New Yorker and the fine line of Satire…

The cover of the July 21 issue of The New Yorker is causing a stir over in the US. (See it here)

Barry Blitt’s cartoon shows Barack Obama dressed in traditional muslim clothes, in the Oval office with his wife. She is depicted wearing fatigues and with an AK-47 over her shoulder. On the wall is a picture of Osama Bin Laden and the American flag is burning in the fireplace.

An apt piss-take of right-wing smear campaigns you might say, but the Obama campaign team is furious – calling it “tasteless and offensive.”
As does indeed the McCain camp.

New Yorker editor David Remnick defends it thus:

Our cover … combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are,” he said in a statement.
“The burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall – all of them echo one attack or another. Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to the absurd. And that’s the spirit of this cover.”

Blitt himself explains his thinking behind the cartoon to Huffington Post:

I think the idea that the Obamas are branded as unpatriotic [let alone as terrorists] in certain sectors is preposterous. It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is.

I reckon the cover cartoon is a success on many levels.
It succeeds in drawing international attention to the magazine. It succeeds in causing heated public debate with passionate arguments on both (or more) sides . Most interestingly though it succeeds in prompting a response from the Obama campaign team, which above anything else shows that they are genuinely concerned about the smears against him.

So the fact that the most angry response is coming from the ‘wrong side’ is almost beside the point.
The fact that the cartoon probably doesn’t succeed in immediately conveying the ridiculousness of the smears, because of the serious undertones, becomes irrelevant because of the ensuing debate.

Don’t expect to see effigies of Blitt and Remnick burning in the streets of Chicago – but don’t rule out seeing the cartoon being used by right wing campaigners as proof of their long held suspicions!
At that point the cartoon will finally succeed in mocking its intended targets.


See the post on The Times’ Comment Central which includes my comment from this blog and reactions from among others cartoonist Peter Brookes, chief leader writer Danny Finkelstein and parliamentary sketch writer Ann Treneman.



8 Responses to “New Yorker and the fine line of Satire…”

  1. jonolan Says:

    Oops! I guess that was just too funny for the Obamas’ liking. What worries me is that their near-instant negative response shows that either the characticture of them might be hitting a little close to home or that they have little respect for the American people’s intelligence.

  2. Adams Says:

    The New Yorker cover and your Comment cartoon today are related. There is irony and multi-layers in both. I think the most important thing is WHERE they are published. Think how different the messages of both would be if a) your Cartoon was published in the Daily Mail, and b) the New Yorker cover was published in a right-wing American magazine….

  3. poldraw Says:

    Very good point.

  4. cloudedyellow Says:

    It was someone like George Orwell who said that we should be careful what we joke about, because there will always be some idiot who takes it seriously.

  5. Adams Says:

    Well. This has become another farce in a teacup.

    ‘Maia” has posted at Comment Central:

    “It’s one thing to be in the editor’s room and have the satire explained to you, and then say, “Well, I get it now, that’ll work.” It’s another when you are reading the paper (which should stand on its own – no paper should require being explained by a press release!).”

    This is absolutely correct, and the downfall of many individual cartoons. It should stand on its own. To go back to the comment I made earlier where I said context is all – it now appears that that was far too simplistic, as in the small we live in now, there is no context. It’s just a picture. On its own. Make your own mind up what it means.

    And unfortunately, people have.

  6. poldraw Says:

    Weeeell…I don’t know Adams.
    I see the point, but I still think context is important. Should the fact that we live in a www-world mean we don’t address a particular readership? Won’t that make the world incredibly dull, if we have to address the lowest common denominator at all times?

    I actually don’t think the cartoon needs explaining in the context of the New Yorker cover. Some who are unfamiliar with the magazine might be puzzled, maybe shocked by it, but I think the storming criticism is a result of a deliberate unwillingness to accept the irony of it. That’s something entirely different. If we allowed that kind of attitude to win it would spell the end of satire.

  7. New Yorker rolls on… « poldraw Says:

    […] expands on the context issue which he mentions in the comments to my previous post on the subject, and it’s well worth a read. It’s a good argument in many ways, but it […]

  8. Stephen Collins Says:

    My first reaction was ‘ what an ugly and simplistic cartoon’ but then – that’s the point , it’s satirising ugly and simplistic smears. the New Yorker banner over the top is what makes it work in this way. So yeah I like it. But you need a strong lefty ‘brand’ like the NY to make this work. If a center / middle paper ran it it would just look dumb…

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