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Heroes and Zeros: Obama & the New Yorker

By Tony Hicks
Monday, July 14th, 2008 at 5:28 pm in Uncategorized.

New Yorker coverHERO: The New Yorker magazine, for having the guts to satirically depict Barack Obama dressed as a Muslim – presumably a terrorist, since the American flag is burning beside him in the Oval Office’s fireplace and a picture of Osama bin Laden hangs on the wall. Fist-bumping Obama is his wife Michelle, depicted as a radical Black Panther-type, wearing camouflage, combat boots and carrying an assault rifle (and she has an Afro – oohhh, scary). Of course, the New Yorker doesn’t mean it.

The point is to skewer the right-wing’s ridiculous suspicions of the Democratic presidential nominee and how loud his foes are willing to publicly whisper that he has secret, un-American motives. It’s a bold statement for the magazine and, in a sensible society, would be taken for what it is: parody of the ridiculously-ignorant, with faux-embrace of their idiocy.

(If anything, America might want to be a bit more suspicious that Obama isn’t as different from other mainstream politicians as people want to believe, but no need to go there now.) The intention was good and, in a perfectly evolved world, it would’ve worked.

ZERO: The New Yorker magazine. Unfortunately – because of political correctness or just plain political dumbness – America may be ready for a black president, but it sure isn’t ready for non-obvious (to many) satire of a sensitive subject on the cover of a major publication. Whomever had the idea to reveal how boneheaded the right-wing mistrust of Obama is (based on race or name alone), to do it through satire was apparently above the heads of far too many people who saw it as a confirmation of their suspicions.

Reading some of the public comments accompanying the news stories was enough to see it, including the ol’ “at the root of every stereotype is truth” fallback. And, certainly, it’s obvious why Obama himself would be ticked off, which he apparently was. A man like him works hard to maneuver through the tricky minefield of mainstream American politics to get into the position of being the first black man to be president, only to have impressions he’d rather bury keep coming to light.

He’s also bright enough to understand the New Yorker cover will be misinterpreted by enough people who won’t read the story to stir the embers of the conspiracy theorists and outright racists (who can be mutually exclusive). And though the New Yorker’s motives should’ve been clear to just about anyone, there’s enough media mistrust in our country to prompt plenty of people to question their true motive.

Meanwhile, there’s a giant cartoon circulating out there depicting Obama and his wife as the last stereotypes to which they want to be linked. A picture’s worth a thousand words, and, for a variety of reasons (most of them wrong) this one’s going to hang on many walls before the week is over.

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