Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Joking Hazard

There's a great article in Salon.com this morning that begs a question that was posed right here on this little experiment of mine a couple of months ago: When did the people on the left completely lose their sense of humor?

The peg for the Salon piece is all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from liberals over the recent New Yorker cover which depicts -- satirically, in case anyone was in doubt -- Barack and Michelle Obama as a couple of Black Panthers-cum-Muslim extremists. Gary Kamiya hits the argument right on the head when he says:

"A couple of points need to be made about this. Yes, the right wing is obviously trying to paint Obama as a Muslim terrorist sympathizer -- it's the only card they have to play. And yes, there are ways that the mainstream media can, and has, "laundered" such scurrilous smears -- Fox News is expert at them. ("Tonight at 8: Is Obama a Muslim fanatic, or merely a white-hating traitor? We report, you decide.") But it should be obvious that there's a fundamental difference between mocking something and laundering it. 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."

Take a look:

(Salon.com: "Rush Limbaugh was Right," by Gary Kamiya/7.15.08)


(DXM: Why So Serious?/4.25.08)


Web Dunce said...

I don't think the people on the "far left" have ever had a sense of humor. However, although I lean left, I like to think of myself as a fan of biting satire and this cover even made me a bit queasy - though it is pretty funny. I'm glad there is such a brew-ha-ha being made of it because if every bobbling talking head on cable news weighs in - and they surely will - then all the ridiculous rumors about Obama will be dispelled once and for all over and over ad nauseam because these jokers will talk this point to death so the dumbed down "skeptics" in this country will finally hear the facts repeated enough times for them to stick. Then again, the pundits can and probably will completely blow any opportunity to clarify things. Now I have a headache.

Simon Owens said...

I heard New Yorker editor David Remnick on NPR yesterday defending the cover. What's funny is that the people criticizing the New Yorker are saying "Well *I* get the joke, but there are people not as sophisticated as me who won't get it." As if redneck yokels in West Virginia are avid readers/subscribers of the New Yorker.

The people who would be negatively influenced by the cover are the people who never heard of the New Yorker in the first place.

Chez said...

My friend, I give you the almighty Liberal Intelligentsia.

robpo said...

Good comment simon owens, true dat. But this thing has legs all over the place, so now WV hillbillies will see it. But its moot, dey won't vote for a colored person anyway.

Beyond that, this thing doesn't bunch my panties, but I do think this cover is too complex to be good "mainstream" satire right now. The people of America ARE kind of stupid, this cover goes too deep for our 3 second attention span. Its more than redneck yokels in WV who are "less sophisticated than me", idiots are all across this great land. But its probably true few of them subscribe to the New Yorker. The controversy is what is making it a national discussion, but I do think Obama had to respond to it somehow.

Donal said...

If the mainstream media acknowledged and discussed what is true about McCain, then satire about what is false about Obama would be a lot funnier.

Mr. Controversy said...

If taken at face value, yes this cover is offensive. Sadly, some don't know how to go beyond face value and investigate a little thing called "context". Which, in essence, makes this a funny caricature of what the Right Wing media would make you think of these two.

But, sadly, a joke you have to explain isn't a very effective joke to those who need it explained. I miss the time when satire wasn't obsessed with face value, seeing as I enjoy nuance and thought. I guess it's too much to want the world to enjoy that as well.

Phil said...

I'm fine with it. But I expect a follow up cover showing a grizzled, nacreous, bloated McCain staring vacantly at war footage on TV with one hand down his pants and the other held up towards a hovering grim reaper as he says "Just give me a second. I'm almost finished."

A2racers said...

I'm waiting for a similar cover for McCain, until that happens, I'm unimpressed. The reason I love The Daily Show is that it uses satire correctly, on all sides of whatever issue is at hand. This was blatant BS, and again, just as I was learning to like The New Yorker, they failed me.

Chez said...

Donal --

Damn good point.

Steve said...

People have a sense of humour about a subject when they're comfortable with it through a sense of security or an attitude of resignation.

I don't think that's the case here.

Ben Fleming said...

For once, Chez, I'm going to have to disagree with you. I think the cover is tasteless and offensive, not only because it portrays Obama and his wife as terrorists, but because it gives those assholes on the right an excuse to hold the magazine up and yell "HA!" and go on to claim that the New Yorker is painting realism, not satire.

Like Mr. Controversy said, if you look deeper into the image you realize the satire and the joke, but most people are too stupid to bother doing that and most will just see it as an offensive piece of propaganda against the Obama campaign.

The New Yorker made a bad decision by choosing to have this image as their cover, for failing to realize the potential stupidity of the American people.

jim said...

I think Obama could have scored a ton of points by first avoiding the question until McCain responded with condemnation, and finally answering thusly, (I've never typed "thusly" before, I feel dirty) "I found the cover extremely offensive and I love it. It's everything this country stands for, freedom of expression."
Suddenly, McCain looks like a retard and while Obama comes out on top. As it stands now, both political candidates look completely out of touch even by 1920's standards.

