Satirical Political Humor 101

This is probably against the rules, but I slightly rewrote this diary to tone down my intellectual arrogance, which was excessive and rightly criticized. Extremism in the defense of my favorite magazine, while understandable, is lamentable. I apologize to my critical commenters, but I took them seriously.

When people in Europe asked where I come from, I always say I am a New Yorker; I never say I am an American. I have read and loved the New Yorker every week since I was 15 (1960). I laughed at the cover, just as I laugh at most of their politically satirical covers and cartoons. This artist has done several excellent ones. Admittedly this is not one of his best.

What would be funny if it wasn't so offensively pathetic was the reaction of the Obama campaign and Obama supporters. Obama must read the New Yorker. He spent at least 7 years in New York City and Cambridge, which must have the highest proportion of New Yorker subscribers in the world. If Obama were truly the consummate pol the inside article claims he is, he would have laughed and thanked the artist for doing more to combat the absurd rumors about him than the campaign had managed in 18 months. Instead, the New Yorker cover is going to be today's major story, and the more outraged Obama supporters are, the sillier they seem.

I devoutly pray every child and teen in America requests a New Yorker subscription for their birthday. Then no child would be left behind. If political cartoons are not offensive, they are no good.  When I was in high school, a regular  essay question on the New York regents given to all high school students depicted  a politically satirical cartoon from some period of American history and ask the student to explain it. I loved those questions, but they were extremely challenging. They can use this one.

David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, gave an interview to the Huffington Post. I urge you to read it.

Tags: humor, New Yorker, satire (all tags)

Comments

56 Comments

Re: Satirical Political Humor 101

Did you know that Americans from two places do not directly identify themselves as Americans when they go world traveling?  That is New Yorkers and Californians.  Yes, I am the same.  People ask me where I am from and I always say "California," to which they usually say something like "Disneyland" or "Hollywood."

That said, I don't get the New Yorker.  I have never gotten the New Yorker and I really hate their cartoons that always make me feel like I am not getting something cause I never find them funny.  That's me, the big city California rube that has rarely understood the New Yorker or its attraction, cause I have always felt like there was an inside joke running through it that wasn't meant to the "rubes."

I looked and the cover and was sure it was meant to be some sort of dry humor, but sorta found it offensive nonetheless.  I might not have, except so many people still believe all that stuff.  There are so many whisper campaigns that it makes my head hurt.

by Sychotic1 2008-07-14 05:54AM | 0 recs
Texans, too, actually.

I'm a Coloradan, or sometimes a "Westerner" first.  Those first, and Asia second, have shaped my world view.

After having lived 1) overseas for a number of years; 2) in Texas for a number of years; 3) in the mid-west for a number of years, and 4) being gay, I've disabused myself of the notion that I am first and foremost faithful to the United States.  Doesn't mean I hate the US, although I've learnt a healthy skepticism of it, but the reality is patriotism is too often the tool of xenophobia, and I'd rather think of myself as a citizen of the world than of one single country.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, is European, and while you'd think he'd understand my philosophy on this, he doesn't - he very much wants to become a US citizen.

by aggieric 2008-07-14 07:32AM | 0 recs
Re: Texans, too, actually.

Ooh, I want a European too!  (hides her jealousy)

Working here is a big attraction to my European friends.  That and seeing what it is like to live in a place that has been so heavily marketed to the world.  Personally, I think they would find the reality a disappointment.

Then again, I am waiting to retire so I can expatriate.

by Sychotic1 2008-07-14 10:02AM | 0 recs
To reduce myself to baseness, my European is

hawt.  :-p  He's Czech, with those amazing Slav characteristics:  impossibly prominent cheekbones, perfectly sharp nose and square chin.

sigh

by aggieric 2008-07-14 01:30PM | 0 recs
Obama doesn't really care

He just shrugged his shoulders (no doubt an offensive SLAP IN THE FACE at Hillary, considering his shoulders were involved).

http://www.indymedia-letzebuerg.net/inde x.php?option=com_content&task=view&a mp;id=5655&Itemid=28

Burton's statement was rather measured, essentially  "Yes it's satire but it's tasteless."

