July 15, 2008

Speaking of toothless satire, I'm almost willing to vote against Obama if it means not having to sit through eight years of Slate's Obamaisms

Jack Shafer in Slate and Gary Kamiya in Salon nail the New Yorker controversy.


Calling on the press to protect the common man from the potential corruptions of satire is a strange, paternalistic assignment for any journalist to give his peers, but that appears to be what The New Yorker's detractors desire... Only weak thinkers fear strong images. The publication that convenes itself as a polite dinner party, serving only strained polenta and pureed peas, need not invite me to sup.

OK, I differ slightly with the characterization of the cover as a strong image. One complaint about it is that it merely presents the smears without putting the extra spin that would mock them, but New Yorker covers aren't supposed to be jokey and heavy-handed, they're always somewhat genteel, no less so when they're trying to be edgy. It's supposed to elicit a wry smile, not a self-satisfied laugh. Judged on its own terms, rather than Colbert's, the cover clearly succeeds.

Kamiya also notes that some critics say ridiculously say the image doesn't even exaggerate the smears. More Kamiya:

Some on the left, however, are so terrified that Americans, in their cosmic stupidity, cannot distinguish between satire and smear that they reject satire. After Obama wins, they decree, there will be time for all the sophisticated ha-ha. But right now, imagery must be as tightly controlled as at an exhibition of Stalinist realism paintings. As Ari Fleischer said, we must all watch what we do, watch what we say. Such reactions are utterly political and deeply skeptical: They're based on the belief that journalism is all about power, that it must cater to the lowest common denominator, and that the critical and ironic thinking satire requires is an outmoded luxury...

The magazine's left-wing critics, understandably scared (and perhaps deafened) by the vicious noise of the right-wing attack machine, are demanding that those on the left also turn their amps up to full Spinal Tap 11. Cartoons to be chuckled at over sherry, they say, are not funny and are too dangerous. (What they don't say is that when everything is dangerous, nothing is funny.) Ugly times call for ugly tactics. Noise calls for noise.

The premise underlying the response Kamiya takes on here is that The New Yorker (and Jon Stewart, etc) should not do anything to undermine Obama, even if they know and we know it's only a joke. That's pretty pernicious. Since when is it the job of the media or comedians to support a presidential candidate?

Meanwhile the New York Times reports that while the late night laffers are having trouble landing their Obama jokes, black comedians are doing better -- except that due to more ridiculous self-censorship, the paper won't tell you how.

“I tell jokes on stage about him,” Mr. Grier said, reciting a few that would not ever get onto a network late-night show (nor into this newspaper).

Why won't those jokes get into the paper? Do they use profanity, the dreaded N-word or both? In his column last week, Public Editor Clark Hoyt got permission to use the forbidden obscenity "nuts" because it was "central to this discussion." But as I've said again and again, when a story is about a word or a quote, that word or quote is always central to the discussion and should always be used. Hoyt's justification for saying "nuts" could certainly be applied to Sally Field, to take just one egregious example. (Also, it was my understanding that the Public Editor has completely free rein to write what he wants. Why would he need the permission of the editors he's criticizing to criticize them as he sees fit?)

Related: Slate's Christopher Beam finally acknowledges that he started the terrorist fist-jab meme (or rather, the meta-meme) in a column that largely exonerates Fox's E.D. Hill.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Nitpick: It's free rein.

I'm an Obama supporter, but the cover makes me yawn, frankly. I don't think it's particular clever or funny. But it also doesn't make me angry.

I'm also of the yawn, over outrage camp, but as satire, the cover is exceedingly weak. If it was funny, it wouldn't be the subject of so much handwringing. I don't buy the whole we have to lay off Obama because he's our savior idea either, but if you're going to go at something, you've got to hit the target.

I also don't think the NYer deserves a pass on being unfunny because their covers are in some kind of (to my mind) mythical other category where they're supposed to be simultaneously "genteel" and "edgy." To me, that sounds like an ex post facto justification for what is, really, just a lazily executed joke.

Remnick himself said it's a satire, and as satire, it fails. It didn't even get a wry smile out of me, let alone a laugh.

As I said in an email, this is the "I'm haunted by the faces of my victims" of satirical covers: Its main offense is in not providing a gag, a twist, anything that plays off of the idiotic stereotypes instead of merely restating them.

The New Yorker mindset thinks that the meta context - look, we're putting this on the cover of our magazine without comment - is that twist. As such, this is the famous "View from 9th Avenue" in action. It's "funny" because their friends and neighbors will "get" how wacky it is, while the cluelss out in Iowa - or is it Idaho? - can go ahead and be flummoxed.

