Monday, July 14, 2008

Politics of Fear and Obama

I'm sure that most of you have seen this image by now. This illustration (artist, Barry Blitt) on the cover of of the July 21, 2008 issue of The New Yorker depicts Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama dressed as a Muslim and his wife, Michelle Obama, as a terrorist. To top it off, there's a picture of Bin Laden on the wall and the American flag burning in the fire place. The magazine claims that it is using satire to address the use of scare tactics and misinformation by some media outlets to derail the Obama presidential campaign; However, I believe that an illustration like this could do more harm than good.

Lets' face it, Americans scare easily. Placing an image like this in front of an American public that is constantly reminded of the threat of terrorism is not a smart move. It only adds fire to a pot that's all ready boiling over and perpetuates the growing negativity towards the Muslim community. In closing, I feel that media organizations should be more responsible in their dissemination of information and their overall coverage of the presidential elections. Tell me what you think.

Photo credit: (AP Photo/New Yorker)

Source: The Associated Press


prin said...

When I first saw that I literally wanted to throw up. I was horrified beyond belief. If there ever was a line that was crossed then the New Yorker crossed it with more stupidity than I have seen in print in a long time. This was not funny or clever or anything else. Whoever decided to run it should be fired, plain and simple. I personally would like to be in line at the "tar and feathers" or "stoning" ceremonies.

MJW said...

Can't agree with you this time, Stephen. I'm an Obama supporter, voted for him in the DC primary and will certainly vote for him in November. And I thought this cover was spot on in its satire of the right-wing portrayal of Obama. I also thought the satire was pretty obvious to all but the most ignorant of observers.

People do scare easily--but that doesn't mean we have to tailor every image and every publication to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The New Yorker is a magazine designed to appeal to the intellectual elite, and thus so are its covers.

Nobody who is inclined to believe that Obama is a Muslim terrorist reads the New Yorker, and nobody who would see the cartoon cover as evidence of Obama's terrorist ties, is ever going to be convinced of the truth anyway.

I don't really feel that the New Yorker did anything wrong by running this cover. I don't think they owe anyone an apology, and I don't think they have crossed any line of responsibility or even thoughtlessness. That a thinking person's publication ought to be dumbed down just in case a non-thinking person comes across it? To me that's much more dangerous.

Stephen A. Bess said...

It goes to show how that fear can manifest itself in so many ways. Thanks for that comment.

How are you? This won't be the first time that you don't agree with me. lol! :) Thanks for that comment. I agree that New Yorker is targeted to a specific audience, but there are many in America who don't necessarily think on that level.

I'm not saying that we are a bunch of dumb Americans, but the ignorance you speak of is growing and so is the fear. The good news for The New Yorker Magazine is that controversy will spark readership.

All-Mi-T [Thought Crime] Rawdawgbuffalo said...

was funny to me
all i can think of was thats how he looks based on the gop attack machine
im more concerned about the rapid grwth in china, the stabalized juan and how it may make the global economy even worse, but that is just me

Stephen A. Bess said...

Your comment makes me realize how much more I need to learn about what's REALLY going on. Thanks.

Crankyputz said...

I find it interesting that had this not become such a fire storm the average American would never have seen the cover...

Stephen A. Bess said...

Yes, hence magazine sales. It may even become a collectable.

Anonymous said...

I was shocked and outraged when I saw it personally. But I have to agree with crazyputz that if it had not been on the news and everywhere else, most of us would have never seen it... interesting... But it still in my opinion is not ok to publish. It is unexcuseable. I have not been that shocked by something I have seen in a long time something made up at least. (I of course have been shocked and horrified and irrate by too many things that you see and hear about that are real in the world.) There is just no reason to print such a thing.

On a seperate note. I am sorry I have not been around again, I was laid off and do not have a computer at home, so was unable to blog much. But I thankfully have a new job and will check in as often as I can. I hope all is well with you and the family. Here all is pretty fair. Have a great day!

fitzgerald said...


I have to admit that I am torn on this one. I routinely make jokes about George Bush and other right wing politicians all the time. Rush Limbaugh is one of my favorite targets (He is fat, a drug addict and gets paid way too much money for what he does, see I could not help myself, LOL). So why not make jokes about Obama. I too am a supporter and I voted for the man and will do it again in November. Another example, I love this New Yorker cover.

I don't really believe that the Obama cover will change anybodies mind. Those who support Obama will not be deterred by this, and his detractors will just nod in approval. Even independents make their mind of in the last few weeks prior to the elections, so I don't believe this will effect them either.

As a guy who also has a comedy blog, I know that satire is a difficult form of comedy to pull off. We love it when it skewers our enemies but hate it when it skewers one of our sacred cows. That is human nature. It is a form of comedy that is not for everybody.

Barack Obama is a difficult target for comedians to make fun of, but the late night comedians do a good job. Check out this article from the NY Times.

