So far I’m still three for three on the write-a-thon — three weeks, three stories.
And, it’s been a while since we had a real cartoon controversy. This one is a little different, as it does not (as yet) involve any violence. To summarize: The New Yorker’s next cover is a cartoon depicting the Obamas as they are stereotyped by the right wing.
This cover hasn’t hit the newsstands yet and has already been very controversial. Some people are worried that this image is irresponsible because it can so easily be replicated without irony or context among that same right wing. Some people think it crosses an all-important line of taste, a joke that goes Too Far. And some people always seem to be missing out on the irony gene.
I would like to offer an alternate theory: by making right wing stereotyping of the Obamas explicit rather than implicit, it is useful even in contexts where the irony might be missed. I believe that racist images of the Obamas work best in secret, subconsciously, where the tribal fear instinct is hard at work. Out in the open they lose a lot of their power.
Satire by its nature pushes things into the light that wish to remain hidden. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” takes the free-market thinking of the day to its logical endpoint: turning the children of the Irish poor into a food source. Nearly everyone responds to this suggestion with instant repulsion — and anyone who isn’t repulsed is revealed to be a monster. The free-marketers are then put in the awkward position of having to defend their views as being different from the view that is seen as repulsive.
So, I have no idea if this cover is really like “A Modest Proposal” but I hope that it is. I hope it puts the right wing in a position of defending how their views aren’t really that the Obamas are secret Manchurian terrorist black panther revolutionaries intent on overthrowing the United States Government. And I hope any right winger who holds it up and says, “yes, exactly!” is universally regarded as a monster.