Their Obamas, Their Black Campaigning Obamas, are Militant 2


kasey left a great comment on the post below which i wanted to draw up:

If you agree that the satire is obvious, then wherein, for you, does the offensiveness lie? Simply in the depiction of certain images, in any context whatsoever? I’m not trying to be confrontational–I just really want to know your thought process on this.

I mean, I could understand, if not necessarily agree with, someone who objected to it on the grounds that the satire was not obvious–someone who thought either that the illustration was straightforwardly representational of the artist’s attitudes (and I know you don’t think this). or who thought that the critique failed because its satirical intent was not made clear enough. But again, if you agree that it’s obviously satire, what’s the objection?

barbara calls the NYer cover ‘failed satire’. i’ll be a bit more generous and call it ‘soft satire’ (to steal silliman’s adjective); that is, satire that merely presents what it aims to critique without actually critiquing it. ‘soft satire’ can still be offensive because it merely presents the offensive thus re-inscribing its offensiveness.

perhaps kasey would agree that Blitt’s cover, on its own, can be used for non-satirical purposes–as each of the images in the cover have been used for such purposes. the cover, on its own, is not satire. however, what makes it satire is 1) the comments/intention of the artist and 2) the branding (The New Yorker). hence it’s ‘soft’ because nothing in the art itself is satirical.

what do you think kasey?


gary also left a thought-provoking comment:

Clarence Page’s and Ryan Barrett’s takes on the cover and the public’s response might be worth some consideration.

An interesting side note: The New Yorker cover has already generated about six times the Internet discussion that the “terrorist fist jab” comment on Fox News generated.

That’s a rough guess, based on two Google searches: (“New Yorker” + Obama + cover, which brings 606,000+ returns) and (“Fox News” “terrorist fist jab”, which brings about 125,000+ returns).

Page and Barrett aside, most of the response has been to condemn the cover and the artist.

In other words, people are generally made more upset, or at least are many times more vocal about, artists and media who hold up a mirror to the culture’s biases, war-mongering and fear-mongering (as the Barry Blitt and The New Yorker has done), than people and media who actually embody them (as is the case with E.D. Hill and Fox News).


Google searches aside, i think ‘people’ (who people?) are just as upset by soft satirists’ mere mirrors as they are by the culture’s biases and those who publicly embody those biases (biases is a soft way to put it).

really, enough holding up of mirrors–smash the mirrors on their faces.



3 thoughts on “Their Obamas, Their Black Campaigning Obamas, are Militant 2

  1. First off, wow–I just found out how much news coverage this thing is actually getting. I had no idea. I thought it was just some blog meme. Ridiculous.

    Re: “soft satire”: I just don’t get it. What would be an example of art that is “itself” satirical, apart from any presentational context? Isn’t the whole definition of satire that it takes the form of a mirroring, a parodic representation of its target? And thus, isn’t all satire soft satire? I mean, what would “hard” satire be other than just a direct critique–i.e., not satire at all?

    So, if that’s the objection–that all satire in and of itself is always offensive, because it necessarily just holds up a mirror rather than somehow “smashing” it, then OK. I don’t agree, but at least I understand the position. But that can’t be your position, can it?

    A friend called me in the middle of writing this comment and brought up a problem that I do think is real: in a country with so many stupid people (I mean people who really can’t tell it’s satire at all, the same people who think Stephen Colbert is really a Republican), the cover does potentially damage Obama’s campaign just by bringing so much attention to the accusations against him in the first place, and thus making said stupid people more nervous that Obama really might be a terrorist or something. And that’s so sad I can’t even talk about it.

  2. hmm…i'm not really sure quite what to make of this yet. on the one hand, this is a new yorker cover, and new yorker covers, increasingly over the past couple years, have been edited with a kind of quick "double-take" satire in mind, assuming that the typical blue state liberal elitist reader will first glance at the literal image in horror and be forced to do a double-take, scour their memory of recent media/pop-culture events for a moment until they locate the obejct of satire (in this case lamo rightwing commentary on the "radical" fist bump on fox, was it?), so that they can relax, settle back with a smile of mild bemusement at having "gotten" the joke, rendering the once-threatening image harmless, cute even.

    the object of satire always resides outside the frame of the new yorker cover (except perhaps, cf. the earlier double-take "eustace tillarobama" cover of the anniversary issue showing mirror images of hillary & obama in dandy white man drag, where the objects are both outside the frame (close-shave Democratic contest involving unconventional candidates w/respect to gender & race) and inside the frame itself (the dandy character pulled in year after year for this special issue)); the challenge of locating the object outside the frame is one of the ways the new yorker habitually winks at its readers through puzzles, like "here's a test to see if you're smart enough to read this magazine."

    so in this sense the blitt cover does successfully achieve what it sets out to do. there's a clear one-to-one correspondence between the image and the object it seeks to satirize, and this correspondence is obvious enough to be gotten in a moment. in this sense too, it differs from flarf, the frisson of which largely depends on the indeterminancy of which object or objects are being satirized, as well as the indeterminancy of how & when these objects cease to be mere objects and become the voice or subject or aesthetic content of the poem itself.

    so i don't think the new yorker cover technically fails as satire, at least within the narrow parameters that it's set up for itself and assumes its readers will abide by.

    where i think the discussion gets interesting, and what i think critics of the piece are essentially drawing their objections on, is *why* this particular instance of satire at this time, and why be satisfied with the level of satire it performs at this time? barbara has a point, i think, when she critiques the cover for not going far enough, particularly in the context of liberal bunglings of racial politics. is race destined to manifest as a topic in this presidential election in only the crudest, most cliched terms imaginable, even in the midst of a purported critique of these very terms?

    also, as somewhat of a side note, i look at the historical black panther photos in barbara's post and want to think about pop culture's drive to neutralize, kitschify, and cutify certain images of 60s/70s racialized radicalism. the black power salute at the 1968 mexico city olympics endlessly replicated, warhol-like, on silkscreened t-shirts and hemp purses to be worn by pierced teens shopping for tunes at amoeba records. michelle's coy afro-bob head tilt being a lite version of an already lite-ening movement afoot to render these images "harmless" by stripping them of their political meaning and disconnecting them from the concrete systemic inequalities that continue to exist today.

    ah, but i don't want to be taking this cover so seriously! i won't be canceling my subscription anytime soon; the new yorker is what it is with all its limitations, a purveyor of complacent left-bourgeois sensibilities on the one hand, an anything-but-complacent vehicle for certain journalists & critics on the other hand. the art editors prescribe looking outside the frame for meaningful content. critics of this cover prescribe looking a few degrees beyond that for more meaningful, and often overlooked, content.

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