It was undoubtedly satire, but it was way too ham-handed and obvious to actually be funny.  I like my satire a little more creative and a lot more dry.

by JJE 2008-07-14 06:02AM | 0 recs
hmmm? I seem to have missed

the reference here:

"He just shrugged his shoulders (no doubt an offensive SLAP IN THE FACE at Hillary, considering his shoulders were involved)."

by aggieric 2008-07-14 07:34AM | 0 recs
by JJE 2008-07-14 07:49AM | 0 recs
Obama's on the winning side of this narrative

It would've been pretty silly to give up the opportunity to take sides against The New Yorker on this one.  Not only was it kinda irresponsible of them to put that drawing on the front cover (inside would've been fine) so that the low information set don't get the wrong idea while buying their Guns & Ammo or Soldier of Fortune or Hustler or whatnot.

That said, maybe they got some increased readership out of it, in which case Capitalism says "well worth it!"  Doesn't change the fact that Obama was right to come out mildly against it.  As Axelrod said on Morning Joe this morning, we really have our plates full dealing with the mortgage crisis, gas prices, and two floundering wars... we really can't get too worked up about this bit of dumb satire.

by Dracomicron 2008-07-14 06:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Satirical Political Humor 101

As a Brit, I suppose I should find the apparently anglophile New Yorker to my tastes...

But actually I don't. The magazine feels very dated, snooty and self important to me - 30s graphics and 30s humour.

by duende 2008-07-14 06:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Satirical Political Humor 101

The political and Iraq/Iran reporting is often top-notch.  Just skip the nauseating Talk of the Town if you get sick of all that Dorothy Parker, Royal Tannenbaums, there-is-nothing-worthwhile-besides-midt own-and-lower-manhattan attitude.

As a "Brit," do you like Anthony Lane's movie reviews?

by Koan 2008-07-14 09:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Satirical Political Humor 101

Yup. He's one of the high points. And I love some of the articles, but the suffocating uptown ethos of the magazine still sends me running to the barricades.

by duende 2008-07-14 03:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Satirical Political Humor 101

Offended or not, by reacting in that manner, the Obama campaign called attention to the cartoon.  I don't understand the strategy behind this reaction:

Responds Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton: "The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

Tasteless, maybe.  But offensive?  The most offensive thing that happened this weekend was a comment by John McLaughlin, not a stupid political cartoon.

by psychodrew 2008-07-14 06:18AM | 0 recs
Terrorist fist jab

This sort of thing was offensive enough to lose a show for a FOX News anchor.  So... yes?

I flipped past McLaughlin but didn't leave it on.  Glad I didn't.

by Dracomicron 2008-07-14 06:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Satirical Political Humor 101

The McLaughlin comment was more offensive (excellent diary, BTW), but just because that was the most offensive thing this weekend doesn't make this not offensive. Both are necessary topics for discussion: McLaughlin for blatant race-baiting and the New Yorker for exploiting and illustrating the attacks on Obama.

by TCQuad 2008-07-14 08:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Satirical Political Humor 101

I agree and disagree with this diary, am i a flip flopper? I agree it is only going to serve an ill purpose and outcome to show outrage over satire like this by keeping it around. But I think it's tasteless and offensive to front cover something like this with no background. Cartoons are a bit different as they usually have bubble attempting to provide context to the satire. Now for full disclosure, I haven't read the article but my assumption is the article probably lampoons this caricature of Obama, but by placing the picture on the front page, it gives the uninformed a different picture not having the context attached with it. just my 2 cents.

by Dog Chains 2008-07-14 06:41AM | 0 recs
It's a catch-22 though

As you point out, a good political cartoon is offensive. Unfortunately that means - it's IS offensive, at least to some. As in some people are not engaging in faux anger, but are truly offended. I have a pretty thick skin for that sort of thing, but I was surprised how hard this hit me. I would literally be embarrassed to be the only Black guy in a room with that magazine visible. Thank god people in Pittsburgh don't generally read it.

