Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Politics of Satire

The cover of the latest issue of The New Yorker's has stirred up the shit. It is quite possible to be just a little too clever, it seems, especially in the murky, hyper-literal waters of today's political scene. The cartoon in question, which depicts Barack Obama as a Muslim (presumable of the extremist persuasion) and his wife as a Black Panther-esque radical as they fist bump in the oval office while the American flag burns under the a portrait of Osama bin Laden, is high satire; it is supremely ironic, smirking not only at the contents of the cartoon but, more importantly, at those who would in fact create such a cartoon or be persuaded by it. Here is the cartoon, titled The Politics of Fear, in all its glory:

Of course, most people - Republican and Democrat alike - entirely missed the point of the cartoon. In such a depressingly ignorant and unthinking time as this, a time in which such scientific and altogether non-racially biased terms as black hole can lead to hurt feelings, heated arguments and apologies amongst adults, the irony of depicting a presidential candidate as a Muslim extremist - the very point of which is to mock the very idea that such a notion could exist! - is likely going to rub a lot of people the wrong way. (Note: Okay, I used a word I hate. "Ignorant." Terms such as "ignorant" and "unthinking" are often used these days as agenda-driven political buzzwords, as euphemisms used to denigrate the intelligence of those who do not believe the same things you do. I don't use the word this way. I mean it literally. When I say our historical time is unthinking and ignorant, I don't mean that it rejects what I believe, I mean that it is, quite literally, unintelligent and incapable of higher thought, regardless of what ideological direction those thoughts may take. If you cannot understand satire, or if you think that every phrase or term that includes the word "black" is racially biased, you have no business pretending to be an adult). That an alarmingly small amount of North American people today lack the hermeneutical ability to discern satire from sincerity is not The New Yorker's fault.

The New Yorker knew what it was doing when it ran the cartoon, likely knew that the majority of people who saw the cartoon would, especially as a first reaction, misread the cartoon and, in the parlance of out time, unleash a shit-storm of invective, denials, fury and hate, all of which they very predictably did, thank you very much. It is distressing that these are the types of people leading the free-world, people who cannot even read a cartoon, people who can't see the joke, people capable only of the most elementary and literal of thought. I do not necessarily applaud The New Yorker for their cartoon, nor do I agree with their take on the rhetoric surrounding Barack Obama or the need to denigrate people uneasy about Obama's political ties and agenda. I can see what the cartoon is, however; I can see the satire, which is more than most people do. As a piece of political propaganda, the cartoon is rather uninteresting; however, as a gauge for measuring North American literacy (and don't be fooled, the ability to recognize satire is a literacy issue), the cartoon may reveal a little too much about the intellectual short-comings of North American politicians.

1 comment:

Nevis said...

Saw this on the news while I was out of town...and oddly enough I found it amusing in a horribly sad way that people didn't GET it.