Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

ON THE MEDIA / JAMES RAINEY

Has it gotten so difficult to recognize satire?

July 15, 2008|JAMES RAINEY

We've already scratched thrift, candor and brevity off the list of virtues in this presidential cycle, so why not eliminate humor too?

That seems to be the fondest wish of a few commentators and legions of Internet blatherers, who spent much of Monday vilifying New Yorker magazine for this week's cover, which depicts Barack and Michelle Obama as a couple of gun-toting, flag-burning, America-hating terrorists.

It seemed fairly obvious to me, my 8-year-old and, likely, the majority of readers of one of America's finest magazines that the cover drawing by Barry Blitt was a parody. In other words (for those still struggling with the concept), the joke was not on the Obamas but on the knuckle-walkers who would do them harm by trying to turn a couple of fresh-scrubbed Harvard Law grads into something foreign and scary.

Yet online discussion boards from coast to coast overflowed with anger and despair that the image of the golden young senator from Illinois had somehow been taken in vain.

A grass-roots organizer in Chicago named Mark S. Allen made his complaint to one of the Chicago Tribune's blogs.

"I will NEVER purchase or read The New Yorker Magazine again!!" mewled Allen. "I found your current cover on the Obamas extremely insulting, hurtful, racist and not worthy of the reward of my continuing to purchase The New Yorker."

That was mild compared to the shame that Chuck-in-Wichita heaped on the New Yorker via his comment to the Los Angeles Times' politics blog, Top of the Ticket. Chuck failed "to see the humor in that rag they call a magazine." Not content to merely boycott the magazine, he pledged "to never even visit New York, let alone live there."

But it was not only the general public that fumed. Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks, running for L.A. County supervisor, woofed on cable TV about the outrage of it all.

Chicago Tribune columnist/blogger Eric Zorn gave notice that he is waiting for the magazine to launch an equal-ink takedown depicting John McCain as "about 150 years old and spouting demented non-sequiturs in the middle of a violent temper tantrum while, in the corner, his wife is passed out next to a bottle of pills."

Actually, someone who has maintained a little more perspective already obliged. David Horsey, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, riffed on the Blitt illustration with a McCain portrait of his own.

Horsey's image shows a drooling, wheelchair-bound McCain, singing "Bomb bomb bomb -- bomb bomb Iran," as wife Cindy pours dozens of pills from a vial and implores her husband, "Take some of my meds to get through the inaugural parade!"

Playing off the New Yorker cartoon, in which an Osama bin Laden portrait adorns the Oval Office, an American flag aflame in the fireplace, Horsey poses the McCains in front of a Dick Cheney portrait, their fire burning a copy of the Constitution.

Lest anyone miss the point, the cartoonist dedicates the piece to all those "irony-challenged literalists who were upset by the New Yorker's Obama-as-a-Muslim magazine cover."

That's coming from a self-described progressive who has put a world of hurt on President Bush but who said in an interview that he sees a disturbing "lack of irony or sense of humor" among some Obama supporters.

Jon Stewart regularly rides roughshod over candidates of both parties but hears nary a whimper. That's as it should be. The "Daily Show" host is, after all, lampooning a system overflowing with absurdity and irony.

Audiences understand those broadsides as satire but fret like kindergarten teachers when it comes to one image on a printed page. "It's like they need a flashing light saying, 'It's a joke,' or they lose the capacity to judge," Horsey said.

And speaking of judgment, how is it that Obamites, who are justifiably furious over threats to civil liberties under the current administration, suddenly want to play censor when the 1st Amendment puts their man even remotely on the hot seat?

If Barry Blitt is anything, it's brilliantly provocative. The New Yorker artist sent up the furor over gays in the military by playing off a famous end-of-World-War-II photo: Instead of a sailor and a pretty girl in amorous embrace, he drew two male sailors doubled over in a lip-lock.

A few years back, Blitt spoofed the idea of President Bush as a maid -- complete with apron and feather duster -- to the shadow president, a scowling, cigar-smoking Cheney.

In March, no one seemed to mind when Blitt had Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama in the same bed (maybe there is progress?), both in their pajamas and lunging to be the one to answer that proverbial 3 a.m. phone call on some global crisis.

Obama's supporters are desperately afraid, and not without cause, that his image and record will be distorted.

The Huffington Post's Rachel Sklar took the New Yorker to task for providing an image that plays into all the reactionary stereotypes of "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."

But those who are going to fantasize about the Obamas as jihadists or un-American won't rely on a simple drawing. They'll recycle old pictures of the senator in African robes, or rely on some creative YouTube splicing.

The Obama campaign felt it had to reject the New Yorker cartoon as "tasteless and offensive." The McCain camp quickly reached the same verdict.

Obama was the one man capable of putting the "furor" in its proper context. But he didn't.

Instead of his terse no comment, he should have played one of his strongest cards -- his cool -- responding something like: "Hey, I thought Michelle looked pretty good in camouflage."

--

james.rainey@latimes.com

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|