They have every right to publish what they want, and in fact I would defend that right. But there has to be a corollary right of...I don't know..."Free Feeling" to go along with Free Speech. Words and images are powerful, and proscribing our reactions to either seems dissonant with the concept of free expression. Feelings are expressions.

In a perfect world we could have controversial speech AND strong reactions, without one side invalidating the other.

by Neef 2008-07-14 06:44AM | 0 recs
Re: It's a catch-22 though

"Freedom/liberty of conscience" is probably the better phrase for the idea you have in mind--although, I think personal autonomy is just as well. And, you're right to point out the logical relationship between that freedom and freedom of expression. The primary justification (in my view) of free speech is that rational autonomous persons (hypothetically considering what powers to grant the state) would never give up their respective rights to make up their own mind regarding the rationality and/or value of certain information or other communications.

by DPW 2008-07-14 07:12AM | 0 recs
Great free speech rationale

Very precise, kudos.

I think the counter-pressure to free speech is that said rational autonomous persons, having made up their respective minds as to the value and/or potential danger of a piece of information, are left in an uncomfortable spot if they deem that information "dangerous". At that point, rational behavior gives way to the altruism of allowing other people to act on this information, in ways that may be detrimental to the original reader.

If there were plans for a $20 dollar nuclear bomb, I'd like to decide if I can see them. Unfortunately, I'd also like to decide if you can see them =).

by Neef 2008-07-14 07:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Great free speech rationale

This essay by T.M. Scanlon (Harvard philosophy professor) is one of the best and most cited essays on freedom of expression, in which he offers a very thoughtful justification of the freedom and discusses in great detail the precise limitations of said freedom.

http://philosophy.ucsd.edu/faculty/rarne son/Courses/SCANLONfreeexpression.pdf

Part III includes the most important part concerning political theory and justification of what he calls the "Millian Principle," while other parts address specific cases and applications. Everyone should read it at some point if they care about freedom of expression. It is academic philosophy, so it's not exactly a page-turner; however, it's not really as difficult as some analytic philosophy can be.

Also, here's a recent video of Scanlon discussing the topic along with some related matters.

http://the-brooks-blog.blogspot.com/2008 /06/t-m-scanlon-on-freedom-of-expression .html

by DPW 2008-07-14 07:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Satirical Political Humor 101

I am apparently in the minority on this one. I don't mind the cover. In fact, I think it will benefit Obama in the long run. This kind of thing will get people talking. It might actually serve to debunk some of those urban myths that the cover is based on. It is so obviously over the top (Osama picture) that it can't be taken seriously.

by MS01 Indie 2008-07-14 06:46AM | 0 recs
"turban" myths.... ;-) n/t

by aggieric 2008-07-14 07:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Satirical Political Humor 101

I'm actually in disagreement, I think the artist went for "over the top", but didn't quite make it. This is both a problem for the artist and a sad commentary on how absurd the political process is right now.

When I looked at it, I first saw Obama in stereotypically Muslim attire and Michelle with an Afro and assault gun doing the fist bump thing. Neither of these images are really satiric, but just illustrative or referential to "rumors" (aka slander and libel, depending on whether it's spoken or written). This picture codifies these stereotypes and will be seen (in part or in whole) for the rest of the election cycle.

Yes, upon further review, I did see the picture of Osama on the far right along with the flag burning, but the problem is that those things are off to the margins and so they don't necessarily register on first blush. Perhaps if the artist had made it more obvious, my first reaction wouldn't have been quite so "what the hell!", but it seems that the artist went for restrained intellectual satire against a topic that is filled with absurdity. And, unfortunately, when you try to be restrained in a situation filled with absurdity, it becomes difficult to discern whether or not you're being serious or facetious.

I think the best exercise in understanding this picture is to put it in a different context. If you saw it without the "New Yorker" headline, what would your first impression be? What if it appeared in a neutral publication, like a random newspaper? Or what about the New Republic or No Quarter? Would your impression be the same?

by TCQuad 2008-07-14 08:00AM | 0 recs
Yes

Thank you for nailing the source of my unease.

