Wednesday, July 16, 2008

That New Yorker Cover

Got no problem with satire, but it has to work to work. This doesn't. The reason is simple. The object of the satire is absent entirely.

Satire requires a clear reference, a direct object, as it were. Because viewers aren't mind readers.

There's no reference in this work. The object of the satire is somewhere else, unaccessible and unimaginable no matter how we might try. We know what we'd like the object to be. We know what we hope the object is meant to be. We know who we'd like to satirize, but the thing is, all of that's completely in our own heads and completely outside of and beyond The New Yorker cover.

When the poop hit the fan--which would be about a nanosecond after the first intelligent being saw this thing--the mag trotted out its spokespersons to interpret for us. "But this is satire!" they said. "This is brilliant! Don't you see? It lampoons all those morons out there who think Barack and Michele are terrorists! AHA-HAHA-HA-HAAAA!," they said. You could almost hear the "Duh!"

But see, it doesn't. Duh.

In order for that concept to work, the world would have to see that moron. Alas, he's just not there.

Imagine the difference if the cartoonist had drawn in a racist yokel with a bubble that frames all the rest. Now that would be satire. A little heavy, maybe, a little hackneyed, but the object of our ridicule would be evident and the lampooning would make us laugh.

This isn't a protracted essay in which the satirist could place clues aplenty to direct and focus our attention. This is a cartoon. This medium floats through space collecting a thousand possible referents as it goes, leaving us to wonder which, if any, the artist intended.

You might say that's how art's supposed to work, and you'd be right, sort of. All art is a dialog between artist and recipient. Some is more obscure than others. But not all art is satire, and satire has its own rules. Chief among them is that the satirist must communicate effectively with his or her audience or there's just no satire.

There may be attempted satire, but there's no satire. Only confusion.

For this reason, this cover fails, and that's not acceptable for a magazine of the stature and resources of The New Yorker. In fact, it's inexcusable.

However, the offense doesn't stop there, of course. Because the satire fails utterly, the cover injects a toxic and partisan spin into an already supercharged contest poisoned by an already biased media. It doesn't matter whether this is inadvertent. The damage is done and is unretractable.

In this post 9-11 environment, this cover inevitably acquires all the venomous racism that ignorant Americans have poured out over Muslims these last seven years. This is doubly true because the Obamas, as African Americans who in fact are seen as the subject, don't merit these acid accusations any more than the millions of Muslims who aren't terrorists merit them. Yet here they are, portrayed not merely as terrorists but specifically as Islamic terrorists. So if this butt-headed graphical bloviation enrages Muslims and much as it enrages Obama supporters, The New Yorker has only itself to blame.

It's a shoddy and singularly un-funny piece of work. Whoever approved it should be fired, not for political commentary but for editorial incompetence.


Morning Angel said...

The cover blows. Good to have you back.

PICO said...


Thanks! Back at ya.

shrimplate said...

I like it. It has a quiet and sly effect.

I suspect that if it were shrunk to normal NYM cartoon size and placed somewhere deep within the magazine, it wouldn't have attracted much attention.