Debate and commentary of the ‘satirical’ cover of The New Yorker, which depicts Obama as an American flag burning Muslim and Michelle as an afro-haired camo-wearing guerilla warrior has flooded the blogosphere. For a good round up, see Michelle Obama Watch here or take in Jill’s link-filled piece at Feministe here. And, to sign a letter calling upon the magazine to pull this issue from news stands, see The Feminist Majority petition here.
What the question posed in the title of this post tries to get at is that John and Cindy couldn’t be characterized in this way because the cultural imagination does not trade in ready made racist stereotypes for white men or have an array of images with which to animalize/otherize white women. Further, John and Cindy have not been put under near the same amount or kind of scrutiny as Obama and Michelle.
Perhaps if John was displayed in a KKK cape carrying a dead pregnant woman while calling a drug-upped Cindy a cunt with a “Bomb Iran” poster hanging in the background we might approximate the ‘satire’ in the above image. But, then again, no. This is nowhere near anything similar because what is displayed in The New Yorker cover feeds into FALSE accusations and media generated stereotypes, while the John and Cindy caricature I suggest is based on truth – John McCain’s policies are racist, his ‘pro-life’ agenda is anything but, and his bomb happy demeanor is all too true. This is why the first caricature happened, and the second never would.
Of course, the caricature that did run also came about because we live in a racist, anti-Muslim, anti-(black)-woman society. An image like this of a white presidential couple wouldn’t fly – you might be able to mock their sex lives (ala Bill and blow jobs) but as for questioning their patriotism or their religious faith, nope, ain’t gonna see that on any covers anytime soon.
That’s why this cover is not funny-it’s appalling. And I don’t care how many “smart New Yorker’s” are going to “get the joke.” The point is that this satire misfires, and will likely ignite a whole heap of neo-con orgasmic chortles because the real joke, it seems, has been had by the corporatist media when even so called progressive publications trade in this type of racist misogynistic tripe masquerading as humor.
(Note: After emailing The New Yorker, I recieved an automatic reply that read in part as follows:
Our cover, “The Politics of Fear,” combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are. The burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall- all of them echo one attack or another. Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd. And that’s the spirit of this cover. In this same issue you will also see that there are two very serious articles on Barack Obama inside…
Ok, but why put the “serious articles” on the inside where only readers will find them while leaving this imagery on the cover (and completely out of context) for many more people to see? If the magazine wanted to show these “obvious distortions” it could have put them inside the magazine and instead displayed satiric images that skewered the mainstream media for creating these attacks in the first place on the cover.
The cover as it stands does not “hold up a mirror” to prejudice, but perpetuates it. One thing it has brought “out in the open” is The New Yorker seems more interested in selling mags and generating PR via incendiary images than through putting a stop to “the hateful, and the absurd.”)