When I looked at it, I first saw Obama in stereotypically Muslim attire and Michelle with an Afro and assault gun doing the fist bump thing. Neither of these images are really satiric

It read the same to me, nor did I notice the Bin Laden picture and flag until a later viewing. In fact, what stood out for me the first time was the Afro, and how much the pair looks like my parents did in the 60's. Minus the AK-47. It didn't hit me as "damn, that's clever", more like "what!?".

Oddly enough, I'm probably as disturbed by the Afro as anything else. An Afro has long been an icon of American Blackness, is that now part of the terrorist meme? Or are Afros "too radical"?

by Neef 2008-07-14 08:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Yes

I'm ashamed to admit that when I saw it, I thought why has he drawn Suharto with Michelle Obama?  

http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200709/r186 252_694005.jpg

Oh, I guess that's meant to be Barack...  

Ok he's making a point about the rumors.

Oh.

It just wasn't well enough drawn to be funny.

by LIsoundview 2008-07-14 01:38PM | 0 recs
It is tasteless satire....

...but if the shoe were on the other foot and the satire was in reference to Hillary, there would most likely be several diaries about how the caricature pegged Hillary etc, etc.

by soyousay 2008-07-14 06:49AM | 0 recs
Re: It is tasteless satire....

or several diaries by catfish about how it was baracks fault the columnist did that to Hillary;) Can you imagine the response if the New yorker put a picture of McCain crashing in a satirical light? The right would never recover from that coniption:)

by Dog Chains 2008-07-14 06:59AM | 0 recs
Oh wow

A cover satirizing McCain crash/torture in some way? I can't even imagine the reaction. I don't know if NYM would have the cojones to try.

by Neef 2008-07-14 07:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Oh wow

That would also be unfair, just like this incident is unfair.

by soyousay 2008-07-14 07:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Oh wow

That's the point I was making, it is all unfair and right to be pointed out:)

by Dog Chains 2008-07-14 07:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Oh wow

How about a caricature of McCain, Bush and the Iraq war on the front cover? That would really be outrageous and fair game, IMO :D

by soyousay 2008-07-14 07:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Oh wow

If you ask me, they darkened the hue of Obama's skin a little bit.

Hillary at work?

by William Cooper 2008-07-14 07:48AM | 0 recs
make no mistake

There are going to be people who think it pegs Obama. You just have to visit different blogs to see those diaries.

by Neef 2008-07-14 07:00AM | 0 recs
Re: make no mistake

You're right; people for the most part just like to look at the pictures :D

Not only do I consider this tasteless, I consider it unfair.

Now, if the magazine had made a caricature of Obama with Reverend Wright, that would be ok with me. Fair game IMO. That wouldn't really be satire though, that would be the truth.

by soyousay 2008-07-14 07:16AM | 0 recs
That cover

would piss me off more, but offend me less.

If that makes any sense.

by Neef 2008-07-14 07:26AM | 0 recs
Re: That cover

Wouldn't piss me off at all because that is part of Obama's history.

by soyousay 2008-07-14 07:27AM | 0 recs
Oh, understood

I'm completely in the tank for the guy, so my reaction would be partisan.

But it wouldn't give me the twinge in my gut that this does.

by Neef 2008-07-14 07:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Oh, understood

You're honest; I appreciate that.

by soyousay 2008-07-14 07:32AM | 0 recs
Re: Oh, understood

I was getting ready to say the same thing.

My kind of democrat, this NEEF character.

by William Cooper 2008-07-14 07:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Satirical Political Humor 101

"Hillary had a much thicker skin, and didn't make herself look like a Midwestern rube with an underdeveloped sense of humor. If only there was a candidate who read the New Yorker, I would feel much better about America."

First, Obama does, er, did, read the New Yorker.  If you've read some of other comments, a lot of other people used to read the New Yorker before this.  I'm one of them who will not renew after my subscription cancels in a few months.  

Secondly, as someone who's lived in the California, Minnesota, and New York, I can tell you that there are plenty of rubes all over America... probably more in the East/Southeast, than in the Midwest.  

