Monday, July 14, 2008

That New Yorker Cover

By now you've seen the New Yorker Cover, of course, and...

No? I don't blame you. It took me a while to see it myself. Frankly, the New Yorker is so far down on my list of things I'd rather not read that it was hard to get worked up over this tempest in a teabag. The last time I read the New Yorker was years ago outside a dentist's office; the extremely ill-written and unedifying fiction bit involving, as I recall, illicit love and the deceased husband of a realtor, made me sigh in pity over the tired corpse of Dorothy Parker, who must get sick of all the grave-spinning.

Still, by the various descriptions of the cover I thought perhaps the magazine had risen to some heights of cleverness; but if you've seen the thing you know as well as I do how the mighty have fallen.

ABC's Jake Tapper didn't like it much, and said so; then he said so some more:

I just interviewed New Yorker editor in chief David Remnick for World News with Charles Gibson about the controversial cover of this week's New Yorker.

"The intent of the cover is to satirize the vicious and racist attacks and rumors and misconceptions about the Obamas that have been floating around in the blogosphere and are reflected in public opinion polls," Remnick says. "What we set out to do was to throw all these images together, which are all over the top and to shine a kind of harsh light on them, to satirize them. That’s part of what we do."

But what about the fact that some folks see the images not as a satirical caricature but as an accurate portrait?

About one out of 10 Americans continue to believe that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, is a Muslim, after all.

"Satire always comes with some risk and the chance of people misunderstanding it, but if you’re going to satirize things only that there’s a 100% census on, there’s no satire," he said. "There’s maybe a certain percentage of the public that thinks there was no moon landing, should we not satirize that?"
Well, gee, Mr. Remnick, if you did a cover trashing people for being flat-earthers I think it would pretty much miss the mark about as much as this cover does.

Because the reason it doesn't work isn't because it's satire, or because some people continue to believe Obama's a secret Muslim with a hidden radical agenda (though given how little we still know about the man after all this time it's no wonder wild conspiracies flourish; on the one hand you have people thinking he's evil, and on the other, that he's practically a god). The reason that it doesn't work is because it's....well, forgive me, but it is!...lame.

The people who don't want to elect Obama aren't all, or even a majority, the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal-types from flyover country you think we are. Some of us are reasonably smart people; some of us have paid a lot of attention to this campaign, and some of us know quite well what we don't like about Obama. It's not his skin color or Muslim ancestry or acerbic wife or allegedly weak patriotism; it's his position on various issues, like abortion and gay marriage and foreign policy and education and health care.

The reason this cover backfires isn't because the loudmouths on right-wing radio are suddenly going to insist that your cover portrays the literal (if cliched and uninspiringly drawn) truth; it's because you tried to insult every American who isn't lining up for the Candidate of Change without asking the questions "Change what, exactly? And how, exactly?" as being knee-jerk bigots who hate anyone who doesn't Look Like Them.

In reality, the worst feature of this cover is that it betrays once and for all the deep-set prejudices of the liberal mind: anyone who disagrees with me must be a bigot, or stupid, or uneducated, or a backwoods-type, or maybe all of the above--because my way of looking at things is the only reasonable way, the liberal thinks; Obama may or may not win the election, but if he loses it will only be because all those worthless bits of evolved carbon that clutter the landscape between my magazine offices in New York and the other side of civilization in California were too stupid to see past the slurs and rumors about the man and realize that he's the greatest hope we've had since Bill Clinton of wresting control of this nation away from the evil Republicans.

I'd love to see a magazine cover illustrate that thought process. It might even be funny.


freddy said...

Exactly, Red! I took a look at the cover-art and my only thought was that it was ... well... stupid.

Stupid in that they're either revealing their blatant contempt for ordinary folk, or revealing their own deep-seated beliefs.

Or, as one commentor I read remarked, it's one of those Clinton-supporter ideas.

Maclin Horton said...

off-topic: I've tagged you for the Six Quirks game, commonly but to my mind annoyingly termed a "meme." See here for details, and apologies if you hate this kind of stuff.