Framing the Obamas: Where Satire ends and enabling the worst sort of discourse begins

I have finally been liberated from the land of alleged spammers (thank you, lb) but I still can’t post images. Perhaps it’s better that I am not able to reproduce here this week’s New Yorker cover art. It is supposed to be art, supposed to ridicule the right-wing’s attempt to frame the presumptive Democratic nominee and his wife as terrorists who secretly hate our country.  I don’t exactly know where to begin a discussion of this image.  I knew the campaign was going to turn ugly at some point; I guess I knew the secret Muslim-proto-terrorist-racism stuff was going to be the wedge that proved most effective against Obama, who is the most skilled Democratic politician the right-wing has had to deal with since (and perhaps even excluding) Bill Clinton.  Obama, after all, doesn’t seem to have a skirt-chasing problem.  But he is, after all, BLACK!  And his father was AFRICAN!!! and a MUSLIM!!!!  So that’s all they got.  And this is what they’re doing with it.  So I suppose it just sickens me that a publication I was thinking I ought to be reading regularly would permit itself to be the vehicle for this racist, offensive trash. 

Is the media lost to the dark side?  Is this the price we pay for an absolutist First Amendment?


10 Responses to Framing the Obamas: Where Satire ends and enabling the worst sort of discourse begins

  1. laurabethnielsen says:

    GOOD LORD that is offensive. You will be happy to know that I had to put in the NetNanny override password to follow your link on the grounds of “hate/violence.” So NetNanny can tell the difference.

    Of course we pay a price for such an absolutist first Amendment — haven’t you read my book? At the same time, he is more than fair game as a political figure.

    the real question is why don;t the editors of the New yorker have more sense than to put that on the cover? I only wish I subscribed so that i could unsubscribe.

  2. lbsmom says:

    I can’t find the cover picture on Google images, & that’s the only way I know how to put images on this blog & only then when I’m including it in a post, not a comment. I can find it everywhere else on the internet, of course.

    Anyway, I saw it, was offended & plan to send a complaint to its editor.

    Maybe the magazine’s right about its subscribers’ abilities to read it as satire, but unfortunately, there are a few people in my life who will see the cartoon, never read the article & proceed to use it as more ammunition against Obama’s loyalties. That galls me–big time!

  3. lbsmom says:

    Here’s part of an auto reply I just recd from the New Yorker in response to my letter about the cover:

    About this week’s issue: Our cover, “The Politics of Fear,” combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are. The burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall – all of them echo one attack or another. Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd. And that’s the spirit of this cover. In this same issue you will also see that there are two very serious articles on Barack Obama inside – Hendrik Hertzberg’s Comment (, and Ryan Lizza’s 15,000-word reporting piece on the candidate’s political education and rise in Chicago (

  4. vickywoeste says:

    LB, I know we pay *a* price for the 1st A–I just want to know how high it goes–if this particular cartoon is so out of bounds as to push the limits or if there are worse things we could imagine. Did you all see Danielle Allen’s op-ed in the WashPost last week? She made a nice pivot from Maciavelli on dishonesty to today’s internet culture’s use of sheer fabrication; her argument was that the discourse has got to get pulled back to where there’s some relationship between what’s being put out there, on the one hand, and the back-and-forth that produces some relationship to verifiable “fact” or “truth.” If the editors of the New Yorker have lost their bearings (as did everyone who didn’t bother to look closely enough at the doctored Iranian missle shots–and the French did, and didn’t print the photos), then where does that leave the voting public? Back with the Swift Boaters. I don’t like it there.

  5. laurabethnielsen says:

    I hope you wrote back, mom and said: No I will not see those two very serious articles because I will not be picking up your magazine ever again.

  6. dspett says:

    The New Yorker has always pushed the envelope with its covers. For examples, see below. Where was the uproar, the calls for subscription cancellations, over these?

  7. laurabethnielsen says:

    I am sure there was some – the most offensive of those you show here (and I did not like it then either) is the the Brokeback Mountain Cheney/Bush gay sex one. It does not offend me as much as this one for a variety of reasons and one of them surely is that I don’t like Bush and Cheney. But there are other reasons that this one crossed the line for me (as opposed to merely pushing the envelope.)

    First it overtly racializes Obama in a way that these other covers don’t in the middle of a political campaign (the Bush/cheney one already had them elected). Second, it will be used over and over and over by the right with much more effect than its use that NY says it is for (satire to raise consciousness). It is offensive on religious grounds as well — further making that connection between the Muslim religion and violence.

    Cancelling the subscription is all we have. I’m not arguing to ban it and I know they like to do this. AND the recourse for people who feel like this one passed a line in terms of taste get to say so. For me, this crossed a line. Maybe I have no sense of humor, but I don’t think so. And just like I would tell someone a racist joke offends me rather than sitting by and laughing at it, I am willing to say that this is offenseive to me. I get to make that call, right?

  8. robertlnelson says:

    And here was an articulate response from journalists in the same city of origin as the New Yorker.

    The long and short of it is that satire historically has depicted evil that already has revealed itself. The New Yorker cover depicts an image from the crazed minds of a radical minority we would prefer remains quiet, if not silent.

  9. vickywoeste says:

    Lee Siegel got it right as to why the cover failed as satire:

    “By presenting a mad or contemptible partisan sentiment as a mainstream one, by accurately reproducing it and by neglecting to position the target of a slur — the Obamas — in relation to the producers of the slur, The New Yorker seems to have unwittingly reiterated the misconception it meant to lampoon. ”

    After I had some time to think about the cover art and what it depicted, I realized why it missed the mark. It heaped on to the Obamas rather than making fun of the people who are so willing to believe the worst of them. On the upside, if by any chance the New Yorker will have “realized” the worst possible reality of these slurs by putting this art on its cover, then perhaps the process of diffusing them can begin. In other words, maybe The New Yorker has done us a favor, not through an act of satire, but by some other artistic trick. Next to that, the Obamas look practically white and flag-loving in real life.

    Plus al Maliki couldn’t get enough of BHO in Baghdad this week!

  10. laurabethnielsen says:

    I agree. When I read that article I meant to come post a link over here. He or shee got it exactly right. And somewhere in the article it said something like “if it had just been in a thought bubble over someone’s head, it would have been better as satire”

    That is what it was missing to hit it right. But, art is hard to get correct.

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