Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Amidst the original satire (The New Yorker) and the analysis of the satire (The New York Times) with the commentary in the analysis (Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, etc.) and the satire of the analysis (Andy Borowitz) and the commentary that analyzed the satire with commentary (Maureen Dowd), it's no wonder Americans are getting headaches (and then reaching for the government-manufactured headache-killing pill).
Still, amongst all the stupid outrage and the outrage about the outrage, one of my favorite things about this New Yorker Obama cover art controversy is how people, including Mr. Obama himself, are calling this comic their "attempt at satire." It almost suggests as if the magazine's editors are trying out this newfangled elitist type of humor that is some pole-vaulting feat if done just right.
To take more of Obama's response, which he gave on that old Jewish comedian's television show ("Larry King Live" I think?), the Senator and fashion mogul said, "I know it was the New Yorker's attempt at satire. I don't think they were entirely successful with it."
Let's stop there. Why weren't they entirely successful with it? It was a logical satirization, was it not? The creator does not really believe Barack and Michelle are two Osama-hailing, flag-burning, terrorist fist-jabbing radical Islamic extremists disguised as the next President and First Lady of a nation that they are not "proud" of or pledge allegiance to. Rather, the creator believes that those who believe those notions are probably rather silly. Thus, he poked fun at the siliness. Via a cartoon. In a magazine known for satirical cartoons.
Obama answers his own question: "In attempting to satirize something," he says, "they probably fueled some misconceptions about me instead." And how could they fuel misconceptions with their "attempt" at satire? Simple: the audience doesn't get the satire. And not the New Yorker's usual audience, but the American people.
Obama is legitimately upset and worried about this cartoon. And we should be legitimately upset and worried about that. It suggests that Americans do not understand satire, and when compared to the basis of humor in many other nations --despite the public enthusiasm for Comedy Central's newscasters -- satire is indeed M.I.A. in the U.S.A. Does this make our art weaker? Probably. Does this make many Americans stupid? Probably as well.
Then comes the most troublesome part of it all: The New Yorker probably did make a mistake by publishing this on the front page. And, to paraphrase the late Albert Camus, that shit is fucked. It was not a mistake, however, for the reasons any pundit or politician from any party has been saying for the past couple days. No, it was not an artistic mistake, it was a moral mistake.
We're fighting an unpopular war the other candidate might continue for 100 years; we're experiencing a climate crisis that much of the other party ignores; we're in a housing crisis the other candidate could hardly come up with a solution for; many of us don't have health care which the other candidate won't provide. The list of issues goes on, and the issues are large. Unfortunately, in fact, the issues are too large -- too large to possibly risk having a candidate who jokes about killing an entire people with cigarettes and who parodies Beach Boys songs to sing about war.
So, in 2008, American art and American humor may have to be (even more) dumbed down for the American people. Perhaps one day, a morning in '09 after history is made, the New Yorker could create comedy that satirizes what a tragic mess this all was. Afer all, some say comedy does equal tragedy plus time.