Their Obamas, Their Black Campaigning Obamas, are Militant deux times deux

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in this post, i am responding to the comments from the post below, so please read those first 😉

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after re-reading pam’s comment (which is in the post below), i’m def interested in this idea of “double-take satire.” i’ve never read a NYer before and don’t know their coverography, but pam’s take seems convincing to me. and yes, i’ve been comparing the satire of the cover to Flarf, i think pam’s distinction is important:

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.

pam also poses two important questions:

why this particular instance of satire at this time?
and why be satisfied with the level of satire it performs at this time?

to the first question: it seems like a HUGE part of this election is dependent on representation–and, more specifically–racial representation. artists, activists, politicians, editors, etc are forced to fight this discursive war. Blitt’s response is a lazy and unimaginative and only reflects his own limitations.

to the second: we shouldnt be satisfied, as barbara expresses.

pam also comments on “pop culture’s drive to neutralize, kitschify, and cutify certain images of 60s/70s racialized radicalism.” These images, then, are rendered “‘harmless’ by stripping them of their political meaning and disconnecting them from the concrete systemic inequalities that continue to exist today.”

i want to think if it might be possible that these images actually also work to racially radicalize pop culture? do a million Che T-shirts render his image ‘harmless’? or is the image, in and of itself, always neutral and its “harmfulness” or “harmlessness” is determined by the reader? couldn’t the fist-in-the-air on a hemp purse be read as ‘political’? can political meaning be “stripped” from the image?

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Gary doesnt exactly agree on the ‘double-take’ satire of the NYer covers: Look at Blitt’s other work and tell us what you think.

Gary says all satire offends some people all of the time. this seems true.

Gary doesn’t menstruate because he was inseminated by a robot when he hit puberty (or something, i didn’t really get it).

Gary says “The mainstream/right media’s portrayals and implications have consistently been over the top.” By over the top, i think he means ‘racist.’ why are the two conflated?

Gary ate francois when he was a baby, which means one of them is still a virgin (i still dont get which one).

Gary says, “One thing the Jon Stewart video seems to suggest–and I agree with this–is that the mainstream/right wing media is using the cover as a target with which to deflect criticism from their own heinous practicies.”

this seems true enough, and is perhaps evidence that wow the cover failed to hold a mirror up because its targets (the right wing media being one of the targets) don’t see themselves in the cover. failed satire?

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thanks for the link matt! someone should tell Kamiya that cynicism didnt kill irony, but dry cleaning killed irony.

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kasey, yes i ‘get it’ that the targets are McCain et al…but how in the world are they represented parodically? even gary says “it seems maybe worthwhile to point out that the cover is a fairly accurate representation in visual imagery of what the mainstream/right wing media has been doing to the Obamas all along.” does accurate mean parodic? i dont get it.

unless of course you are trying to say: “If our satire have offended, Think but this, and all is mended”

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gary links to this, which you must check out.

my breakdown of the four comics:

comic 1) offensive satire
comic 2 & 3) unoffensive satire (tho offensive to those who deserve to be offended 😉
comic 4) meta-satire (pomo satire?)

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pam, i wouldnt delete your comment! great to hear your virtual voice!

pam makes another thoughtprovoking comment, which is too complex for me to respond to, so i hope others will:

I’m interested in the strand of this conversation that wonders more generally about the relation between satire and offensiveness. I guess I’d say all satire by definition bites, performs a certain conceptual violence on both the target of satire and the audience, and offensiveness is just one way of achieving that bite. Conversely, not all works that play with the notion of offense are automatically satire. I’d also say that satire by this definition implies an underlying ethical stance, however disguised or ironized this stance may be. But maybe I’m misunderstanding what other people mean when they say satire. Maybe this is getting at the root of why I can’t buy the mirror-metaphor definition of satire, unless it’s a convex mirror, that shoots daggers. And the very fact that it shoots daggers at something implies that some kind of ethical valuation (good, bad) is being made. Just holding up the mirror on its own doesn’t seem like enough to make something satire.

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5 thoughts on “Their Obamas, Their Black Campaigning Obamas, are Militant deux times deux

  1. “thanks for the link matt! someone should tell Kamiya that cynicism didnt kill irony, but dry cleaning killed irony.”

    Dry cleaning doesn’t kill irony. People kills irony.

