When the New Yorker last week ran a cover illustration spoofing the right-wing critique of Barack Obama, it was another instance in which the storied magazine put a provocative point on its front page.
As Jake Tapper wrote on an ABC News blog, “There’s the Art Spiegelman Valentine’s Day picture of a Hasidic man in lip-lock with an African-American woman; Ed Sorel has depicted bin Laden on the subway; Saul Steinberg’s 1976 homage to a New Yorker’s egoistic view of the world is legendary. More recent . . . covers of some edge and note include one commenting simultaneously on the Larry Craig ‘for whom the stall tolls’ scandal and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments about homosexuality; the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Bush presidency; and Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, in bed together with the red phone ringing.”
Let’s face reality: for all the energy he has injected into the political process, Obama doesn’t walk on water. The New Yorker story accompanying last week’s cover documented some of the self-interested maneuvering he made while making his political rise in Chicago.
Yet some Obama supporters have been among the most vociferous voices reacting to the cover depicting Michelle Obama as a black-power activist and the candidate himself as a Muslim, with a picture of bin Laden on the wall and a burning American flag in the fireplace.
Local labor activist Pat Crowley, for example, on Facebook and on the Rhode Island’s Future blog (rifuture.org) called for a boycott of the New Yorker.
Are you kidding me? Have our sensibilities become so tender, so rigid, and so politically correct that it’s out of bounds to poke fun at a liberal favorite?
Meanwhile, and maybe it was just due to space constraints, but it’s worth noting that Ryan Lizza, a political writer for the New Yorker, was turned down when he requested a spot on the plane for Obama’s trip to the Middle East and Europe. When I noted this on my blog, Crowley’s response was, “Payback is a bitch.”
Satire is a tricky thing. To two different people, the same piece can alternately be amusing or offensive — a situation reflected by the conflicting reactions of some media pundits to the Obama cover.
Yet it in our current national climate of hyper-partisanship, people are too often unwilling to disagree without being disagreeable. An analog to that is intolerance for satire that targets something other than one’s own favorite villains.
Philip Kennicott, a cultural critic at the Washington Post, nailed this point during an online chat: “As a working journalist, can I just suggest the possibility that we not all cancel our subscriptions every time something offends us? I know it’s tempting. But here’s an analogy: I live in a neighborhood with about two really good restaurants, at which I don’t always have a really good meal. If everyone refused to return based on one overcooked plate of tuna, I’d live in a neighborhood with no good restaurants at all.”