How much do they pay these political advisers, they're all hacks.

Chez said...

I definitely agree that it would be funnier if there were more, dare I say, "balance" to it (the equal-shot-at-McCain kind) and that in the context of the kindly coverage McCain has reaped from the press, the cover might do more harm than good.

Course I also agree that the New Yorker isn't the kind of publication that a lot of those on the far-right read.

The cover, in and of itself, is pretty funny though. As the author of the Salon article implies, the left is simply shell-shocked, which I suppose is understandable.

VOTAR said...

@ben fleming: By having that reaction you are falling victim to the very hyper-sensitivity and out of control political correctness that the cartoon was intended to expose and belittle. Being offended by this only continues the cycle of victimization and fear that The Right (which I doubt seriously could misconstrue anything in New Yorker Magazine as "realism") relies on to keep people afraid of thinking for themselves, and risks enlisting you for Al Sharpton's Army of The Perpetually Aggrieved. Fight the seduction to fall for that trap!

What I find most troubling is not the cartoon -- which I think is absolutely brilliant (and which, I guess, means I've passed the pseudo-intellectual litmus test... not that I was worried, considering the complexity of this excruciatingly constructed sentence) -- but rather, the Obama camp's reaction to it.

In this post-Imus world, it would be refreshing to witness someone willing to simply laugh at a good joke now and then. That cartoon is hilarious and smart. Wouldn't it be awesome -- and so damn easy, by the way -- for Obama himself to simply take an opportunity to say "hey, I saw that cartoon, I thought it was funny, a really clever lampoon of those people who are still confused about me. If you're one of the few people left who still fall for these internet rumors, I've got $4.3 million in Nigerian lottery winnings that I'll transfer into your bank account. What was that account number again?"

He'd have the audience in stitches. Wouldn't it be more fun to force Fox News Network to run that video, than to hear the same tired "statement" issued by an Obama "spokesperson" "denouncing" the cartoon as "tasteless?"


Obama's gotten as far as he has largely due to the refreshing way he has of speaking in plain terms. He's very good at simply being himself (in contrast to Hillary Clinton's pre-packaged rehearsed and shrill indignation at anything and everything, W's inability to stitch together a coherent phrase in plain English, and McCain's mumbling, nursing home Thorazine shuffle). But I fear we are watching the slow erosion of Obama's innocence in the quicksand of politics, as he himself is falling victim to the humorlessness of fear-driven liberal political correctness, which the Right has become masterful at exploiting.

Remember a few days after 9/11 when Mayor Giuliani went on Saturday Night Live? Lorne Michaels asked Rudy "can we be funny?" To which he replied "why start now?"

Odd how prophetically unfunny that little skit turned out to be.

Deacon Blue said...

Even though we're both media people, you may disagree with me on this, Chez, but I'm going to throw my journalistic two cents in anyway.

I think this cover was out of line NOT because of the content of it but because the context is too easily lost. Yes, I get that the people who believe the Obamas are really like that don't read the New Yorker, but now the New Yorker has given them a cover they can pass around to say "Look, even the New Yorker can see the Obamas for what they are." Because most people aren't going to read the article anyway, and the cover lacks what I think was sorely needed in this case:

A fucking tagline.

Because we're a soundbite culture now, a tagline that points somehow to the satirical context was needed here, I think.

Also, if there is one thing that irks me about the image itself, it is the fist bump...there is a feeling I get from this that "hey, look, we fooled the whole nation into thinking we are OK, and now we're going to advance our terrorist agenda." That feeds into the unfounded fears about the Obamas way too directly for my tastes.

But hey, I'm probably in the minority here. Lord knows the African American blogs are really split down the middle on this cover too...at least the ones I'm reading.

VOTAR said...

African Americans blog?

All the media tells me about them is they all drive Cadillacs with giant shiny hubcaps, drink huge bottles of malt liquor, dress their women like prostitutes, yell words that rhyme, and shoot people.


Thomas said...

Moving on from this and going about our daily lives is the best way to deal with it, regardless of how we might feel. It was fun for a day, but this post solidifies how I feel and reminds me to focus on the real issues (sorry to link to another blog, Chez, but I felt it was relevant and appropriate in this instance).


Deacon Blue said...

Hey, hey, Votar. Watch it!

They buy Lincolns, too, not just Cadillacs.

(Funny thing is, even the ones who fit the media stereotypes have blogs...nothing beats being a stereotype and spreading the ignorance. Guess it's a good thing most of the Afrosphere blogs are by the non-gangsta-wannabes.)

atlliberal said...

I agree with deacon blue.
Normally I enjoy satire, the smarter and the more it makes you think, the better I like it. But this cover simply feeds and gives a visual representation of the worst fears of some ill informed people. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Anonymous said...

As someone who is apparently a "liberal" nowadays because I disagree with everything this administration and its cronies have done for the past 8 years, I have no sense of humor left. In fact, at this point, I have no outrage left. Our country has suffered at the hands of these morally bankrupt morons to the point that I am left with only dispair.

