Monday, July 14, 2008

The New Yorker 'Satire' Obama Cover Backfires

The New Yorker magazine is a sophisticated east coast periodical with a reputation for publishing top-rate cartoons. This week, the magazine's editors decided to devote its cover to a satirical depiction of what those right-wing extremists over there think candidate Barack Obama if he's elected.

Here's what they came up with.

What struck me first, right between the eyes, was Michelle Obama's nicely submissive posture, right out of some Victorian illustration. Then, her rifle and that over-the-top Afro, and Mr. Obama's outfit.

He's not about to kiss her hand, of course: that's a fist-bump. And, of course, a cultured New York magazine would never portray the wife of a presidential candidate in a posture that implied the properly submissive attitude of the nineteenth century. It just looks that way.

The Obama campaign, and the McCain campaign finally agree on something: that cover is tasteless and offensive.

And I agree with half of that.
  • Offensive, yes
  • Tasteless? I know what the campaign reps mean, but I wish I could get the taste out of my head
Is there some excuse for this exercise in visual insult? Almost.

Some fairly wild rumors have been thrown against the wall. Quite a few stuck.

What I think about Obama's background:
  • His middle name is Hussein
    • "Hussein" is a fairly common name
    • In America
    • Live with it
  • He is not now, nor has he ever been, a Muslim
    • Remember the Reverend "God Damn America" Wright brouhaha?
    • Not "Imam" - "Reverend"
  • Even if Obama were Muslim, So What?!
As I've written before:

"...Muslims We are not looking at a monolithic group here...."
(from " 'They’re all Muslims' - This Does Not Help" (December 29, 2007)

In fairness to The New Yorker editors, there's some reason for their assumptions about American voters. Newsweek did a poll recently, and came up with some disquieting numbers.

"Some of Obama's lag in white support may be explained by continual confusion over his religious identity." ("Glow Fading?" Newsweek (July 11, 2008))
Of American voters surveyed:
Idea Believed by True or False
Obama was sworn in as a United States senator on a Quran 12%False
Obama was raised as a Muslim26%False
Obama went to an Islamic school while growing up in Indonesia39%False
(from "Glow Fading?" Newsweek (July 11, 2008))

Newsweek writes, "Finally cracking the code with less-educated whites could have a big payoff for Obama: 85 percent of undecided voters are non-Hispanic whites and only 22 percent of those undecideds have a four-year college degree."

Be Different - Look at the Facts

The article doesn't connect those appalling proofs of ignorance with the 'undecided' voters - it's 39% of all voters who believe that Mr. Obama went to a Muslim school. That 39% could be part of the block that
  • Won't vote for Obama
  • Will vote for Obama
  • Don't know who they'll vote for
The article doesn't say. That Newsweek article also implies that there's a connection between being white and not having a college degree, and believing things that aren't true about Obama. But the data given by the article doesn't support that idea, or refute it.

And, I've known college grads with some dubious ideas lodged in their heads so tightly, it'd take a backhoe to move them around.

Satirical, or Out of Touch?

I'm accustomed to the covers of major magazines not conforming to my values, cultural or otherwise. Minnesota, where I live, isn't even a flyover state: we're well north of the major American air routes. And, I don't live in the Twin Cities, where state policy is determined.

This 'Osama Obama' cover for The New Yorker magazine seems to have offended people in the American coastal cultures. That's remarkable, since I've gotten the impression that those are the people that the big, important, magazines aim at.

It's not good news, if editorial boards get isolated from their own culture.

There's an Election Coming Up: Stay Informed, or Stay Home!

I'll be coming back to this idea from time to time: If you don't care about the election results, please: stay home!

(from "Obama Camp Slams Satirical 'New Yorker' Magazine Cover" (FOXNews (July 13, 2008), used w/o permission)

Other bloggers' on The New Yorker satirical cover: (Given the divergent views in those posts, I shouldn't have to say this, but just in case: The views expressed in those posts are not necessarily my own - I'm providing these links to show how different people are seeing this situation.)

The New Yorker 'satirical' cover in the news:
Barack Hussein Obama's funny-sounding name and distinctly non-Anglo-Saxon appearance have raised the nonsense quotient of this presidential campaign to epic levels:
Update (October 4, 2008)
While reviewing this blog, I noticed that the New Yorker cover pictures had disappeared. This happens once in a while. Happily, this time I found another source, changed the graphics and links: and added the source to this post's "In the news" list.


Anonymous said...

You know one I just got back to see a comment left onmy post which says it for me as well. Though the commenter despised the cover he said
"The election is in the at stage of politico orgy where nothing’s happening so people start making stuff up." ( at least making stuff up to get over the top upset about) "The political orgy" is a correct term for something that to me is getting so out of hand crazy, and maybe it's just because I wasn't as aware of the surrounding of the election last time I voted nationally ( my first national election , but all these distractions and the pontification which follows is getting quite exhausting.

