Monday, July 14, 2008

Obama and the New Yorker: a Tempest in a Teapot.

It seems to me that the whole buzz and controversy over the New Yorker’s cover (showing Obama dressed as a Muslim and his wife as a terrorist) is a bit of a tempest in a teapot.

First of all, it is so over the top that it is hard to miss that it is a satire of what the New Yorker called “the politics of fear”, made possible by the stupidity of a small part of the American electorate spreading false rumors about Obama being a Muslim or his wife being a secret Black Panther terrorist.

Of course, any satire may be misinterpreted or taken out of context, and as the magazine's editor, David Remnick pointed out: “I bet there are people who watch Stephen Colbert and think he's a conservative commentator”. But it is not because some people are too stupid that our society should put the blame on the satirists. In this day and age of dramatization of the news, they are needed more than ever before.

Second, the New York audience is a sophisticated one, used to the cartoonists’ satirical style. As the magazine's editor put it in a statement:

Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to the absurd,”

According to Huffingtonpost, the cover will be THE image to be used by “Anyone who's tried to paint Obama as a Muslim, anyone who's tried to portray Michelle as angry or a secret revolutionary out to get Whitey, anyone who has questioned their patriotism”. That may be so, but those people won’t listen to reason anyway, and in the end, I don’t think it’ll make a big difference.

Paradoxically, if anything, it may have actually the merit of bringing the topic out in the open in the regular pass media, and clarify a few things for people who have genuine doubts or are ill-informed.

Interestingly, while both the Obama’s and Mccain’s campaigns have criticized the cover, calling it “tasteless and offensive”, Obama himself shrugged and replied: “I have no response to that.”

Well, he can’t complain too much, at least most other newsmagazines have had much more positive covers.

And the smear campaign may backfire and actually help him.


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