Third, you sound like a typical asshole for putting down other peoples' tastes.  It's not that I, or others, don't see the humor (I think I have a pretty good sense of humor... I love the ironic humor of Ricky Gervais, Larry David, Arrested Development, etc.) it's just that it's so outweighed by the "ick" feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I see the picture.  So I don't think we have an underdeveloped sense of humor... I think you have an underdeveloped sense of humanism.  

by froggyman 2008-07-14 07:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Satirical Political Humor 101
I probably deserved some of us. But no one enjoys their favorite magazine being attacked as a perpetrator of racist trash. Maybe I will rewrite my diary to moderate it a little.
by redstocking 2008-07-14 09:35AM | 0 recs
I Love You Redstocking...
But "midwestern rube"- not a very good idea.  Only in the privacy of your own bedroom.
Enough said.
by susie 2008-07-14 09:56AM | 0 recs
Re: I Love You Redstocking...
You are absolutely right and when I was more awake, I took it out.
by redstocking 2008-07-14 11:43AM | 0 recs
Curious

I was speaking with my good friend, a white woman from southwestern Ohio has supported Obama from the first about the cover of the New Yorker. I am 52, black and I live in Tribeca and I got the joke. My Ohio friend got it and we both cannot imagine it will sway anyone's vote.

However, the thing that was most interesting to me was the level of indignation this cartoon seemed to generate. I can imagine not liking it or thinking it wasn't clever but to be truly irate is curious to me. The magazine cover that had BHO in the crosshairs of a rifle didn't generate this much heat.

by Ida B 2008-07-14 07:14AM | 0 recs
P.S.

Red Even if the Obama's have framed New Yorker covers from 1960 forward in their rec room and BHO has had a subscription since graduating from prep school. He needs to keep it to himself or just go ahead and begin every stump speech with "I am Barak Obama and I think I am better than you"

by Ida B 2008-07-14 07:26AM | 0 recs
Re: P.S.

He needs to keep it to himself or just go ahead and begin every stump speech with "I am Barak Obama and I think I am better than you"

You say that like it's a bad thing. I hope he's better than me. I want to vote for someone better than me. I'd totally screw up the country. I think the biggest problem in politics right now is that we're voting for the likable people, the "real" people rather than the ones who can fix things. Our elections have turned into third grade class president popularity contests.

The magazine cover that had BHO in the crosshairs of a rifle didn't generate this much heat.

First, that was the Roswell Beacon, not a particularly well-known publication. Second, while absurd and unnecessary, it at least attempted to illustrate something factual (threats against Obama from various racist organizations). Third, they came right out and said "Yeah, we discussed whether it's appropriate and thought it's right on the edge but not offensive so we're not apologizing for anything". The New Yorker is defending their cover on the whole as viable satire and the artist "isn't sure yet" whether the image was appropriate.

So, when you combine wide-spread, repeating libelous allegations and not even acknowledging that it could be offensive, you move from groaning dissension to irate backlash.

by TCQuad 2008-07-14 08:13AM | 0 recs
Me, you and Jon Stewart

but generally speaking it seems that being seen as being part of an elite doesn't work towards winning elections.

by Ida B 2008-07-14 10:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Roswell Beacon
We will have to agree to disagree,the Beacon choice of cover art doesn't illustrate anything more factual than the cover of the New Yorker.And dollars to donuts the Beacon cover had unintended consequences, someone is not concerned about BHO's well-being is using that cover as her/is screensaver. It is a fact that there are people who believe that BHO is a Muslim and Michelle Obama hates America and it is a fact that certain people(me)believe the first group are just silly,the cover illustrates the silliness beautifully.
by Ida B 2008-07-14 12:02PM | 0 recs
Re: I hope every kid demands a New Yorker Sub
I fervently pray that every child and teen in America will beg for a subscription to the New Yorker for their birthday. Then no child would be left behind.
by redstocking 2008-07-14 09:34AM | 0 recs
A general over-reaction seems to me....

A mixed blessing, certainly this is a gift for Rush and his crew of brainless toadies, but if they didn't have this grist for the mill, they would just make it up anyway.

