f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

July 15, 2008

the New Yorker Cover: obama, satire, and the PC Police

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 10:04 am


Now do you get it? (Big Hint: note the inserted “winkie” emoticons in red.) Yes, Barry Blitt’s July 21, 2008 New Yorker Obama cover portrays and satirizes “The Politics of Hate” and Fear.

As Monica Guzman at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Big Blog notes (“The trouble with satire,” July 14, 2008): “The New Yorker is no right-wing rag; the cover is meant to satirize the notion that Obama is all those things he has had to repeat he isn’t – Muslim, pro-terrorist, unpatriotic – capped off with the fist tap heard around the world. . . . [Censoring it to avoid its misinterpretation or mis-use] risks a dumbing down of our more complex messages. And maybe that would be ceding too much ground to fools.”

NoYabutsSN Prof. Yabut and the entire f/k/a Gang have for years been bemoaning our emoticonally-addicted, insight-challenged society’s inability to discern satire when they see it or hear it. We’ve also decried the related, knee-jerk, low-EQ application of Political Correctness Bans (PCBs) to anything that might offend anybody (particularly on the Left). On the other hand, the Editor has steadfastly maintained a No Emoticon Zone for this weblog and our personal correspondence. As a result, f/k/a had to post a set of Implied Disclaimers (which include PMS — Pardon My Satire), and often worried about misinterpreted email.

As noted in my Comment at The Legal Underground weblog in December 2004:

noYabutsS I am always amazed at otherwise intelligent people who believe that the writer of satire condones the conduct described. I guess we live in a world where authors [and cartoonists] need to use lots of emoticons to keep the readers in tune.

The whole media universe is covering the July 21, 2008 New Yorker cover, so we need not add much more to the discussion. See, e.g., “Obama and the New Yorker” (MSNBC.com, July 15, 2008); “Satirical or Offensive, you decide” (NPR, July 15, 2008); AP/WaPo Video clip; also, “Want Obama in a Punch Line? First Find a Joke” (New York Times, Bill Carer, July 15, 2008). If you have not yet heard the npr interview with David Remnick, “New Yorker editor defends Obama Cover” (All Things Considered, July 14, 2008), it’s highly recommended, as is “It’s Funny How Humor Is So Ticklish,” (Washington Post, by Phillip Kennicott, July 15, 2008), and Ann Althouse’s “why can’t we joke about Obama?” (July 15, 2008). [You can order the New Yorker cover here.]

FYI: The Huffington Post tells us:

The magazine explains at the start of its news release previewing the issue: “On the cover of the July 21, 2008, issue of the The New Yorker, in ‘The Politics of Fear,’ artist Barry Blitt satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama’s campaign.”

Just to prove how important the issue is, I’ve broken my no-emoticon pledge, using what we call the “winkie” [;-)] to help folks understand that the cover is satire. We don’t expect to change lots of minds, but we do hope to change one — that of Barack Obama.

obama Dear Barack,

I’m a supporter of yours, so I hope you’ll take this constructive advice in the spirit it is given.

Please call off your PC Police. Maybe your campaign can get away with being hyper-sensitive and vigilant about what you yourselves say — making sure you don’t offend others with your words or posture. But, please, don’t use the same standard for words and images aimed at or depicting you — especially when they are in fact good satire that make important points in support of your candidacy.

The New Yorker cover is not “tasteless and offensive.” The Guardian says you simply shrugged your shoulders when asked about the image, but then your “spokespersons” got on their PC high-horses and condemned it. You need to muzzle your staff. Whiners aren’t winners. For a real Mensch with a high EQ, taking a punch should include taking a Punch-like cartoon.

Now, get out there and win this election!

s/ David Giacalone and the f/k/a Gang

afterwords (2 PM, July 15): See “Obama Releases List of Approved Jokes About Himself” (The Borowitz Report, July 15, 2008). Unfortunately, most of the audience of my local public radio station, WAMC in Albany, NY, appears to have little sense of humor or appreciation for Free Speech and the uses of satire.

NoYabutsSN update (July 16, 2008): In “Barack Obama tries to repair a PR blunder, but 2 days too late,” Andrew Malcolm makes some telling comments, at the LA Times political weblog, Top of the Ticket. After noting, “We’re now in Day Three of discussing the magazine cover that Obama didn’t want many to see,” Malcolm quotes Obama on the Larry King Show last night:

“Well, I know it was the New Yorker’s attempt at satire. I don’t think they were entirely successful with it. But you know what? It’s a cartoon, Larry, and that’s why we’ve got the 1st Amendment.

