Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Satire or Insult?

I should be going to bed now. But I'm rather intrigued by the whole brouhaha (what IS the etymology of THAT word?) surrounding this week's New Yorker cover. In case you've been hiding under a rock (believe me, you don't need to be a New Yorker reader to have seen this one; it's plastered across every news outlet of repute--or ill-repute), the cover features Barack Obama in full Muslim garb in what appears to be the oval office (well, the walls are curved. . .) along with his wife, Michelle, in terrorist/camo togs. They are fist to fist--power dapping--whatever you want to call it. Over the mantle is a pic of Bin Laden and in the fireplace burns an Amercian flag. If you're curious, you can check out the image in any number of papers or on many blogs. The LA Times website has a particularly easy-to-view image, here.

I hadn't had much time to read the paper or review the news online until this evening. I did, however, pull the much-maligned New Yorker cover (along with the rest of the magazine) out of my mailbox. A quick glance had me chuckling before I chucked the periodical onto my towering pile of unopened mail. (After all, the orthodontist waits for no magazine, not even one as venerable as the New Yorker).

Full disclosure--I love Barry Blitt, who is responsible for this cover. His cover of Ahmadinejad sitting on the can, with a sandaled foot creeping into his stall from the one next to it might be one of my all-time favorites--truly a classic. When I need cheering up, I just pull out that cover and begin to feel better pronto.

Now, as I said, my first response was amusement. Then I opened my newspaper. I must say, initially, I was surprised at the outcry this cover evoked. Although I suppose I should not have been. At the risk of sounding elitist (whoo-hoo, guess Barack and I have something in common!!), it seemed pretty apparent that it was meant to be satire, but I had forgotten how literal much of the U.S. population is. People just didn't get it. I felt superior. For a little while.

Then I began thinking it through a bit more--specifically as regards the Obamas' reactions to the cover. At first I thought--enh, Barack should've just laughed it off, recognizing it for the satire it was--and I still think that may have been the best way to handle it, whether he honestly felt that way or not. BUT then I put myself in his and Michelle's shoes (G-d forbid---luckily, my husband's past pretty much precludes any attempts at running for higher public office. Nothing horrible, just, well, you know, he grew up in the 70s...).

How many of us, after having been repeatedly and wrongly accused of all sorts of heinous things would be able just to laugh it off? I don't know about you, but if I'm falsely accused of something often enough, I tend to get defensive. More defensive than I might be under other circumstances. A one-time comment is easy enough in most cases to dismiss. But when you've been attacked time and again, it becomes harder to do that. Think about it in these terms: Say your spouse has wrongly accused you of something--adultery, forgetting to scoop the dog's poop, leaving the toilet seat up AGAIN, whatever--not once, but many, many times. I suspect you'd start to get a little sensitive, a little defensive, a little prickly, when the subject came up the next time, even if it was in the context of a joke.

Viewed this way, Barack's terse response ("no comment") and the negative response of his camp seem fairly understandable. We could debate all day whether his reaction was the "right" way to handle the situation. But in the end, he--and his camp-- just proved that they are human, with all the feelings and failings that come with it. And that, I think, is forgivable (as long as your finger isn't on the button . . .if you know what I mean).

I'd love to hear (read?) what you think about the cover controversy. Comment below, and I'll ante up a copy of one of Barack's books--either The Audacity of Hope or Dreams from My Father. Your choice. Winner will be selected at random. Which means I'll either draw names out of a hat, or just close my eyes and point at the screen.

Addendum: For those who actually do want to learn the etymology of the word "brouhaha," I found the following on the Online Etymology Dictionary:
brouhaha Look up brouhaha at Dictionary.com
1890, from Fr. brouhaha (1552), said to have been, in medieval theater, "the cry of the devil disguised as clergy." Perhaps from Heb. barukh habba' "blessed be the one who comes," used on public occasions.


Anonymous said...

Goodness- sometimes reading blogs can get me out from under my rock! Somehow, I had missed this one... I have to agree with you that it would have been cool of him to laugh but he must be getting just a tiny bit over the whole thing! Interesting read- glad I found it!

Anonymous said...

I love the New Yorker but, given how visual we seem to be in this country, I do think it borders on being irresponsible. For every handful of people who see it as biting satire and appreciate it, you know there's a roomful of people thinking 'aha, I knew there was something fishy about that guy.' Somewhere out there this cover's going to be held up in front of a crowd of people, waved around, and used against Obama. I'm not sure those people would have voted for him anyway, but still...we tend to respond pretty strongly to images, even when all the logic is available.

Kim Moldofsky said...

I first learned about this from a blog, too! (Plain Jane Mom)

I realize it's meant to be satire, but I think it goes a bit too far on a sensitive issue. I'm completely surpised it was published on the cover of such a repurable magazine.

Chicago Moms Blog
(see you at BlogHer?)

justme said...

here is my thought. the reason i could see them (barack and camp) being upset is b/c there is a large percent of the population who can be influenced by this cover and believe the negative suggestions. i don't think the average american reads the new yorker.
horrible mom has some good points

Anonymous said...

I love the New Yorker (though nowadays I rarely get to actually read it), but I'm not really a satire kind of gal. Actually, I generally have a bad sense of humor when it comes to this sort of thing. Knowing that, however, I tried to look at the cover objectively (disclosure: I am an Obama supporter).

