Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I Wept When I Saw This Cover

Am I the only one who glanced at this week's New Yorker cover, squinted, grunted in comprehension, and forgot about it?

As I see it the only credible critics of the cover, which is so obviously satire, are the Obamas. As a campaigning presidential candidate, Barack Obama is obligated to react with stern incredulity. If he doesn't, it would be unseemly. And we (at least the "elite" group of New Yorker subscribers) must endure his obligatory clucking, knowing full well that he's:
A) not a Muslim
B) not Middle Eastern
C) not a terrorist
D) not a bin Laden sympathizer or supporter
E) not an umpatriotic flag-burner
But this tempest in a teapot can be the perfect opportunity for The National Review to be indignant about ... liberals mistreating liberals? No! "It is, indeed, a tasteless and offensive attack — on conservatives," writes a flabergasted Mark Hemingway.

It's the perfect opportunity for a fresh angle on a campaign that has lasted longer than some wars. In a culture where news is entertainment, misinterpreting satire is news. Hurt feelings, misunderstandings and miscommunication are, too.

Slate's Jack Shafer summed it up perfectly:
The source of all of this injury is not daring exposé or cutting criticism by a New Yorker writer but one of "them damned pictures"—to quote Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall, who bled pints every time he was poked by Thomas Nast's pen. "I don't care so much what the papers say about me," Tweed said of Nast's work. "My constituents can't read. But, damn it, they can see pictures!"
You see, the problem is that Americans are too stupid. At least that's what everyone seems to be arguing. Our country is simply too big; satire like this, in order to avoid a anti-Denmark-style backlash from our own citizens, must be dumbed down to such an extent that it loses its message completely.

One could argue that by offending everyone, the cover accomplished exactly what good satire should: it got us all talking publicly about all of the things conservatives have gotten wrong about Obama.

But no. What if Americans don't get it? Journalists like Jake Tapper of ABC called the cover "a recruitment poster for the right-wing."

Slate's Shafer has it right, though:
Calling on the press to protect the common man from the potential corruptions of satire is a strange, paternalistic assignment for any journalist to give his peers, but that appears to be what The New Yorker's detractors desire. I don't know whether to be crushed by that realization or elated by the notion that one of the most elite journals in the land has faith that Joe Sixpack can figure out a damned picture for himself.



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