Still, as with the Mohamed cartoons, my argument isn't that it should be (or should have been) actively suppressed - only that its "provocation" is of the utmost lameness, centered in a narcissistic celebration of its own context rather than in having anything worthwhile to say about the world or the culture it pretends to address.

So, "judged on its own terms," if its own terms are pleasing itself and its creators and reinforcing their own prejudices, then yeah, it succeds at that, all right.

I found it at once a droll yet outre reflection of the low information voters' impression of our renaissance candidate. So droll in fact, that I did a spit take.

Latte, of course.

I'm not disagreeing with any of you, and I am agreeing with Magee who dislikes all the NYer's political covers. I'm just saying they're not supposed to be judged as satire, regardless of what Remnick says. They're just vaguely amusing visual depictions of, ya know, stuff that's out there. You can argue that that's a stupid idea for a cover, and I'd agree. But that's what the New Yorker wants, and that's what they got.

Or perhaps I should say that Remnick and the NYer have a different definition, more genteel of satire.

I dunno, I'm not buying the NYer has a special tone argument. Maybe it exists, but it's nothing that was employed intentionally here.

Remnick has been talking about how one of the reasons we know this is satire is because it has offended people. Never mind that he misses the mark on what makes satire, he's obviously not making a case for a more genteel satire.

Why produce a stand-alone joke that isn't meant to produce a wry smile instead of actual laughter, particularly when a more skillful take could've generated actual laughter.

Kamiya's take is an extended red herring. There's no evidence that Americans have rejected satire. They've rejected this particular poor attempt at it and some of the responses have been pretty dumb, but Kamiya takes an additional leap of silliness beyond those he's going after.

I disagree that the NYer style of political humor is toothless by nature. I loved, and laughed out loud at, these two previous Blitt covers, and feel they do exactly what excellent editorial cartooning should - they wordlessly take a trope that has been promulgated (in these cases, by the very person central to the image) and carry it forward into an absurd situation that turns it back on itself, raising provocative questions about the trope. They make sharp points that stand on their own. The current cover fails miserably to make any point that does not include reference to itself.

And might I add that Remnick's appeal to "look at the title" of the cover - which 98% of Americans will neither do nor even know where to find - just underscores the "View from 9th Avenue" point I made above.

It is ink on paper. Giving it more life than that leads to censorship; then nobody wins.
Frankly, it looks more like a MAD magazine cover. I'm not sure if that falls under the "pro" or the "con" column...

And might I add that Remnick's appeal to "look at the title" of the cover - which 98% of Americans will neither do nor even know where to find - just underscores the "View from 9th Avenue" point I made above.

In the physical magazine, the title will be in a square piece of paper that's affixed to the cover, sort of like a post-it. But you can't see that in the full cover reproduced here.

I see this more as an opportunity to voice disapproval with The New Yorker's useless tone of self-satisfaction, just as everything that ever goes stupid on Fox News is an opportunity to express disapproval with shrill agitprop.

I'm hoping next issue's cover features David Remnick sucking on Larry Flynt's cock while Jerry Falwell masturbates.

As an Obama supporter I actually though that cover was really cute, I only wish that's who they really were (seriously!).

Did you see this in the Daily News? Will someone interpret it for me?


Leslie: I think he's saying Remnick is a big ol' Jew.

Yes... Yes, I see it now. Thank you!

It's humorous that of the ones I've seen (and I've only seen yours, Leslie, and this one), the proposed "mirror" versions of the cover trashing the McCains use as their tropes actual reality-based facts about them as the basis for the "comedy." In other words, to depict McCain as old (which he is), Cindy as a pill-popper (which she certainly has been), and McCain saying something he actually said is supposedly "equivalent" to depicting the Obamas as muslim terrorist flag-burning Bin-Laden fans. Howzabout a cover showing Cindy stealing the drugs, McCain collaborating with the North Vietnamese, flying into an insane rage, and/or being an adultering bigamist who calls his wife a cunt? Hell, even those are just unfortunate spins on real facts, so we'd need to go to something like wholesale puppy-dismemberment to reach the levels of offensiveness of the current image.

The only reason that this Mr. & Mrs. Obama satire DOES have impact — and may very likely spread — is because like all good satire, or good humor for that matter, there’s more than a germ of truth in it. Otherwise, the satire would utterly roll off the Obamoids’ backs, having no impact.

Sorry, but no. Unless you can explain exactly what constitutes "more than a germ of truth in" the Obamas burning the flag and/or revering Osama bin Laden, that statement is completely off the mark.

The cartoon allowed Obama yet another opportunity to repond with dignity, demonstrating his mature perspective and common sense, and that polished blandness he needs to get elected. Two days later and already the thing is just about forgotten.

I'm a few days late back to the thread, but Vance, you hit the nail on the head for me with your 5:38 post.

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