Wednesday, July 16, 2008

That damn New Yorker cover

Ok. So I guess I've got to weigh in on this New Yorker cover thang. Some comments here, here, here, here and here. And a particularly good one here. Edit* my favorite one here, h/t Summer. (and I cross-posted, as usual, from my blog)

I was walking out the door earlier to go do errands and I stopped, because NPR (which I leave on for the dog when I'm not home) had Art Spiegelman on to comment about the cover. And because he's someone I respect (and a former New Yorker cartoonist himself) I waited to listen to him before I headed up to the bank.

He said he loved the cover. He said that it was successful satire because it held a mirror up to the lies being perpetuated about the Obamas, and it shone a light on them.

I agree that this is what satire is supposed to do, as is allegory, and other such things. I tend to love satire and allegory. I do not love this New Yorker cover.

It's not that it's really that offensive to me. Maybe because I don't really have a problem with any of the things portrayed on that cover (well, maybe with Osama Bin Laden, but whatevs. Also not a huge gun fan, but, well, civil libertarian and all...). I just don't happen to see Muslim as a slur, despite understanding why Obama has to, for political reasons, continually separate himself from the perception of being a Muslim. I certainly don't see Michelle Obama with a 'fro as a bad thing.

More to the point, since people noted above have covered the offense, racism, etc. angles quite well, I think the cover fails at satire. Spiegelman said it holds up a mirror and reverses the image--but it doesn't. It's an image that, aside from the quality of the cartoon, I would expect to see on the cover of the National Review or Weekly Standard. It does nothing to subvert the stereotypes being thrown out there. It just depicts them. No mirror, straight on.

Spiegelman also said that he thought people couldn't be afraid of the reader in Kansas who might see the cover and think that it's serious. He misunderstands, again. I'm not worried about this cover converting any new people to thinking that the Obamas are terrorists, militants, Muslims, what-have-you. That stuff is already out there, and anyone who's going to believe it already does, despite lots of evidence to the contrary (and those numbers seem to hold steady at about 10-12%).

No, I just think the cover straight-up fails in its mission to be satirical. It is not funny. And it ain't because I don't have a sense of humor, people. I laugh at many, many things that the rest of the world does not find amusing. I laugh a lot. But again--there's no mirror here. There's no subversion. There's nothing but a drawing of how about 10-12% of America sees a man running for president, and his wife.

What's funny about that? Where's the irony?

Another thing said on that NPR show was the idea that irony died on September 11. We all know that ain't true. Anyone who's ever come into contact with a hipster knows better than to think irony is gone. Postmodernism may have died (but that's a big long issue that I don't want to get into right now) but irony is alive and well.

But this wasn't it. So no, I don't like the New Yorker cover. I will defend their right to run whatever stupid crap they want on their covers, just as I will defend all sorts of ugly speech (don't mean I'm going to publish your asshole comments on my blog, but if you've got your own, well, mazel tov). I'm not a regular reader, so I'm not going to be protesting or threatening to cancel my subscription.

But it was not funny. It was not witty. If this is what we've got for political satire in this country, well, I worry.