I’m going to go out on a limb and assume everyone has seen the cover of this week’s New Yorker. This seems to be one of those rare bits of media gold that everyone can bash on equally. I’ve had a couple of conversations with people about this cartoon – and let’s keep that in mind, just for one moment, that this is, at the end of the day, an editorial cartoon – and by and large, the reaction seems to something along the lines of “It’s over the line, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why.”
And frankly, on a gut level, I’m inclined to agree with this assessment. Something about the piece just seems beyond the pale, for no reason I can put my finger on. For me, the problem might be the depiction of Obama’s wife, Michelle, which seems even more loaded than that of Obama himself, pictured in traditional Muslim Garb. Barack is campaigning to become President of the United States – that being the case, he opens himself up to a nearly undending slew of criticism. Some of it will be well intentioned, some of it will be tasteless and vulgar, some of it will be cruel, and some of it, inevitably, will be downright racist. I’m an Obama supporter, and as such I choose to believe that he understands this and is capable of taking it. But showing the most reluctant potential first lady in recent memory as a radical terrorist seems deeply out of bounds. That said, I think it’s fairly safe to assume that Michelle Obama is not crying herself to sleep over this cartoon either. She understands that it’s a media open season on her entire family, and that this will probably get worse before it gets any better.
Now I agree that it’s a fairly insensitive piece of satire, but that’s what it is, and let’s not lose sight of it. As for the argument that people won’t understand it as satire – I find that a little bit insulting. As with any piece of art, people are going to make of this what they want. They are going to determine how to take it. That doesn’t equate to people not being smart enough to understand the artists intentions. It just means that the artists intentions don’t exactly mean much. Which, at the risk of getting all po-mo, is why we’re making such a big deal of this, really. Beacause while it was meant as one thing, it’s going to get twisted into another. With pretty much everyone weighing in on the matter, it already has.
And while liberals cry foul over the racially charged nature of the piece and conservatives try and turn this into a slight against the right, rather than against Obama, everyone somehow manages to miss the point. That being that there are a lot of shopping days until Christmas, and presidential campaigns don’t get less ugly as they plod along through the collective political conscious. This is far from as bad as it’s going to get, and the Obama camp would do well to brace themselves. Chances are, we haven’t seen anything yet.