    Really though. Playing the dry cleaning card? You’re not the first to do so. It’s a widely held stereotype that those who make a living in the dry cleaning trade are a humorless lot. Well, as the proud son of a long line of dry cleaning customers, I consider myself an ally of the dry cleaning community, and as such, I find your remark deeply offensive–I mean, “problematic”, as we academics say.

  2. Pam I agree with your definition of satire.

    I taught a workshop on global satire for the Poetry Project a couple of years ago, and in that case I purposely loosened my definition of it so as to include, for instance, the lyrics of Shailendra (“Mera Jhoota Hai Japani,” or “My Shoes are Japanese”), the poetry of Pessoa, early calypso lyrics, poetry by Nicanor Parra, and a host of other things that might not technically meet the criteria.

    In it, I argued that, in the case of the above examples, Shailendra’s lyrics targeted (if not exactly sent out easily identified daggers at) globalization, that Pessoa similarly targeted (in order to make more complex) our understanding of identity, that Parra targeted “the individual,” and that calypso lyrics (the most obviously satirical) targeted colonialism.

    The class, though short, was fun and interesting, but more importantly, it probably warped my sense of what actual satire is by expanding the net wider than is generally accepted.

    In other news, the NAACP and Governor Paterson have condemned the NYer cover, calling it a malignant, vicious, mean spirited, racially offensive attack on the Obamas designed to feed the prurient interest of bigoted, prejudiced people.

  3. Hi Craig,

    All extremely interesting, as usual. I just wanted to say that, in connection with all this, I have a review of Gary’s “PPL In A Depot”, which he hasn’t seen yet, forthcoming in the next day or so in the new Galatea, in which I talk about Flarf as possible “anti-didactic” or “anti-Brechtian” satire.

    What I mean is that it often seems to be satire which, rather than asking us to adopt a particular position regarding a given subject – Brecht’s desire for the audience to scream out their responses in an anti-Aristotelian action – seeks to underline the entire fabric of the language as cultural construct, within its cultural context.

    I thought this might be relevant here, because The New Yorker cartoon could be similar to this, though it’s not an idea I’ve heard anyone express in the mainstream medias. That is, the piece’s satirical object is perhaps less Bush and Cheney and the right-wing media, than the entire cultural discourse surrounding this current preoccupation, from both the Right and the Left. Both defense and attack,

    An emphasis on the cultural construct as construct, rather than on any ideological position-taking.

    An excerpt from my review, a touch out-of-context, which may make this perhaps strange idea clearer:

    “There is here – in a gesture common to Gary Sullivan’s writing, even more so than other members of the Flarf Collective – an intriguing magnanimity. It is, it seems to me, almost like a making-fun of all apparent “convictions” or “positions” one may have regarding, in this case, the question of an author’s ontology. Strangely, all positions here – such is the dialectical density of the derision – appear almost equally absurd. It is this type of wide-ranging, non-didactic, non-Horatian, anti-Brechtian, satire, which seems to threaten to throw the question itself – rather than any particular response to it – into a pit of cultural noise.”

    This then gets developed further, obviously.

    Anyway, I thought this may be of some interest.

  4. Craig, you write, “I ‘get it’ that the targets are McCain et al. … but how in the world are they represented parodically?”

    If you get that they’re the targets, then you get how they’re represented parodically: by showing a visual rendition of what people like McCain say about Obama–precisely, by showing a composite rendition that conflates all the media soundbites in one, thus demonstrating as emphatically as possible how absurd the soundbites are. If this isn’t a parodic representation of McCain and his ilk, I don’t know what is.

    I’ll say it again–I just don’t see how any reasonably intelligent person who is familiar with a) the statements made by McCain and others, b) the New Yorker’s general political leanings, and/or c) the basic idea of how satire works could possibly interpret the cover as anything but critical of Obama’s detractors. It makes me crazy.

    As I said, I do at least acknowledge the other concern–that people who aren’t familiar with a, b, or c above are liable to misunderstand the image. But as others have said, those people are most likely going to be either Obama supporters, in which case the outrage they feel is only going to strengthen their feelings of resentment towards the right, or people who agree with McCain already, in which case the image can’t really do any more harm than McCain has already done.

    As for people on the fence, who decide on the basis of seeing a cartoon on a magazine cover, oh, well, how do you like that, Barack Obama is a Muslim extremist who hates America, I didn’t know that, I’d better not vote for him–I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think we probably shouldn’t make important political and/or satirical decisions based on their potential responses.

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