Anonymous said...

The magazine is doing a great job ,specially during the elections time.Its a good entertainer as well a good guide to influence the mind of voters in a right way.

Ian Thal said...

I said this on BlogCatalog:

The controversy amazes me.

Does anyone grasp who writes for The New Yorker? Who the subscriber base is? Who reads it?

Readers of The New Yorker? if they don't live in or around New York City, live in other major metropolises of America. They tend to be liberals, vote Democrat, and probably already support Obama.

Quite simply, regular readers of The New Yorker? are amongst the Americans least likely to believe the sorts of smears that inspired the front cover illustration.

Most regular readers get that cover was meant to satirize the rumor-mongers and the lies they tell-- in part because regular readers of The New Yorker are accustomed to seeing satirical covers. New Yorkers get the joke (even if they don't like the way it was told.)

The sort of folk who actually believe that the Obamas enjoy burning the American flag in their home, don't read The New Yorkeranyway.

Simply put: I was planning on voting for Senator Obama before the cover, I still plan on voting for him, I believe he will be a good president, and I still think The New Yorker is a fine magazine. But I suppose I'm one of those "ironic" people one only finds on the East Coast.

Anonymous said...

I actually find the cover funny. Whether or not it becomes grist on the mills of Obama's opponents remains to be seen, but I doubt it can have that big of an impact. Hell, can't we laugh once in a while?

(FYI: I'm an Obama supporter.)

Anonymous said...

By the way, I don't see the submissive posture you're talking about. Not at all. Besides, how would that be a Republican nightmare?

Ian Thal said...

I agree with Mark. I don't see anything "submissive" about the Michelle Obama posture. She's in full para-military gear and is posed as a hip-revolutionary. Her facial gestures are drawn to portray intelligence and agency, not submission-- even the "power-bump" gesture is one shared between equals, not between a master and servant.

Brian H. Gill said...

Thanks, all, for responding.


"Political orgy" is a new one to me - and a pretty good description of parts of the current campaign. For me, electing candidates is a bit like making sausages - I generally like the end product, but the process isn't as pleasant.

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Ian Thal,

"...I suppose I'm one of those 'ironic' people one only finds on the East Coast."

I wouldn't despair. It's quite possible that irony, as well as other human qualities, are to be found outside the New England states and southern enclaves on the East Coast.

And yes, the cover in question is clearly satirical - although possibly in poor taste. And, The New Yorker is known for satire.

What floors me is the position of many of the people who are upset over this cover. More about that later.


I think that "...can't we laugh once in a while?" is an excellent point.

Grist for the mills of Obama opponents? I don't see how - outside some rather eccentric circles, who'll see 'proof' in almost anything.

About the submissive posture - this shows up more in a low-res thumbnail, than in a more detailed view. What I noted was the S-curve of her head, body, and legs, the head bowed toward him, rather sharply, and the hand in a position that is consistent with an offering of the fingers for a gallant kiss.

I doubt that this perception was intended - unless the satire is much more multi-level than I suspect.

Ian Thal,

More about the 'submissive' posture - again, think low-res. I don't see it in the detailed view, but I still see echoes of the head-bowed, demure posture if I get the resolution low enough - under about 80 pixels across, roughly.

Brian H. Gill said...

Back to Markstoneman,

"Besides, how would that be a Republican nightmare?"

I've looked for the "Republican nightmare?" phrase. Can't find it in the 'posture' thread I started on BC, or here.

In my opinion, if this cover has any impact on the election, It's as likely to provide a reference for Republican talking points, as for Democratic ones.

Anonymous said...

@Brian: I used the phrase "Republican nightmare", because the cover is supposed to portray a nightmare of sorts for Obama's political opponents. I loosely used the term "Republican" in that sense. The image is supposed to be making fun of what opponents of Obama fear. One of those things is an assertive Michelle Obama who is just a little too hip and not patriotic enough. If you're going to paint that nightmare, a submissive Michelle Obama wouldn't have a role to play. If she were submissive, she'd be what some seem to want. Or haven't you noticed her taking flack just as Senator Clinton did back in 1992?

Anonymous said...

I should have said "what some opponents of Obama fear"

Brian H. Gill said...


Thank you for getting back on this thread of comments.

About the "Republican nightmare" - got it. And, thanks: I thought I might have missed some text there.

And, I'm glad you qualified it to 'some Obama opponents.'

Unless some posters and pundits are lying through their teeth, that weird cover probably does come pretty close to showing their fears.

Doesn't go far enough, actually. There's some genuinely rabid anti-Obama (and anti-McCain, I suppose) sentiment out there. Elections seem to get some people riled up.

What surprises me is how discussions of this cover have centered around race. Sure, Michelle's image plays up the race angle, but Barack's does the same for the religious angle.

Seriously - I haven't run into anything like the race-related outrage over this cover, regarding the overtly anti-Islamic imagery.


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