My favorite part is Michelle portrayed as some cross between Angela Davis and Foxy Brown.

To me, that is funny, but if I were the Obama
camp, that would probably be more offensive.

I will only comment about the level of animise towards Michelle from the Clinton crowd, yes, I know the source, her supposed slights and statment that she wouldn't support her  (usually distorted by the most rabid of the NoQuarter Crowd), but for all the sturm und drang that Senator Clinton's media portrayal got, you would think at least a FEW old-line Feminists would have spoken up in defense of Michelle's portayal as some kind of fire-bomb toating radical.

Hell, I see the portral getting lots of support from the NoQuarter and Puma Crowd, the Harriets of the world, for all their proffesed Feminsim seem to blast Michelle in a manner that James Dobson would love, that uppity black woman!

On pro-Clinton sources like Salon, Michelle got NO sympathy or support, while the pages were overflowing daily with feminist tomes on the treatment of Senator Clinton.

It was there actually I saw some of the most interesting discussion, with young black feminists BLASTING the first generation Feminist as "only really interesting in issues that benefited whites, and usually upper class whites."

That was fascinating to read.

Back to the cover? Tempest in a teapot IMHO.

by WashStateBlue 2008-07-14 07:27AM | 0 recs
Re: A general over-reaction seems to me....

To be honest as a woman I would not be bothered at all if someone did a cartoon of me like they did of Michelle. But I am not trying to get my husband elected President. I would be proud of the cartoon if it was of me, yet I can understand all the concern that some people will abuse this but if someone isn't voting for him because of this cartoon then it would be a longshot that they would have voted for him anyway.  

by RedstateLib 2008-07-14 08:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Satirical Political Humor 101

"but if someone isn't voting for him because of this cartoon then it would be a longshot that they would have voted for him anyway."

Agreed.  

by WashStateBlue 2008-07-14 08:27AM | 0 recs
In the coming weeks...

The New Yorker will feature an illustration of a big-nosed Jew with horns and gold coins running through his fingers, as a satire of the way some Middle Eastern newspapers illustrate Jews.

The week after that, they're going to show a gay married couple at the adoption agency. One will be dressed in fetish gear, and they'll both have their hands down the pants of the boy they're trying to adopt. This will satirize the view some low-information Americans have about gay marriage.

The problem here isn't that some people won't get it -- that's always a risk with satire. The problem is the utter lack of a frame. When Colbert speaks, everyone knows that every word that comes out of his mouth will be satire; he's speaking from inside his frame.  This has no frame; the New Yorker doesn't have a satiric cover every week.  Ignoring Obama and whether or not this will affect him, it's just the New Yorker putting a "brown people with funny names are probably terrorists" cartoon on the cover. That's ill-considered, even if they do have the shield of being obviously too liberal to believe a word of it.

by jere7my 2008-07-14 08:44AM | 0 recs
Re: In the coming weeks...
The New Yorker has a significant number of satiric covers. The likelihood that any subscriber or regular reader of the New Yorker won't recognize the cover as satire is exactly zero. The New Yorker has absolutely no obligation to make sure everyone in America who doesn't read the magazines understands it covers and its cartoons.
by redstocking 2008-07-14 09:32AM | 0 recs
Not my point

Check again -- I specifically said it didn't matter who did and didn't get the satire.

by jere7my 2008-07-14 09:35AM | 0 recs
Specifically...

Would it matter, given the two covers I proposed, who did and didn't understand they were satiric?

by jere7my 2008-07-14 09:37AM | 0 recs
The New Yorker has provocative

covers more often than not it would seem. This isn't the first cover that Blitt has had that drew peoples ire (see below) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/07/14 /blitt-this-other-emnew-yo_n_112608.html

And lets not forget Spiegelman who has consistently pissed people off (the '93 one is a personal favorite,I'm from the part of Brooklyn it references) 1993 the New Yorker cover of a orthodox Jewish man kissing a black woman,the Good Friday 1995 cover of the Easter bunny being crucified by tax forms.

by Ida B 2008-07-14 11:32AM | 0 recs

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