This cartoon response to The New Yorker‘s cover appears in the August 4 issue of The Nation.
To some, it was satire. To others, it was offensive and malicious. The New Yorker‘s cover, “Politics of Fear,” shows Barack Obama dressed as a Muslim fist-bumping his gun-toting wife. New Yorker Editor David Remnick defended his magazine’s decision to run the controversial cartoon, explaining that “the intent of the cover is to satirize the vicious and racist attacks and rumors and misconceptions about the Obamas that have been floating around in the blogosphere and are reflected in public opinion polls. What we set out to do was to throw all these images together, which are all over the top and to shine a kind of harsh light on them, to satirize them. That’s part of what we do.” Or, as comedian Bill Maher observed, “If you can’t do irony on the cover of The New Yorker, where can you?” I tend to agree.
We’ve had a long history here at The Nation of publishing what many readers, editors, contributors, staff members considered sexist, or just generally offensive, cartoons, satirical images and pictures. Edward Sorel, David Levine, Robert Grossman, Art Spiegelman have all been the brunt of attack in this area. (For more on The Nation and its history of cartoons and caricatures and showdowns around them, read Victor Navasky’s spirited memoir, A Matter of Opinion.)
It’s interesting how through time, especially in these last years, images seem more powerful, troubling, provocative and threatening than words. Why is that? Hard to fully fathom. Perhaps the speed with which images, unmoored from their original home and context, zip around the 36/7 Internet? Whatever the full range of reasons, it seems to me that one fact is that a caricature is almost by definition provocative, often offensive. It’s a misrepresentation, an exaggeration for effect, a parody.
While I understand why many object to this cartoon–and to images which they believe reinforce stereotypes (and there are many at The Nation who found the New Yorker cartoon offensive), I believe satire–even if it flops or offends –has a place in our culture and politics. But why not listen to the cartoonists? We asked a few of our regulars to help us think through the controversy–from their perspective.
As a cartoonist I am unswervingly pro-cartoon. All humor is intrinsically subject to misinterpretation. I am sure there are some oafish Americans out there who believe in ghosts and Bigfoot, who will get hold of this picture and say say, “See, what did I tell you?” But I don’t think there are many of them.