“And I think the American people are probably spending a little more time worrying about what’s happening with the banking system and the housing market, and what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, than a cartoon. So I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it.”

Malcolm concludes:

“Smart stuff. Too late. Imagine what else we might all be talking about this morning if that had been the campaign’s opening response Sunday.”

On a similar note, see Maureen Dowd ‘s column in today’s New York Times, “May we mock, Barack,” (July 16, 2008). Dowd mentions the suggestion from James Rainey in The Los Angeles Times of “an irony deficiency” in Obama and his fans. She concludes” “Bring it on, Ozone Democrats! Because if Obama gets elected and there is nothing funny about him, it won’t be the economy that’s depressed. It will be the rest of us.”

update (June 19, 2008): In this week’s edition of our local [NY Capital Region] “alternative” newspaper, Metroland, Jo Page has an insightful Reckonings column about the Obama Cover, titled “Looney Tunes” (Vol. 31, No. 29, July 17, 2008). Jo wonders “What is it about cartoons,” and asks:

“Are Americans really so dense that we won’t ‘get’ the cover? Is our collective sense of judgment really so occluded by an insistence on literalism that we won’t recognize that not only is this not ‘tasteless and offensive’ to the Obama campaign, it in fact makes the opposite point: What is tasteless and offensive are the tactics used to create doubt about Obama’s American allegiance.”

Under the question “Is subtlety lost on us?”, she concludes:

“I’m not yet ready to believe that just because content and context are parted so frequently—news bites excised from the whole of the story time and time again—that Americans have little or no capacity to comprehend satire or understand subtlety.

“As of this writing, Barack Obama himself has made no comment. Let’s hope he keeps it that way and keeps faith in the America that gets and loves the heritage of its satirists . . .”

mother’s email
X’s after
the :-)

……………………… Hilary Tann – Upstate Dim Sum

empty bottle
a few words
I would like to take back

……………………… by John Stevenson – Quiet Enough (2004)

the words of his letter
darker and darker

……………………….. by Roberta BearyWoodnotes #29; A New Resonance 2


  1. 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.

    Comment by Malloy — July 15, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

  2. […] Professor Frank Pasquale at Concurring Opinions points to The Best Commentary on that Idiotic New Yorker Cover. . . and, pointing further, also check out this commentary by David Giacalone on the New Yorker Cover: obama, satire, and the PC Police. […]

    Pingback by Whisper | Blawg Review #169 — July 21, 2008 @ 11:34 am

  3. I just read some of your comments and I wanted to add this… I can appreciate clever satire but the problem I have with the New Yorker cover is that it lends precedence and legitimacy to anyone who wants to use similar imagery to spread racist, hateful, and untruthful propaganda. For example, a South Carolina state senator uses “sarcasm” as his excuse for this blog posting:


    [it’s a blog post with an image of bin Laden and Obama (in that infamous headdress photo) accompanied by this caption, “The difference between Obama and Osama is just a little ‘BS'”]

    I imagine the intent of that particular image is not the same as that of the New Yorker’s image. But when asked about the appropriateness of the image by a Huffington Post reporter he replies “You know, blogs are for satire and whatnot and, um, that’s why it’s up. It’s similar to the New Yorker picture.”

    Similar? Really? Well, I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty more of this brand of “satire”, with its authors pointing to the New Yorker for credence.

    Comment by Fernando — July 22, 2008 @ 2:33 am

  4. Fernando, Thanks for taking the time to Comment. It seems to me that Kevin Bryant’s childish “sarcasm” lends credence to the New Yorker cover — as in, “see, there are pinheads and haters twisting the facts about Obama and playing off of the prejudice of other haters and pinheads.”

    Using your reasoning, no painter should have ever done a crucifixion scene of Jesus, because a psychopath might decide it condoned crucifixion and then nail someone to a cross. Columnist Monica Guzman was correct to suggest that censoring the cover to avoid its misinterpretation or mis-use “risks a dumbing down of our more complex messages” and “would be ceding too much ground to fools.”

    Comment by David Giacalone — July 22, 2008 @ 7:21 am

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