees) but this seems like a rather back handed way to satirize someone. In fact one can make the claim that this seems more designed to hurt Obama than satirize his critics. That troubles me to no end, the people making the decision to print this piece had to have known it would be controversial and get a lot of attention. What, exactly, is the point of drawing national attention to rumours that are baseless, racist, and insulting?

On a very gut level this sort of imagery is going to reinforce those rumours, I suspect the typical response from the anti-Obama crowd will be some version of “hahaha if he can’t take the heat he should stay out of the kitchen.” Yet I suspect we won’t be seeing McCain any time soon on the cover of the New Yorker depicting him as a war criminal deliberately bombing innocent Vietnamese babies now, will we? I’m not getting all in a tizzy about this, but I do see it as more proof that the “liberal media bias” is nothing of the sort, and there is an all-pervasive corporate/conservative bias to the media if anything. And the agenda as it were is “don’t rock the boat, everything is fine.”

And Obama, as a populist (arguably) candidate for change, is far scarier to the powers-that-be than McCain, who is completely in bed with America’s corporate/military power elite. So Obama is getting tons of press coverage, but if it’s press coverage like this, I don’t think it’s going to help. In fact I agree with a friend of mine, this magazine cover is a subtle form of swift-boating, it’s affect is going to be far more ugly than it’s purported intent. I am afraid this magazine cover is one more signpost on the road to President McCain next year.

A road that frankly may lead to Hell. Oh well, at least we’ll all be roast mutton together.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, is central to illustrating the post, is a low-resolution, grey-scale version of the original, and it’s use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial or artistic use of the image. It is also arguably an historically important image. Credit and copyright: New Yorker magazine. Personally I find the image offencive, as I would an image showing McCain bombing babies. Though it does bring to mind the question, who did McCain bomb in Vietnam? I’ll try to research that for a future post.)

Written by unitedcats

July 15, 2008 at 8:38 am

Posted in Politics

11 Responses

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  1. chunque

    July 15, 2008 at 9:28 am

  2. I like your take on this but,The New Yorker isn’t a bastion of the corporate Right is it ?


    July 15, 2008 at 1:35 pm

  3. The only reason that this Mr. & Mrs. Obama satire DOES have impact — and may very likely spread — is because like all good satire, or good humor for that matter, there’s more than a germ of truth in it. Otherwise, the satire would utterly roll off the Obamoids’ backs, having no impact.


    July 15, 2008 at 4:25 pm

  4. Not to mention the “secret fist bump” in the cartoon. Isn’t there a strong rumor (urban legend, maybe) that Muslim terrorists give that to each other?

    The cartoon is ill-conceived, but I don’t think the New Yorker is right wing media. I don’t know why they did this – probably tried to be smart, but ended up smart-alecky.

    Priya Raju

    July 16, 2008 at 12:01 am

  5. Malloy… can you please expand your comment? Please post a link to your evidence where Obama either a) belongs to a Muslim temple or b) Support terrorism.


    July 16, 2008 at 6:34 pm

  6. @Malloy: Like Andrew, I’m puzzled. What specifically is the “germ of truth” of which you speak?


    July 17, 2008 at 9:50 pm

  7. And by that logic, a picture of any famous person on a national magazine showing them committing some unspeakable act wouldn’t be offensive if there wasn’t any truth to it? I don’t think so.

    The New Yorker is not right wing media, it’s corporate media. That was my point, but I could have expressed it more clearly.


    July 18, 2008 at 7:08 am

  8. I agree entirely! I’m a subscriber but I don’t see this as satire…it was a bad decision (nic post).


    July 21, 2008 at 10:13 am

  9. ‘nice post’, I meant.

    (The ‘e’ leapt off the page)


    July 21, 2008 at 10:14 am

  10. I need to take issue with this to a degree. If you look closely at the image, what you will see is a repitition of all the various crazy stories the right-wing has been trying to smear Obama with, right down the the “terrorist fist jab” they are doing. The caricatrue is done so obviously that its hard to imagine ANY American taking it as a serious comment on Obama … to me, right from the first moment I saw it, it was clear it was a comment on the right-wing naise machine’s take on Obama, not on Obama himself.

    The real “proof” to me is the name at the top of the magazine. Who is the New Yorker’s target audience? Do they target people who who have trouble with sublety? Do they target right wingers who would have their ideas about Obama reinforced by this cover? No, they target the liberal intelligensia, people for whom the images on the cover are CLEARLY intended as over the top spoof. No one in their target audience believes ANY of the things in the illustration … in fact, the target audience almost to a person likely thinks that every image in the picture is manufactured by the Republican niose machine. That target audience is highly educated and well versed in media tactics.

    So given that audience, does it REALLY make sense that this is a peice directed at Obama? Not to me … it seems clear that they were sharing an inside joke with their liberal readers about how crazy all the Republican spin over Obama is. By putting all of the silly little claims about Obama into one illustration, as they did, they have CLEARLY created an absurd image, and that was the point. The point of this peice of satire is to directly expose all the lies that have been written about Obama, and to put them together into the “Republican portrait” of Obama, thereby showing how utterly absurd each claim is on its own, and how completely absurd the whole thing is in total.

    And I frankly think they did a GREAT job showing us the absurdity of the Republican portrait of Obama. You say you don’t see any mention of the Republicans in the illustration, and so you can’t see how its satire. The object of satire does not have to be explicit, and the best satire is often subtle enough that it doesn’t beat people on the head with its message. Thats what the New Yorker did here … created a satirical peice that paints a completely absurd portrait of Obama based on Republican talking points. They didn’t HAVE to explicitely mention the Republicans … that they are the object of the ridicule is clear based on the fact that they are the author of every absurdly stereotypical image in the illustration, and the New Yorker relied on the sophistication of its readership to see the absurdity and trace it back. It is satire, and its very good satire, IMO … subtle, pithy, and directly to the point.


    August 11, 2008 at 2:56 pm

  11. Well, if the only people who saw the image were smart sophisticated New Yorker readers such as yourself, I would agree with you wholeheartedly. However, for good or for ill, the image became national news and was seen by millions of Americans who couldn’t even spell subtle, let alone appreciate the satire. And as a magazine that is almost a national icon, it’s hard for me to imagine they thought that no one but their targeted readers would see the image. Good satire though, I agree.


    August 11, 2008 at 7:13 pm

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