I can see why Obama was upset. I agree that it will be taken literally or at least used against him. Is that the New Yorkers responsibility? To protect him from his detractors? Not really. It's their responsibility to comment on society and politics and that's what they did. I do think it's satire; perhaps not the best example of it, but definitely satire.

I'm sure Ahmadinejad ain't to happy with his cover either. Or Bush for that matter. I agree, it would have been better if Obama said, haha, we get it. Even if they didn't.

Karen said...

Thanks to all those who've commented thus far. Always interesting. I'll probably run this giveaway until sometime this evening (Pacific time)--at which time I'll post a winner. I love power!

Stacey--if you're a mom, the rock is ever-present. Can't tell you the number of times my husband has come home from work and said "Did you hear. . . ." only to be met with a blank stare!

horrible mom--(you are not!)--I understand your point. At the same time, I wouldn't want to limit the press's ability to choose to print such things. 1st amendment and yadda, yadda. One of the great things about our country. NYer has the right to print what it wants, and the public has a right to comment, gripe or praise. I'd hate to see this turning into what happened in the Netherlands (or was it Sweden?? Sheesh, talk about under a rock!) with the political cartoon of Muhammed.

Kim--interesting--but see above re 1st amendment. Luckily, we all have the right to make bad choices, and make them publicly. Yes, I'll be at BlogHer. But not in hotpants. See you there!

Feener--also good points, but disappointing about the ability of Americans to distinguish between truth and satire.

Nina--Agreed, while it could be considered in poor taste (although I'm not sure I feel that way in this case), the New Yorker was doing its thing, which it has a right to do. Censorship can get ugly. We could have looooooong discussions about where to draw the line. . .but I've got to eat breakfast. BTW, I, too, support Barack (although after hearing Michelle speak, I think SHE should be president--she rocks). He was in my law school class, although I didn't know him. However, my husband, my ex-boyfriend and two of my former housemates know him quite well. When he became president of law review, people were already joking about him becoming U.S. President. . (P.S. He's not a Muslim, nor a terrorist, nor even particularly an Arab sympathizer. In fact, he's extremely bright and quite thoughtful--if only he can stay on track and not be corrupted by the political process as it exists now).

Florinda said...

My impression is that the cover was intended to be satire - and most regular readers of The New Yorker would get that, even if they didn't think it was all that funny. For the record, I didn't find it all that funny - my reaction was more like "what were they THINKING?"

The problem, as I see it, is that there was no way this cover was NOT going to come to the attention of people who don't regularly read The New Yorker, and it was going to be TROUBLE. As you say, Karen, much of the U.S. population is very literal - and too many of them really believe things like those the cover depicted about the Obamas.

Some jokes just fall flat, and I think this was one of them. Running that cover wasn't the best call on the magazine's part, if you ask me - for the Obamas, at any rate. it was a great move as far as getting more attention for The New Yorker.

Kim Tracy Prince said...

Coming from a media standpoint, I am certain that the New Yorker cooked this up to get attention. How many copies do you think will get burned and then sold out by this controversy?

Personally, my reaction is :yawn:. What does it mean and how does it affect any outcome? I'm sick of the media already, this just makes it worse.

Also, I am just now starting to be curious about reading Obama's books, so I love me a good giveaway.

Anonymous said...

I love satire, but have never considered mocking someone's religion funny. Never have, never will. I get the point that people think Obama is Muslim based on his name alone... sadly, we are *hoping* those same people will *get* the satirical joke.

-- LTV Mom

Sharon G. said...

When I first saw the cover, I, like you, was amused. It clearly came across as satire to me. The satire was obvious, not just because a certain percentage of the population believes -- regardless of what Obama says -- that Obama is a Muslim and attended some type of terrorist madrasah as a child, but also because when Barack and Michelle engaged in what we call "knucks" (for knuckles), the media made a huge deal out of it, with the ever-annoying Fox News Channel even claiming that what they called "fist bumping" may have terrorist origins.

I have no doubt that the typical reader of The New Yorker would have recognized the image on the cover for the satire it was intended to be.

So, it is just the more literal-minder, non-New Yorker reader that we are concerned about. If the media would not have tried so hard to scandalize this cover -- that most journalists know full-well was intended for the satire-loving New Yorker reader who would have gotten the joke -- no one other than the New Yorker readers would even have seen or cared about this cover. Don't these people in the media have more important things to do than to create scandals and controversies were none should exist??! I guess not!

Karen said...

Folks--I haven't forgotten you--just got caught up in getting to and attending BlogHer. If I get a chance to pick the winner while I'm here, I will. If not, I will do so upon my return. . .Thanks for your patience. (Someone turned me on to Random.org--so I might let the computer pick the winner for me. . .. !) k

Karen said...


Florinda! Congratulations!

In case anyone is wondering, I used www.random.org to determine the winner--and more specifically, their list randomizer. The first name on the randomized list was the winner....

Now, Florinda, here's what I need from you: The title of the Obama book you want and the address to which you want the book sent.

Thanks again to all who participated. I'm sure I'll have more contests in the future.

Be well!

Hugo said...