Monday, July 14, 2008

I Will Not Be Cancelling My New Yorker Subscription, However...

Wow. For once I want the week to blow by for some reason other than that it's Monday.

Sometimes you see what is already a bad idea to start with, executed so awkwardly that it achieves the antithesis of what one assumes was the intended effect. Such is the minefield of satire and art. Mistakes are not excused.
You wonder how on earth it was allowed to happen. This week’s The New Yorker cover is simply king among weird moves made by the print media recently.
As you know, the current cover of The New Yorker is an illustration depicting the Obamas dressed as radicals or (radical terrorists if you prefer); Barack Obama dressed as a presumptive Muslim or Al Qaeda terrorist (it’s unclear in this context), his wife appears as some caricature of Angela Davis with an AK 47 slung over her shoulder, in the Oval office with a picture of Osama Bin Laden hanging over the fireplace and the American flag burning below.

-And they are bumping fists… the significance of which I’ll get to later in this post.

It is important to plainly state that, more than any other people on earth, for Black people, not Afro Americans, African Americans, not Negroes, not People of Color but for BLACK PEOPLE, all actions are emblematic in the American imagination:
If Michael Jordan and Will smith are rich, then all black people are rich, or can be if they want to and therefore there’s no hardship or discrimination being visited upon blacks, repeal affirmative action etc., etc.
Conversely…
If OJ Simpson is a criminal, then all black people are criminals and they are always “getting off” because they play the race card, etc. etc.
These are the chief reasons why satirical images of Black men or Black women will almost always fail and often create unintended statements and meanings more damaging than the ideas they attempt to comment upon.
Why?
-Because that’s often what happens when people other than Blacks attempt to comment on Blacks.
The fact that this cover illustration’s intentions have to be explained, means it did not work as a joke. Any joke in need of explanation is not funny. I think the direct consequence was not that many readers thought that Barack Obama was a terrorist, but that they didn’t understand how The New Yorker could so awkwardly raise the issue. So it wasn’t a case of unwelcome bluntness in citing the ridiculous “disconceptions” surrounding Obama’s religion and his patriotism, but deep revulsion at the thought that something as symbolically and virally powerful as a magazine cover on a newsstand might actually perpetuate these untruths about this Black man.
Mad magazine has been doing a better job of this kind of satire for decades by the way.
So now, once again, discussions surround whether or not The New Yorker had the right to do what it did, or whether Black people are being too sensitive. It’s a stupid angle and as stupid a question as:
“Why can’t I say the word nigger too?”
One has every right and at least the ability and freedom to do and say whatever you like in this world. What happens after you say it largely depends on how astutely you judged your audience, and the people within earshot. Does one always assume that everyone will understand and appreciate one’s irony? The New Yorker did in this case, and they were wrong, probably because the media has too long a track record of playing to and in some cases embodying the basest aspects of American prejudice.
For my part, I looked at the image and was puzzled. Clearly there were elements of pure post 9/11 jingoist fantasy in this caricature of the Obamas… but they were also pictured “bumping fists”, which is something Barack Obama actually does. There’s no way to put quotes around that act to underline Fox News Channel’s desperate attempts to slander this man. The bumping of fists stands as a curious piece of factual reality in a sandbox of caricature, exaggeration and sarcasm. Then again, I’m not sure leaving the “fist bump” out would save this image from its own quagmire.
I guess for me and the guys I grew up with, it’s hard to forget BLACK is a political color. Whatever calculated embraces of the term were made in the 1960s by African Americans, the fact of the matter is that, it was a term devised and assigned with no smaller purpose than to relegate a person to individual regions of rightlessness, worthlessness and immateriality. It's a damn hard thing to joke about. The image of Michelle Obama reduced to a shitty drawing of Angela Davis, demeans them both, and it really burned my ass.
The Obamas can not escape their blackness, and neither can we. Nobody can run that fast. Not in America. We can't pretend that making fun of the country's attitudes about a Black candidate won't ever backfire or be misunderstood.

I don’t believe The New Yorker should be censored, boycotted, picketed or protested. I do think this cover merits serious comment and criticism, which is what I tried to do here.
Now let’s move on. I need to vote for this guy in a hurry.

-SJ

10 comments:

Donald D'Haene said...

This white guy hated The New Yorker cover as well. Maybe as a cartoon on an editorial page it might have worked. Unfortunately, this image (as opposed to the content of The New Yorker piece) is plastered everywhere and god forbid might become iconic. How ironic that Obama regretted having his two girls interviewed with him and Michelle on the July 4 holiday. In hindsight, that might have been perfect timing. You couldn't have two images more diametrically opposed!

Jeff Rice said...

This is the political cartoon equivalent of a pimp calling someone a "Jive Turkey" in a movie written by a white man. Racism is not funny...you know the rest.

How sad that the uber-dumb will forever equate an innocent fist pump with terrorist code.

Sandy Jimenez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sandy Jimenez said...

Agreed, on all counts fellas.
I think it's a matter of the cover's execution. As an article, The New Yorker's piece is not only well done, but clear. However, the issue's cover actually perpetuates the disinformation being circulated on this man and his wife.
I meant above all to point out that this is conflated by the fact that Barack Obama is Black... something that many people in the media pretend they are ignoring when they attempt to slander him, -when in fact it's central to the reasoning behind the attacks on Fox News and other outlets like the Washington Times Op Ed sections.
Ultimately one point stands beyond all: If a joke has to be explained, it probably shouldn't be told in the first place. The New Yorker sabotaged what was truly a thoughtful piece on an issue few have the guts or intelligence to look at directly.

Donald D'Haene said...

Do you guys ever read Craig Crawford's Blog? He made a wonderful point: "So, the New Yorker magazine thought it was "satire" to front a caricature of the Obamas as terrorists. If the point was to ridicule right wing smears, why not do cover art depicting Rush Limbaugh painting the cartoon." Now wouldn't that have been just brilliant?
http://blogs.cqpolitics.com/trailmix/2008/07/notes-on-a-few-scandals.html

Jeff Rice said...

Sandman, you are dead on about the media bash on Obama. A local store in my town always has the conservative talk radio station on. The babbling voices drone on about Obama raising our taxes, yet they never discuss how reduced federal and state funding just results in higher real estate taxes. Apparently small town USA likes their fancy fire departments and education systems...

Toby said...

Chiming in here to agree with how completely this fails as satire. For this to even approach satire there needs to be a Fox News logo on the cover with the “We report, you decide” line underneath.

Sandy Jimenez said...

@Toby:
Yes, that would've worked great, and I think they missed an opportunity here on this issue. The article is actually a really good piece that deserves attention.

Sandy Jimenez said...

@Donald D'Haene:
Thanks, I just read Craig Crawford's Blog for the first time, it's excellent, thanks for the referral.

Sandy Jimenez said...

@Jeff Rice:
Yeah, you're right. It's weird, I mean frankly anyone coming into the Oval office will have to raise taxes. The Bush administration put McCain and Obama's back against the wall on that one, regardless of what either of them say. Anyone one who says they won't have to raise taxes is lying.
We'll have to pay all that debt to Halliburton, and to all those no-bid contractor friends of Dick Cheney hired on for the "War against Terror" sometime. The next president has to stop the bleeding of dollars. McCain for his part has offered some pretty insane plans under which the federal deficit will sky rocket.