[Editor’s note: After penning the popular “The Official Village Voice Election-Season Guide to the Right-Wing Blogosphere,” Roy Edroso has made dissecting those blogs into a weekly feature that appears here every Monday.]
KILLING JOKE: RIGHTBLOGGERS GO DECONSTRUCTIONIST OVER OBAMA CARTOON
Last Monday the New Yorker published a now-famous cartoon cover portraying Mr. and Mrs. Obama as the black radical, Muslim, and America-hating stereotypes by which they are known among mouth-breathers. The sane either laughed or didn’t, and then went on with their lives. The less sane and more agenda-driven obsessed on its meanings — intended, unintended, and imaginary.
Some Obama supporters, alas, felt it necessary to refute the false impressions on which the obvious satire was based. Even more regrettably, some top leftbloggers chided the New Yorker for making a joke instead of promoting the Cause. (At Eschaton, Atrios allowed as how the satire might have been acceptable if it had been created by Sadly, No!, “because they have a long history of mocking right wing lunacy”; Sadly, No!, as its regular readers might expect, defended the New Yorker).
Then the rightbloggers flew unto the breach and made even the most confused leftbloggers look good.
Some accepted the New Yorker cartoon as an attack on Obama and defended it on those grounds. “Grow a pair, Obama,” commanded Michelle Malkin. “In Washington, political cartoonists and caricaturists spare no one.” She then reproduced several anti-Republican cartoons, t-shirts, and demonstration signs which had outraged her and her fellow rightbloggers, who are presumably exempt from the necessity of pair-growing (and of consistency: Malkin later insisted “it’s the critics of Obama who are the subject” of the cartoon).
“Anyone missing the message: Obama Is Osama’s Man!” announced The Strata-Sphere. “Yes, I know they tried to call it a joke, but it re-affirms and gives credence to rumors best just ignored.” Strata-Sphere noticed there was an article about Obama in the magazine, too, but thought “very few people are going to suffer through that ridiculously long story to find the connection.” (A few rightbloggers did, though, and found its revelation that Obama used traditional politics to gain power an equally damning revelation.)
Other were less sure the cartoon’s intention was to damage Obama, but happily anticipated that result. “No doubt arguments can be made on the veracity of each of the depictions,” said Macsmind. “In any case whether there is truth to the depictions or not the images will stick in a lot of voter’s minds…” Riehl World View waxed philosophical: “All humor has its basis in reality.”
Some shifted focus and attacked the magazine — not on Obama’s behalf, but because it mocked the good people who knew the Muslim, flag-burning truth about him. Townhall denounced the New Yorker‘s “contemptuous laugh at the expense of the hicks and the rubes who ’embarrass’ sophisticates with their monolingualism, their proud pro-Americanism, their religiosity, their lapel flags and the like.” (Roger L. Simon took the highbrow route — “You’d think The New Yorker — of all places — would be savvy about subtext, not to mention all the deconstructed and psychoanalyzed subconscious and semi-conscious wishes inherent in ‘authorial choice’ or whatever they called it at the Sorbonne and Yale circa 1983” — to equally impenetrable effect.)
Further evidence of the magazine’s unpatriotic elitism was found in another famous New Yorker cover: the old poster-shop standard showing New York as the center of the world. Confederate Yankee denounced its “neo-Copernican worldview” in which “those of us outside of that self-involved hemorrhage of land between the Hudson and East Rivers are simply part of a bitter and clingy ‘not us’ to the magazine’s erudite familiars.”
At Just One Minute, Tom Maguire struggled over the neo-Copernican image — “Is that cover a brilliant satire of every New Yorker’s narrow world view, or a badge of honor that more or less accurately captures the proper place of the greatest city in the world vis a vis the rest of the US?” For a moment he showed a glimmer of insight: “In fact, I will be so bold as to opine that there is not one ‘right’ answer.”
How proud his high-school English teacher must have been! But this turned out to be just a little ruminative tag to give a thoughtful tone to Maguire’s basic analysis of the Obama cover, which he said depicted “what every right-thinking righty knows to be the real Obama and Michelle.”
And this — quite apart from the obvious absurdity of trying to calculate the political impact of a cartoon from a magazine self-consciously “not edited for the old lady in Dubuque” on, well, the old lady from Dubuque — shows what was strangest, and perhaps saddest, about their coverage. Most of them behaved as if they didn’t know what satire is, or even what a joke is.
This became even more evident when another cartoonist, David Horsey, pretended to explain the Obama cover to “irony-challenged literalists” with a National Review cover mocking John McCain in similarly outrageous style. His jest drove Newsbusters to put on its little-used thinking cap: “Was the Seattle-based cartoonist simultaneously defending the liberal New Yorker magazine while playing up radical left-wing fears about McCain?” An enraged Megan McArdle called the cartoon “stupid,” and Horsey “a mean-spirited boor” and “someone whose imagination is so limited, their viewpoint so parochial, that they can’t even adequately parody the other side.” Then she revealed her real objection to the cartoon: “This cartoon is so obviously drawn by someone who hates McCain that it fails on the most basic level.” “Mr. Horsey may have won the Pulitzer Prize twice,” admitted Liberally Conservative, “but his anti-Right cartoons are pathetic even if the Lefties find them amusing… Of course, many on the Left were glad to see Tony Snow pass away this week and celebrated.”
In eternity, Henri Bergson and George Meredith may be wondering why they bothered. But we will leave the last word on the Obama cover to that eminent humor analyst and buffoon, Jonah Goldberg of National Review, who said that “if [National Review] ran the exact same art, the consensus from the liberal establishment could be summarized in words like ‘Swiftboating!’ and, duh, ‘racist.'” Perhaps imagining (or actually experiencing, if he ran it by anyone over the age/IQ of 16 before posting) stares of disbelief, Goldberg allowed as how “satire is in the eye of the beholder.” We may charitably assume that Goldberg meant that something may be funny to one person and unfunny to another. But when your reaction to a simple gag is neither a laugh nor a shrug, but political analysis, why would normal people be interested in your opinion?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 21, 2008