Let’s talk about this nonsense right here:
As you can see, the cover of the New Yorker depicts Senator Obama as a flag-burnin’, funny clothes wearin’ Muslim exchanging terrorist fist bumps with his wife, dressed as some crazy Black Panther militant chick with an Uzi. You will note that neither one of them wears a flag pin.
I get it. Here, in this cartoon, is every ridiculous rumor, stereotype, and half-truth ever spread about the Obamas rolled into one. It’s everything your grandmother has tried to warn you about via email over the past year, and the only thing it’s missing is a jpeg of a cow with the Virgin Mary on its back. Next week’s cartoon: someone using their cell phone to pop popcorn. Oh ho ho.
I get it, because I know that the New Yorker isn’t written by culturally-ignorant reactionary right-wing bigots who haven’t seen a minority since they last rented a Wesley Snipes flick. Indeed, it’s written by tonally-ignorant vaguely left-wing idiots, who haven’t seen anyone below their tax bracket since they last bought lobsters right off the boat last weekend in Nantucket. If that sounds like an attack on the “elites” in the media, by the way, then you should probably know that, to me, “elitism” doesn’t mean “buying expensive cheese” so much as it means “not treating fairly those less fortunate than you.” Folks who’ll pay their local lobsterman directly for their shellfish are okay in my book – they’re supporting local business, and, heck, they probably give plenty of money to “causes.”
It’s just that upper-crusty media types, like those who publish the New Yorker, have a habit of disappearing up their own collective sphincter, as it were. It’s not elitism, it’s tone-deafness. In other word, the New Yorker thought they were dishing out a subtle yet poignant slice of satire. Editor David Remnick actually said that he thought it was akin to The Colbert Report. It’s all context, though. Colbert, and Jon Stewart, can get away with doing what they do because it’s obvious that their milleu is satire – they’re on a channel called Comedy Central, for instance. People see what they do and understand that it is meant to be funny.
Unfortunately, New Yorker cartoons are almost never funny. As a matter of fact, the vagueness and unfunny-ness of their cartoons has become a joke in and of itself, to the point that the magazine has been able to publish not one but two collections of rejected ‘toons, which are, by some accounts, a billion times funnier than anything actually published in their smug little magazine. The cartoons they actually publish monthly have always struck me as things that might be funny to someone – perhaps someone who doesn’t own a television on principle and whose only exposure to popular culture is the Sunday New York Times and the occasional Liechtenstein exhibition at MoMA – but not to so-called “normal” people.
The problem is, therefore, that the New Yorker has published an inflammatory inside joke intended only for their readers, their demographic, which has suddenly blown up into a good ol’ American media-driven clusterbang. The same thing, I would argue, happened to Don Imus during “Ho-Gate.” Inappropriate, sexist, racist, or not, the rantings of a cranky old coot like Imus only became truly offensive when divorced of their context. In other words, the Rutgers women’s basketball team would never have heard about his remarks if the media (and people like Al Sharpton) hadn’t bleated on about them. It’s not like they ever tuned into his show before the game. It’s not like most people ever listened to his show, or even cared about what he had to say. In fact, even his audience knew that whatever he said, it was probably going to come across as crotchety and mean. Besides, Imus was obviously trying (and failing) to sound cool. “Gangsta”, if you will. A similar fate befell Mitt Romney, who, during his campaign, was captured on video awkwardly saying “Who let the dogs out?” in front of a group of black teenagers. Now, I’m no fan of Mitt, but I can’t help but thinking that this had less to do with overt racism on his part, and more to do with comedic tone-deafness. Any comedian will tell you that you need to know how to “read the room,” something that Mitt, Don, and the New Yorker were too wrapped up in themselves to do properly.
Obama and his staff are pretty upset about the cartoon, which I guess is understandable. I’d be pretty upset if a somewhat-major publication posted a cartoon of me on their front cover depicting all the nasty stuff people have said about me, satirically or not. The question is, though, would anyone’s opinions about Barack Obama have been changed by that cover if it had not become a major story? Would some swing voter in Ohio have happened upon it and thought “my God, this cartoon has opened my eyes! I’m votin’ for McCain, by gum!” Does this same hypothetical swing voter also believe that beagles can be World War I flying aces? Would they have even heard of the damn cartoon in the first place? In other words, is this a news story because it’s a news story because it’s a news story?
See what I mean about the media disappearing up their own asses?
So, what have we learned from this? We’ve learned that liberals can’t take a joke and that conservatives will believe anything you tell them, so long as it’s proceeded by “FWD:”. We’ve learned that comedic tone-deafness knows no political bounds. We’ve learned that, every now and then, those in the news media like to have themselves a big old circle jerk. And we’ve learned that New Yorker cartoons still suck.
In short, we have learned nothing we didn’t know before. Can we move on, please?