I love the following quote from the article, "The reason cited by most of those involved in the shows is that a fundamental factor is so far missing in Mr. Obama: There is no comedic “take” on him, nothing easy to turn to for an easy laugh, like allegations of Bill Clinton's womanizing, or President Bush’s goofy bumbling or Al Gore's robotic persona."
“The thing is, he’s not buffoonish in any way,” said Mike Barry, who started writing political jokes for Johnny Carson's monologues in the waning days of the Johnson administration and has lambasted every presidential candidate since, most recently for Mr. Letterman. “He’s not a comical figure,” Mr. Barry said.

And here is another good list of jokes about Obama.

For a list of of Officially approved jokes about Obama check this out;

Big Mama said, "Baby, you have to take yourself lightly, because the angels do." We have to be able to laugh at ourselves and our leaders as well.

prin said...

Mr. West, I have debated with myself all day whether or not to dignify your comment with a response.
There was a time in my life(I was about your age) when I was considered to be one of the "intellectual elite" and I do completely understand the purpose intended for the caricature.
As one who works in social services I think it was the machine gun slung over Michelle Obama's shoulder and that implication I felt crossed the line, by yet again portraying a female in a portrait that could only perpetuate misogyny. In these times if anyone should know better it should be the "intellectual elite"
My ability to communicate as an "intellectual" was taken from me 20 years ago by circumstances I won't bore you with so I have found a commenter on Slate that has communicated my feelings on the matter.

"Of course The New Yorker intended for the illustration to be satirical. The problem is: satire, and satiric caricature, are hard. Really, seriously hard. And this cover completely fails at it… The concept is simple enough: convey in caricature all the smears about the Obamas, and this in and of itself will look so absurd that it will be funny. At some point, however, the illustrator or the editors should have realized what was self-evident: the very fact the these absurd smears are gaining traction means that no simple illustration of them will have their intended effect.

Because the drawing is executed so straight-forwardly and earnestly, it doesn't look like a parody; it looks like an attack ad. It doesn't look like it's making fun of people who believe the smears; it looks like a way to ingrain those smears in people's memories. Put this drawing on the National Review, and would it seem out of place? Would it seem like they "didn't mean it that way"? Of course not.

Any satire that can be easily used to further the viewpoint it's trying to satirize, is, by definition, a failure. The New Yorker cover fails abysmally.


Sista GP said...

At first glance, I was shocked that someone would publish something like this. Upon further review, I noticed all the items representing all the crap that has been spreading about the Obamas. The illustration seemed silly then I moved on. There was no interest in it further nor a desire to read the accompanying article.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your take on the magazine cover. If "The New Yorker" wanted to use satire to address scare tactics in politics, they could have just "discussed" it, rather than putting an image like this on their cover. This is completely absurd, and it is very easy to make anyone feel uncomfortable seeing something like this. To take it to the level of flag burning and Islamic bashing is not fair. I am not a muslim, but I am sure that there are those that are muslim that are tired of dealing with the bitter criticisms day after day. I am appalled at the image and the suggestions, and "The New Yorker" should find a better way to satirize.


Mickle in NZ said...

Hello Stephen, I'm in New Zealand. Well the front page of that magazine made "front page" radio & tv media and plus here in NZ.

Not liked

Sending love and care to you and yours, very genuine care and love from Michelle in NZ,a Pakeha of 1/4 Irish, aboiut the same of Scots, 1/6th ukrainian and the rest some kind of midland english (as happens) descent

Mickle in NZ said...

1/16th ukranian makes for better maths. This dear Great,great grandfather emigrated to England, and changed his surname to .....Smith

Love and care and concern and gentle huggles, Mickle in NZ

Stephen A. Bess said...

Thanks for comments. I've had time to think about it and I'm still not liking it. I'm glad to hear that your ok. It's always great to hear from you.

I don't think that supporters will be discouraged, but my concern was for the portryal of not only Obama, but Muslims. I think that it's all right to make fun. The problem is that many Americans and the world are afraid of terrorist attacks and this just adds to the fear in a sort of humorous way. I need to check out your comedy blog. Enjoy your weekend.

Sista Gp-
I can dig it. We must move on and focus on things to come and also focus on the important things that are not highlighted in the news. Thanks.

Yes, find a better way. Well, you know they say that it is freedom of the press and freedom of expression and the First Amendment. These things are sometimes practiced and expressed in a detrimental way. Welcome and thank you.

Thanks for stopping in. You have an interesting history. I'll come to your blog to find out more. Also, thanks for letting us know what the people in New Zealand think of the New Yorker piece. Welcome and thanks.

heiresschild said...

i agree with you, but it could go either way. for some, it'll fuel their fire to be more determined in their voting for Obama, but for others, it could ignite some fear. the american public is fickle anyway, so something like this only makes them more so. as for your comment, "I feel that media organizations should be more responsible in their dissemination of information and their overall coverage of the presidential elections.", i agree with you, but this is the media's modus operandi. doesn't make it right, but it's the way they roll.

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