Alex Blaze

About that New Yorker cover

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 21, 2008 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media
Tags: Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, New Yorker

I'd hate to see this one drift off into the ether without it being posted on TBP, so it's now the question of the day. What do you all think about the New Yorker's "Obama is a secret Muslim" cover? Good satire or bad? Racist or not? Islamophobic or not? Was the Obama camp's response appropriate or not?

new yorker cove.jpg

Here are a few reactions I wanted to highlight.

  • From the Seattle P-I:

    Mccain cover.jpg

  • From the awesome political imagery blog, BAGNewNote:

    What you're probably not going to see much of elsewhere, on the other hand, is the actual "what" of what's wrong here. Here's my list:

    1. Set in an Oval Office the revolutionaries have cleared of the desk (because revolutionaries don't do desks, so much as lairs), the self congratulations -- especially at this early, pre-convention stage of the campaign -- ascribes a massive sense of entitlement to the Obamas.

    2. Minus the eye contact of the actual fist bump in St. Paul (and adding the arched eyebrows), Angela Davis Obama's expression is transformed from "I love you" to "You're SUCH an evil genius, baby ... and no one ever caught on!"

    3. Besides Barack's pursed lips -- which have turned into code in the MSM for this arrogant (read: "uppity") black man -- the most damning element in this illustration, by far, is Obama's eye. The furtiveness lends the perfect Machiavellian effect, and the fact it's directed our way suggests we should really know better what this guy is up to.

    4. Of course, the gun, the ammo clip, the cammo pants and the crossed legs (like crossed fingers) suggest what an angry, war-like creature Michelle is.

    5. It's not just that Old Glory is on fire ("thank Allah I can finally toss that damn pin!"), the crumpled flag at floor level is reminiscent of the flag good old Bill Ayers was stepping on.[...]

    In hitting the trifecta here, many will argue this illustration is simply a satiric representation of the sophomoric attacks being tossed at Obama from far right field.

    If that's all there was to it, though, than why do I sense Rove is chortling tonight?

    The reason -- besides the fact that the New Yorker demographic is a pretty narrow one -- is that visually-based racial, religious and character-based framing does carry cognitive weight across a spectrum of higher- and lower-level reasoning, and, more than anything, it gains strength and veracity through repetition.

    So, forget about "don't think of an elephant." Try not thinking about the guy's name in the turban-thing without not thinking about his brother's name in the portrait behind him.

  • From the creator of Tom the Dancing Bug:

    But it's actually less clear what the satirical intent of The New Yorker cartoon is. It just shows an America-hating, terrorist President Obama. Of course, I'm certain Blitt intended to make fun of people's paranoid perceptions of Obama, not how leftist/radical/Muslim Obama is. But that's because I've seen his cartoons before, and because I know what could or couldn't be the stance of The New Yorker. But if this same cartoon were created by Sean Delonas and published by The New York Post, I'd think it was satirizing Obama himself, and that's a very different (opposite) point -- it would be tasteless and offensive.

    A cartoon shouldn't rely on the context of its creator and publisher in order to successfully make its point. Some more indicators should have been utilized in the cartoon in order to make the target of its satire clearer.

  • Alexa at NION:

    What message do the heated denials and debates send out to Arab Americans, and to our own children, when Barack Obama is challenged about being "as far as I know" (not Muslim)?

    Do you identify with a political candidate's faith as a reason to vote for or against? Do you think, as I do, that faith (or lack thereof) has no place in politics? Mark Twain once said "never trust a man who prays in public" and I tend to agree.

    Faith (or lack thereof) is very personal. I would actually prefer not to know a candidate's belief (or nonbelief) system. It won't influence my vote and it won't change my own beliefs and my own faith. A little too much information for me, but I'll keep my objections on the dolo until someone else's faith is looked askance.

    No matter what you think you know about Muslims, here's a news flash: They aren't any different than you or I.

    Senator Obama's advisors haven't addressed this well at all. I believe it's been called the "biggest smear" against him as a candidate. I understand that it may be a rumor they want to categorically, unequivocally deny, because doing so might possibly keep the rumor wildfires at bay.

  • From Pat Buchanan:

    Why did progressives recoil? Because the more savvy among them sense that, like much humor, this cartoon was an exaggeration that contained no small kernel of recognizable truth.

    After all, Barack did dump the flag pin. Michelle did say she had never been proud of her country before now. Barack did don that Ali Baba outfit in Somalia. His father and stepfather were Muslims. He does have a benefactor, Bill Ayers, who said after 9-11 he regrets not planting more bombs in the 1960s. He did have a pastor who lionizes Black Muslim Minister Louis Farrakhan. Put glasses on him, and Barack could play Malcolm X in the movies.

    And assume the point of the cartoon had been to satirize the Obamas. Why would that have been so outrageous?

