Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This shouldn't have happened

Fire that cartoonist!

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archiv … 014079.php

You'll notice that Michelle Obama is depicted with a big Afro, wearing a bandolier of bullets and an assault rifle, camo pants and army boots. The scene is the Oval Office, where a portrait of Osama bin Laden (or some other traditionally-dressed Middle Eastern man) is hanging up, and an American flag is burning in a fire-place.

The cartoonist is claiming that this is an attempt to satire all the racism against Barack amd show it up. I'd say someone should tell this guy that you don't criticize racism by giving it a huge billboard, but I expect he already knows that. What the cover really looks like is the image one would expect to find on a racist t-shirt.

Is it a satire of racism to put a statue of a mamie or whatever on your lawn?

Anyway, the South Park style of satire is far from what The New Yorker usually does with its covers. I don't follow the magazine closely, but I used to subscribe and I've seen it enough to notice the covers are usually much more tame and sedate. There's something not normal about this new cover.

Let's assume it's legitimate satire: Then can we always criticize racism by this method now? Instead of criticizing racism against Obama in particular, can I criticize racism in the society in general by drawing a cartoon of a bunch of tall black guys holding down a white teenaged girl on her bed, with a basketball sitting next to the bed-- the idea being that it's making fun of what racists fantasize if you depict it? Frankly, if people went walking around with the image from the New Yorker cover (or the hypothetical image I described) on a t-shirt, I think people would have very good reason to think it's a racist image and to be angry with the person wearing the shirt. Calling the New Yorker cartoon legit satire of racism is tantamount to saying that a cartoon like the one I described would be legitimate satire of racism.

I just can't see how what was racist speech yesterday is now all of a sudden anti-racist speech just because this guy is claiming it is. I think considering how screwed-up the media has become (Tim Russert eulogized for a week and a half non-stop?! Come on!) we have reason to be concerned about something like this-- not the opposite.

What if The New Yorker did a cover depicting John McCain smiling and wearing a black SS uniform, sitting on top of a pile of corpses of combat-uniformed American soldiers, with a couple of barrels of oil on either side of the pile, and some green dollars sticking out of McCain's pockets? People would have no trouble saying that editorialism / partisanship to that degree is inappropriate for the cover of the magazine.

If this cartoon was legitimate satire it was way too close to the line of what should be considered legitimate satire (especially because of the context of the times and venue for distribution / audience of the magazine cover, and everything).

I'm still disturbed by the fact that if you just look at the magazine cover for what it obviously looks like (w/o anyone's "explanation"), then what it obviously looks like is a smearing, juvenile racist image about our Democratic presidential candidate got put on the cover of a widely distributed, famous magazine that will appear on newstands all over the country for 1 month. No cartoon in that venue and that could effect a presidential election should require an explanation from the cartoonist in order for people to "get it" instead of very possibly taking a racist message away from it.

If just some kid in a high school drew that for, say, an art class project, students and parents would be rightly offended. Or if it just showed up on a billboard, ditto. Some guy makes ridiculous pretensions to high-mindedness and avant garde art, though, and people are ready to let him get away with putting racist caricatures on the cover of a major magazine.

Hopefully this country has not become so weird over the past few years that some person can get away with this racist characterization of Barack Obama just by throwing out a paper-thin excuse.