Thursday, July 17, 2008

Like I was saying

I wrote:

The problem with the New Yorker cover is that it isn't satire. It isn't satire because it quite simply is an accurate representation of the way that authoritarian movement conservatives view Barack and Michelle Obama. If I didn't know better I'd assume it was a cover of Newsmax or National Review or something.
Jonah Goldberg writes (bold emphasis mine):

What I find interesting about the New Yorker cover is that it's almost exactly the sort of cover you could expect to find on the front of National Review. Roman Genn could do wonders with that concept. Of course, if we ran the exact same art, the consensus from the liberal establishment could be summarized in words like "Swiftboating!" and, duh, "racist." It's a trite point, but nonetheless true that who says something often matters more than what is said — and, obviously, that satire is in the eye of the beholder.
Meanwhile, Alonzo Fyfe at Atheist Ethicist has written about the subject.

The vast majority of the people who will see the cover of the New Yorker magazine will not think too deeply about it. They will glance at the cartoon, which will generate an instant emotional reaction. They will then attach that emotion to Barak Obama and, over the next four months, interpret further information through the lens that this cartoon generated.

This instant, unreflective, shallow interpretation of the cartoon for a lot of people will be the idea that the Michelle and Barak Obama hold pro-terrorist/anti-American sympathies who are trying to gain control of the White House. The cartoon ends up reinforcing the very ideas that the author intended to ridicule.
And Chet Scoville at The Vanity Press has written a post which makes a point nearly identical to the one I made, except he articulates it better (not surprising given that he's a English professor)

A portion of the U.S. population actually believes all of those things about the Obamas. The New Yorker cover does not work as satire because there's no exaggeration. Because everyone always references Swift on occasions like this, let me just point out that nobody thought that the solution to Ireland's troubles was to start eating children. "A Modest Proposal" worked because it was a logical exaggeration of what people actually believed: namely, that free markets were the way to go and that people should be seen primarily as resources (haven't come too far since then, have we?). But the New Yorker cover reflects things that people actually say, and in
many cases have come to believe. That's a different set of circumstances altogether. Because it's styled as an in-joke for the cognoscenti (as New Yorker cartoons usually are), it does not make itself clear to those who are outside its orbit. In other words, like most in-jokes, it reinforces both the self-satisfaction of those already in the know and the misunderstandings of everyone else.

It might have been effective satire, say, forty years ago when this sort of paranoia was confined to blurry mimeographs produced in someone's basement -- when there was in fact something hidden that would have wilted upon being exposed to a critical mass media. That, however, is not how things are anymore.
Precisely. Which is why I wrote in the comments that:

The New Yorker considers the cover self-evidently absurd, but were the self-evident absurdity of noise machine smears sufficient to rebut them then they wouldn't be as effective as they are.An image like this is going to activate the networks in people's brains that will play on any prejudicial fears they have without doing anything to change those beliefs.

Plus, we have a media that has granted legitimacy and normalcy to views that are self-evidently absurd. Millions of people take seriously Rush Limbaugh when he says that Osama bin Laden is a Democrat, while the New York Times magazine does a white-wash cover story on him. Ann Coulter can talk about needing to kill John Lindh so that "liberals" know they can be killed too and she gets a white-wash cover story in Time magazine.


Anonymous said...

Strikes me as a visual example of Poe's law!

Hume's Ghost said...

I had to google Poe's Law but, yes, that's a good way of describing it.