Wednesday, July 16, 2008

a thought on the New Yorker cartoon

I'm apparently in the minority on this one (in bloggyville, anyway), but for starters, I don't have any problem with the cartoon. It brought out the same "heh" that most New Yorker cartoons do, actually. It's amusing in a clever sort of way, but not actually funny.

What I'm interested in, however, are parts of "the left's" mindset that led to their offense at the cartoon. Atrios:
I certainly don't think that the New Yorker cover is the biggest deal in the world, but the basic reason I find it problematic is that I look at it and I think, "Yes, well, that's what the Right says about the Obamas pretty much daily." It channels what they say, but they forgot to add the funny. Hamas loves Obama, he hates the flag and America, he's a Muslim, Michelle Obama is a black militant, etc. It isn't funny to me because I read this crap every day all day. This crap isn't just on obscure wingnut blogs, it's everywhere. G. Gordon Liddy is thrilled.

If in 2000 they'd ran a cover which expressed in various ways things like "Al Gore claimed he invented the internet," "Al Gore claims he discovered Love Canal," "Al Gore grew up in a fancy DC hotel," "Al Gore is such pandering politician that he's wearing 3 button suits and EARTH TONES" (no I've never understood this one either), it wouldn't have been a parody, it would have been channeling the media zeitgeist. The Obama thing? Not so different.

Jesse Taylor at Pandagon echoes those sentiments. Supposedly there are others claiming that "low information voters" will see the cartoon and believe it's intended to depict the real Obama, and I have seen that opinion among some commenters, but I haven't seen any of the more influential peeps say that. It's the least defensible of the arguments, so I'm glad it's pretty rare (I can just imagine Joe Bob the high school educated, FOX News viewing, NASCAR fan's reaction when he receives his copy of The New Yorker in the mail this week). Gary Kamiya swats the slower flies in his Salon article, but only touches on the meat of the matter, which is that these liberal voices don't see the cartoon as satirizing right wing/lazy media arguments, but as accurately reflecting them.

Really? Right wingers are arguing that Barack loves Osama bin Laden and hangs a portrait of him on his wall? They're arguing that Obama uses American flags as kindling? That Michelle is an actual, Kalashnikov-toting black militant? That the two of them are actual, genuine, literal terrorists? I doubt that very seriously, and no, that one chain email you got does not prove that these are, in fact, widespread conservative beliefs.

There are kernels of truth in each sub-image of the cartoon, sure ("truth" in the sense of arguments conservatives really are pushing), such as that Michelle harbors secret animosity toward whites and doesn't really "love America," or that Osama bin Laden would like Obama to win, or that Obama doesn't love the flag enough to wear it on his lapel, these images are obvious and dramatic exaggerations of such sentiments. Which is precisely the point of satire.

I think there's a lesson here about how it's easy, when you're engaging in a prolonged war of words with someone, to view their opinions as more radical than they really are.

No comments: