Thursday, July 17, 2008

That New Yorker Cover...

I probably don't need to provide much background on the firestorm of controversy surrounding the July 21 cover of the New Yorker. Plenty of ink and pixels have been spilled on this subject, but I think a couple things beyond the standard arguments in the news ought to be pointed out:

The New Yorker editors argue that their cartoon is just a satirical depiction of right-wing smears in the style of Colbert. If that's so, it's not even good satire. The character of "Colbert" works because of the many logical fallacies and amusing absurdities included in his speech. Good satire does most of its work inside the reader's head, providing them with the evidence to realize the point on their own. There has to be the element of the absurd.

The New Yorker editors argue that the cartoon is so ridiculous, no one could possibly believe it. They don't seem to realize that there are people who actually believe this stuff. Around 12 percent of the country believe that Obama is a practicing Muslim who was sworn into the senate on a Koran. But beyond that, there's a quiet but uncomfortably large minority in this country that sees Obama as un-american. I'm occasionally seeing it in Bucks County. If you don't realize that, then the much-overused term of "elitist" really does apply to you.

If a cartoon covers such an explosive topic, and it's point isn't immediately self-evident, one must ask what the difference is between the image and actual propaganda. A friend brought up the idea that if, say the cartoon were of, say a portrait sitting for the Obama family, with a crazed painter depicting the current cover on an easel, it would provide an amusing perspective on right-wing distortions. As it is, we're grasping for the message. The editors suggest that the title helps shed light, but honestly how many people actually read turn to the inside cover under the table of contents to read it? It's not like it's there with the image, as most political cartoons are. Remnick was a liberal arts major at Princeton, he above anyone should realize that interpretation isn't always in the hands of the author.

In any case, the cover has now spilled into the non-issue of "Can you joke about Obama?" That's it? That's what we're talking about? There's seriously so little going on we're spending network news time on jokes? The United States is considering sending an embassy back to Iran, is that not newsworthy? Meanwhile Thai and Cambodian soldiers, in the latest episode of a long-running grudge, are pointing weapons at each other over a newly-approved UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thank you, the news.