Liberals in this country have looked the other way while conservatives have attacked them relentlessly in the media for the past 16 years and they (we, I guess) are tired of it. This country cannot afford to take its politics lightly and apathetically anymore. When we do, we get people like W and Cheney in charge.

This next election is too important and the left is just not willing to give an inch on anything.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was funny but the humorless liberal in me immediately worried that the right would use it as a media tool (irony of ironies).

As many brighter than me have said, it would have worked better with more context. An example - the cartoonist could have put his Obama cover image on a TV with a FOX News ticker; and had Karl Rove, Hannity, Limbaugh and Ingraham watching on a couch high fiving each other.

Michael J. West said...

I've said this elsewhere and will gladly say it again here:

The idea that a highbrow, thinking person's publication like the New Yorker should dumb themselves down in case an unthinking person sees it...I find that much more dangerous than the cartoon itself.

Aaron X said...

I've held off commenting on this because I remain rather ambivalent. I like Barry Blitt's art work, the sketch accomplished what good political art should in my opinion, it provoked reactions, varying interpretations, and vigorous debate. So many people have weighed in with different perspectives, the way I see it, almost none of them are necessarily wrong. I think this piece of political art tells us something about ourselves through our reactions to it.

I also like it because it pushes the boundaries, and I'm a boundary pusher, or so they tells me. :-) I was just banned from the Kos affiliated Mothertalkers blog , first blog I've ever been banned from, without actually trying. Some of those Kossacks have got it in for me. Hard truths are not something they are prepared to hear apparently, but it's my attitude that bothers them most, I get that a lot.

I understand the Obama campaign's reaction, but I have to wonder if Barack and Michelle didn't laugh when they saw it. It's more than over-the-top, it's outrageously subversive in its inception. In a very real sense Barack Obama is the insurgent candidate, he is attempting to remake American politics on some fundamental level. And it's obvious many people on both sides of the aisle aren't too comfortable with the idea of change and the unfamiliar. It's been a long time since anyone's broken new political ground in this country, an unfortunate reality that has led us into stagnation and regression. It seems fitting that these changes come at the beginning of this new century and at the end of the abject failure of the GOP and their contrived conservative revolution. This caricature pushes buttons on the monied right, buttons they don't like having pushed.

Just imagine if George W. Bush had actually been a competent President, a Republican president who prevented 9/11, then taken us to war in Iraq anyway, achieved total victory and transformed Baghdad into a favorite American discount getaway tourist mecca like Mexico, and we had 70 cent a gallon gasoline. In that unlikely scenario I imagine Hillary would be the Democratic nominee right now, and she would be looking at a landslide loss to that abusive racist southern Republican George Allen in the general election. So let me just take this opportunity to thank corporate America for installing their hand-picked utterly incompetent puppet lackey in the White House, and awakening the sleeping giant that is the American electorate. I promise you are going to regret it boys.

The minimal danger of this image is that it gives the Republicans exactly what they want, a portrait of Islamic fundamentalism triumphing over America, and the Democrats responsible for that triumph. The image is already on every conservative site around the net, being used to instill fear in the faithful, a last desperate attempt to consolidate what's left of their rapidly shrinking base. So I'd say there is some real political cost to the Obama campaign just for having that image out there. And it's not the campaign's reactions to the image which is the problem, as some would assert, it's the image itself on the cover of a common newsstand magazine, which was bound to create this controversy.

I suspect the magazine's editorial board decided to make it the cover for entirely self-serving reasons, but then again you have to think that a lot of discussion went on about the larger ramifications. It seems the more sophisticated as well as the monetary arguments won out, deciding that Obama's campaign was strong enough to take the hit, and I would have to agree with that assessment. Doubtless The New Yorker has had plenty of extra copies printed up to meet the demand

But fair is fair, I think The New Yorker should have Blitt create a cover depicting John McCain in a North Vietnamese prison cell spilling his guts, giving the Commies every military secret we had, and agreeing to become the Manchurian candidate, who once in office abolishes the Republic and seizes America for the Reds. Of course it wouldn't have the same impact, given that Vietnam, Communism and John McCain are all ancient history relatively speaking, but still.

They could do a whole series, how about Hillary Clinton as a dominatrix in the Oval Office clad in black leather, whips and chains, her stiletto heels digging into bill's back as he looks on drooling while she gets head from her beautiful personal assistant. At the same time Mistress Hillary is on the phone calling for the round up and eradication of everyone who voted against her. Two can play at this game Billy boy, *cackle cackle*. :-)

Chez said...

Very well put, man. Thanks for commenting -- and for the record, I'll never ban you.

Fucking Kos people.

Ref said...

I'd also love to see "equal time" for McCain, Saint Johnny Of The Media Whores. I do understand the poster who pointed out that (some) people on the left have just lost their sense of humor after seeing the mass media becoming a corporate Republican spin machine over the last twenty-five or so years.