THE NEW YORKER magazine, in its July 21 issue has sparked plenty of controversy with their cover, shown below. The publisher insists that it is pure satire, but the Obama campaign has pushed back. And that is not at all surprising. From the apparent setting in the Oval Office, to the outfits that the two caricatures wear, (Obama in a get-up suitable for traipsing around the highlands of Afghanistan, to the Mrs., suited up in camo with an assault rifle slung over her back sporting an Angela Davis hairdo) along with a portrait of Osama Bin Laden over the fireplace, wherein an American flag is being burned, I am sure they are bristling. Probably the only thing the Obamas are not complaining about is the dead-on accurate representation of the fist-bump that I have almost never failed to see the two exchange, when appearing on the campaign trail together.
One of the things about satire, for it to work, it must land close enough to the facts, or at least perception, to be understood contextually, otherwise, it has no basis for humor. For example, had they chosen to clad Obama in a woman’s dress, that would only have been effective satire if there were those who regard him as effeminate, or perhaps the submissive partner in his marriage. Since that is not the case, that satirical caricature would fall flat on its face. And in fact, the reaction you might expect from the Obama campaign if that were the image shown on the cover would sound something more like: “What?” or “Huh?” rather than the indignation that has accompanied this one.
While I will agree that some of the satire in this cover is outrageous, the images must bear some proximity to fact or perception to have been understood contextually. Whether it is fair or funny is an individual matter. The bottom line, the satire is obvious and can be comprehended. It is established fact that Michelle Obama has spoken about her lack of pride in her country. Were her comments taken out of context? In spite of her protestations, they were not. She said what she said. In fact she did so twice in one day, at separate campaign appearances. In many ways, some of Michelle’s comments are frieghteningly close to the America-hating vitriol of her former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. As for Barack, he wrote in his book Audacity of Hope, “I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.” Add to that his refusal to wear a flag lapel pin, like virtually all other U.S. Senators, and not placing his hand over his heart during the recitation of the Pledge of Alliegence or the playing of the National Anthem, and the image of the desecration of the flag portrayed in the magazine cover takes on real satirical weight.
I can certainly understand why the Obamas have not appreciated the humor in the cover of the magazine. But perhaps they protest too much. Instead of complaining about it, which only draws more attention, they should do something to change the facts, or at least the perceptions of who they are and what they stand for. When they do that, these caricatures will cease to remain relevant.