    Journalists, after all, still celebrate Herblock, the cartoonist who portrayed Richard Nixon with the body of a rat climbing out of a sewer.[...]

    For it suggests that Obama is an untouchable to be protected. As an African-American, he is not to be treated the same as other politicians. Remnick and Hertzberg obviously felt intense moral pressure to remove any suspicion that they had satirized the Obamas. No problem, however, if they were mocking the American right.

    Bottom line: If you wish to stay in the good graces of the cultural elite, don't mess with Michelle and Barack.

  • And the snootiest one of all, the New Yorker's editor, David Remnick:


    iPhone users: Click to watch

    Then again, am I surprised that the editor of the New Yorker is kind of a snob?


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Speaking as a neo-con.... the cartoon's unfunny and pointless. Satire should bite, this one is merely venomous gumming. It's as brainless as Ted Rall at his worst.

I thought the Seattle P-I cartoon was pretty good in comparison. It was at least believable, the satire had enough truth in it not to be seen as pure malice. The NY one OTOH is used food.

Nasty cartoon going for the basest level and borne with dignity by a gentleman.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | July 21, 2008 1:40 PM

The cover failed as satire. It's intent, presumably, was to make fun of people who believe that Obama and his wife are radical terrorist sympathizers, but such a double-entendre is impossible to convey with an image alone. The image alone ends up supporting, not subverting, the underlying premise. Moreover, because that premise forwards the most hard-hitting smear underlying the Republican Party’s campaign strategy, the cover gave McCain’s candidacy priceless publicity.

The National Review cover is a horse of a different color. It’s underlying premise is actually based in fact, not smear. McCain would be one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) men to assume the office of the presidency in history. To question his physical fitness for such office is a legitimate concern. Likewise, his Republican predecessor has shredded basic Constitutional protections—policies McCain has wholeheartedly embraced—and he has made numerous documented, public threats against Iran.

In sum, the context underlying the New Yorker cover is pure smear—Obama and his wife are actually middle-of-the-road Democrats. In any country in Western Europe, their political stances would be considered moderate and pro-business. Whereas, the context underlying the National Review cover is actual fact.

It was meant to be provocative, solely meant to create publicity, and thus it has succeeded as we are all still talking about it a week later.

Poor taste, sure; unique, hardly; protected speech, absolutely.

The 19th century was full of outlandish political cartoons, including one in particular which showed a naked Abraham Lincoln lynched from a tree with the words "Emancipation Proclamation" carved into the trunk surrounded by unflattering caricatures of then newly freed slaves.

To dilute our intellect into accepting the false notion that this type of "art" is new or unique to Senator Obama is hubristic as it relates to our own lifetimes on this little blue marble.

There are people amongst us that truly believe all the outlandish stereotypes presented are an accurate portrait of Senator Obama. A magazine cover will not increase or diminish the number who follow this line of thinking.

In the end, who cares? Buy a copy, have Senator Obama sign it, then sell it on eBay, it is the American way.

I think Pam Spaulding or somebody got it with the question "Where are the people they're lampooning?" Colbert's character nailed it: "It's the first New Yorker cartoon I ever understood." And his follow-up comment "It wouldn't be funny if it weren't true" dissected

In the end, who cares? Buy a copy, have Senator Obama sign it, then sell it on eBay, it is the American way.

I'm with you on that one, Alli.

Rebecca B. | July 21, 2008 5:36 PM

Did anyone see the New York Magazine cover photo shop of Obama and McCain at the beach knocking knuckles (it had a disclaimer that it wasn't really them, and wasn't depicting Obama's real abs)? At least that one made me giggle a little bit. :)

Half the time New Yorker cover cartoons don't really make a whole lot of sense anyway unless you want to spend an extra five minutes of your life figuring it out. I usually check for David Sedaris and John McPhee stories, Talk of the Town, or maybe the longer ones about (insert hot topic of the day), but don't think much about the cover. Then again, I think my subscription lapsed and I haven't really even noticed it much...

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 21, 2008 9:26 PM

As a dusty old communications major those who seek long enough can always find a message in satire that matches their prejudices. I was taken aback that those who are (covered by CNN Asia) saying, while not reading, that "The New Yorker" must think Obama is a Muslim already believed that before they saw the cartoon. It just reinforced their pre existing opinion.

The trouble is that there are plenty of folks out there who can look at the same thing and come up with a variety of responses. The husband of one of my Republican Ladies in Fowler Indiana recently sent me a love piece on Mrs. McCain and her commendable charity work. "Wouldn't this be a great first lady?" he asked me. When you are born into that tub of money you had better be charitable. It is a great PR gambit and a tax write off and influence buyer into the bargain. Folks like her really sickened me in Palm Beach "society" when they would go half way round the world for press coverage of their charitable acts, but not care about the disadvantaged across town.

OK, but self made Mrs. Obama works for a hospital and that's not good enough? Really?