The controversy over the New Yorker‘s Barack Obama cover once again reveals the humor rift in American politics. Yes, it’s a joke. Yes, I get it. But I don’t think it’s funny. It was a damnfool thing to put on the cover of the New Yorker.
Gary Kamiya complains that we lefties have lost our sense of humor:
After 9/11, some pious nitwits, suffering from an America-centrism akin to the medieval belief that the Earth was the center of the universe, intoned that “irony was dead.” Seven years later, they’ve been proven right — but not in the way they intended. Irony may have been killed, but not by sincerity — it’s been killed by cynicism. Vast swaths of the left have apparently been so traumatized by the Big Lie techniques employed by the Bush administration, its media lickspittles like Fox News, and the right-wing attack machine, that they have come to regard all images or texts that contain negative stereotypes as too politically dangerous to run. If you satirically depict Obama as an Islamist terrorist, in this view, you are only reinforcing and giving broader currency to right-wing smears.
Since the essence of satire is exaggerating negative stereotypes, this means that satire itself is off limits.
I see his point, but I still don’t think the cartoon was funny. Yes, we’re frightened, and we should be. Cartoons have power. The Creature “won” the past two presidential elections in part by caricaturing Al Gore and John Kerry and turning them into cartoons. People often joke about dangerous things, but the jokes aren’t funny when the danger is real and imminent.
In the same way, the New Yorker cover, now being displayed endlessly on cable TV, speaks louder than any efforts by Obama supporters to stop the smears (though it doesn’t help that barackobama.com makes it hard to navigate to the truth-squading). As the author Drew Weston has shown, negative images burn their way into the consciousness of voters in ways that cannot be erased by facts. With one visual move, the magazine undid months of pro-Obama coverage in its pages.
The fact that people like Jonah Goldberg support the literal interpretation of The New Yorker cover explains perfectly why it failed as satire.