For those of you who have not seen the cover of the latest New Yorker, here it is in all its glory:
Now, I love the New Yorker. I agreed with Miranda in Sex in the City, when she called the New Yorker her porn. I've been a subscriber for years. It's smart, it's thought provoking, it can make you incredibly angry or laugh right out loud. I've turned my kids onto the New Yorker (which means I'm lucky if I even get to read it on a regular basis - I usually have to ferret it out from under R's bed two weeks late), and I usually save back issues to savor again and again.
This cover is gives me pause. I realize that its meant to be satire - and heaven knows there were enough pundits to say so. Many of them said sneeringly, "it's just a joke - the New Yorker audience gets this sort of thing". Well, I AM the New Yorker audience, and I DO get that it's satire, but I would have felt a whole lot better about it if the cartoon, entitled "The Politics of Fear" were an accompanying article about that very subject - instead, there is an article about "Making It" how Chicago shaped Obama. It's an excellent article and I think on the whole, pretty positive, if you agree with the fact that in order for Obama to rise as meteorically as he has, his practices are much more than those of a studied outsider. The article paints Obama as a master of the political game, albeit one with a social conscience and is genuinely concerned with doing the right thing. I'm fine with that. I'm not naive enough to think that you can be successful in this day and age without mastering the art of the game. I respect Obama for that and that's why there's an Obama '08 sticker on my car (and I live in one of the few overwhelmingly Republican towns in a blue state). It's satire out on its own with no content supporting it that, I think, is a problem.
One of the other things that gives me pause here is that while the New Yorker plays to a particular audience, it is a nationally distributed publication that reaches audiences that are more Fox News alarmists than those who think themselves sophisticated. It's been demonstrated over and over again that we are a nation that is educated by sound-bite and those sound bites are easily manipulated - swift boats anyone? Some yokel, flipping on the news will see this cover, not bother to listen to some or any of the description of the satire and firmly believe that Obama is a muslim terrorist. Think I'm kidding? The Pew Foundation released the results of a survey last week noting that 12% of Americans still think that Obama is not a Christian, but a Muslim. Hell, 1% think he's JEWISH!! We are fed so much information and misinformation, that its difficult for even the media savvy to sift through the dreck to get to the heart of the real story - let alone to digest it and form an opinion of it. No, we basically receive a sound-bite where the political views of the network brass place a subliminal message to bubble up some time later. Whether we question it or not is can determine the outcome of an election.
All that being said, I'm conflicted about criticizing this. I think satire is good, especially political satire - we should expect to think about all the garbage that whirls around us in political campaigns. It forces us to separate the speculation and the partisanship from the issues. We SHOULDN'T buy everything we're told. However, we should also avoid hate mongering at all costs - and I think this doesn't just satirize the politics of fear, I think it plays into it.