Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The problem with the New Yorker Obama cover

From Chapter 3 of The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer

The need for social reinforcement runs so deeply in authoritarians, they will believe someone who says what they want to hear even if you tell them they should not. I have several times asked students or parents to judge the sincerity of a universitystudent who wrote arguments either condemning, or supporting, homosexuals. Butsome subjects were told the student had been assigned to condemn (or support) homosexuals as part of a philosophy test to see how well the student could make up arguments for anything, on the spot. Other subjects were told the student could chooseto write on either side of the issue, and had chosen to make the case she did.

Obviously, you can’t tell anything about the real opinions of someone who was assigned the point of view of her essay. But high RWAs believed that the antihomosexual essay that a student was forced to write reflected that student’s personal views almost as much as when a student had chosen this point of view. In other words,as in the previous experiments, the authoritarians ignored the circumstances and believed the student really meant what she had been assigned to say--when they liked what she said. Low RWAs, in comparison, paid attention to the circumstances.
And from earlier in the same chapter

They particularly had trouble figuring out that an inference or deduction was wrong. To illustrate, suppose they had gotten the following syllogism:

All fish live in the sea.
Sharks live in the sea..
Therefore, sharks are fish.

The conclusion does not follow, but high RWAs would be more likely to say the reasoning is correct than most people would. If you ask them why it seems right, they would likely tell you, “Because sharks are fish.” In other words, they thought the reasoning was sound because they agreed with the last statement. If the conclusion is right, they figure, then the reasoning must have been right. Or to put it another way, they don’t “get it” that the reasoning matters--especially on a reasoning test.

This is not only “Illogical, Captain,” as Mr. Spock would say, it’s quite dangerous, because it shows that if authoritarian followers like the conclusion, the logic involved is pretty irrelevant. The reasoning should justify the conclusion, but for a lot of high RWAs, the conclusion validates the reasoning. Such is the basis of many a prejudice, and many a Big Lie that comes to be accepted.
From Media Matters

On the July 14 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, G. Gordon Liddy said of the image of Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, on the July 21 cover of The New Yorker: "It's got Obama in his Muslim dress with a turban, and he's there with his wife. His wife has a 'mad at the world' afro, circa 1968, she -- she's got bandoliers and an assault weapon, and there in their fireplace is burning the American flag. The New Yorker finally got it right."
And also from Media Matters

In a July 13 online poll, the conservative website WorldNetDaily.com asked readers to "[s]ound off on the New Yorker's cover with turban-wearing [Sen. Barack] Obama, gun toting wife [Michelle Obama]" by choosing one of 12 options, including the factually baseless options: "Funny, because there's some truth in it" and "The image isn't too far from the dangerous truth about the Obama family." While the New Yorker said in a press release that its cover "satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama's campaign," for a majority of respondents to WND's poll, the cover apparently provided support for their false perceptions of Obama's religion and patriotism: As of 10:07 a.m. ET on July 14, the most popular option in the poll -- selected by 60 percent of WND respondents -- was "The image isn't too far from the dangerous truth about the Obama family." The second-most popular option was "Funny, because there's some truth in it," which was selected by 11 percent of respondents.
The Mirriam Webster dictionary definition of satire

1: a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
2: trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly
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.

Granted, I can understand why the New Yorker would think that the image is satire. Most reasonable people would view that as self-evidently absurd and ludicrous. But the problem is that absurd and ludicrous views have been granted respectability, normalcy, and legitimacy in American political discourse.

Satire is supposed to ridicule or scorn or make views look ridiculous. The New Yorker seems to think that the depiction itself is sufficient to accomplish that, but the bar for what constitutes satire in America has been raised because views that are self-evidently ridiculous have been elevated to mainstream respectability. Dear god, I flipped to CNN HN one night to see Jonah Goldberg and Glenn Beck informing me that Captain Planet is fascist propaganda which is part of the Liberal Fascist plan to created a one world government!

As such, the cover can be said to be informative rather than satirical. In which case, it would have been more effective to do something like a split cover with half being "Reality" and the other half being the image with the caption "What the Right sees" or something like that. At least that might have mitigated somewhat the possibility of this image having the unintended consequence of creating a negative association in people's minds (sorry, for those saying this is insulting people's intelligence - that's the way the brain works.)

Daniel Larison at Eunomia raises a similar point.


Anonymous said...

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.

Sheldon said...

"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."

Actually, let me disagree with you a little bit. It is satire to the effect that most people who either read* or have at least passing familiarity with The New Yorker will understand it as satire. It is a moderately liberal magazine afterall. Most of its regular readership doesn't take seriously the righty bullshit smear campaign against the Obamas.

But of course, being an election year, and its topic, the cover was bound to recieve the extra-ordinary amount of attention it has recieved. So indeed, it may have been irresponsible of the publishers....

Ooops, you actually say pretty much what I just said, and I didn't finish reading...apologies..but I already typed it :)

Anyway, to Malloy, the only "germ of truth" is that there is a photograph of Barak in a similar garment, which doesn't mean he is Muslim, and they do fist bump, but so what? Rest assured there won't be American flags burning in the White House come January, much to my chagrin. LOL