Thank God its Satireday


responding to the comments in the post below, i say:

matt, i’m sorry i offended you. hopefully my apology will iron things out between us 😉 “a long line of dry cleaning customers” is punny.


francois, i know. and i love the construction of that sentence. let me try:

Francois, killing an old lady, Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Let’s all try! I’ll even give a prize to the one i think best 😉


gary, i wish i couldve taken that class!!!

i wonder what you, and others who know more about satire than me, think of what was writ at the kenyawn review blog, writ by Jerry Harp and quoted in full below:

The now infamous New Yorker cover featuring Barack and Michelle Obama (the latter dressed in military gear complete with a rifle draped over her shoulder) fist-bumping in the White House while a portrait of Osama bin Laden looks on and an American flag burns in the fireplace, is quite clearly a broad satire of certain misperceptions (or distortions) of the Democratic candidate. Satire is often quite broad, as in Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” (where the ironic persona proposes the eating of Irish babies for nutrition and profit), for hyperbole is one of the satirist’s handiest tools. Of course, satire works, as any writing works, within a given context, and it’s understandable that Barack Obama would call the cover offensive in a context where many people are in fact taking offense. At the same time, it should not take a very elaborate analysis to understand the cartoon cover as satire in a rather recognizable vein.

Satire–an attack or criticism, using humor, of some vice or folly–goes back to the ancient world, as the terms marking tone readily indicate. Juvenalian satire (after the Roman poet Juvenal) tends to be quite harsh and righteous while Horation satire (after Horace) tends to be gentler and is more likely to include the satirist in the overt or implied attack. So Barry Blitt’s New Yorker cover criticizes the silliness of attacks on Obama as other, as politically suspect, as lacking in patriotism, etc. and does so in quite exaggerated terms. Blitts’s cartoon no more implies that some right-wing commentators and other figures consider Michell Obama to be a terrorist (for example) than Jonathan Swift literally meant to say that the English were ready to eat Irish babies. At the same time, Swift’s satire implies a sense in which English landowners already were eating up the poor, in metaphorical though still powerful terms. Likewise, Blitt’s cartoon implies that some comments about Obama distort his image, and dangerously so. (Do we really want to live in a world where the lack of a lapel pin can mean so much?) The title of the cartoon, “The Politics of Fear,” helps to bring the point home.

Further, the tone of Blitt’s cover slides to the Juvenalian side of the scale, for it provides an extreme version of the distortions of Obama’s character and political position. I suspect it’s difficult to be very Horation using a single image frame–it’s part of the challenge of the genre (that of the single-frame political cartoon) to get as much implication as one can into the single picture. It may be that, as the old adage has it, a picture is worth a thousand words, but we still need the adage to make the point as succinctly and strongly as this one does.

These terms of analysis should be available to any fairly bright high school student. In fact, these are the terms that I used when I taught a course in satire years ago at a preparatory school, St. Louis Unviersity High School. I learned them from my colleague there, Bill George, who invented and developed the course. If he is teaching the course still, I suspect that he will use Blitt’s New Yorker cover the next time around. So I have hope. We need as much nuanced understanding as we can muster.


nicholas, great to hear from you & cant wait to read your review. i want to draw up your comment here:

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.”


anti-Brechtian satire! genius. and i think what you say is very true for some Flarfists, but gary would know best. hopefully he will comment on this.

i havent yet read “PPL in A Depot”, but i can imagine that some Pragmatist Flarflies might disagree, where the Pragmatist in them does take on an ideological position. and then what do we do with the fact that Blitt post-scribes his target as the right-wing et al–and he makes his ideological position very clear (again, as post-script). is he misreading his own satire? maybe so.


kasey, thanks for putting up with my own misreadings! yes, i see what you mean now by ‘parodic’. soft parody, but parody nonetheless. i blog corrected 😉

“demonstrating as emphatically as possible”–i don’t know about that. read here.

you write:

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.


if i knew any reasonably intelligent person i might argue that ‘art’ is not merely INTERPRETED, but also EMOTIONALLY/PHYSICALLY EXPERIENCED. in this case, the emotional experience of seeing racist images outweighs (to many people) the ‘composite rendition’ of these images. unfortunately, that cant be interpreted away. or at least, the interpretation can’t make amends.



5 thoughts on “Thank God its Satireday

  1. Culture elite’s protection of the Obamas

    Patrick J. Buchanan
    Friday, July 18, 2008

    To watch the contortions over that New Yorker cover cartoon of the Obamas is to understand whom it is impermissible to offend in the America of 2008.

    The cartoon is a caricature of Michelle as an urban terrorist in an Angela Davis afro with an AK-47 slung over her back and a bandoleer of ammo in the Oval Office doing a fist-bump with a Barack decked out in turban and Muslim garb. On the wall hangs a portrait of Osama bin Laden. Blazing away in the fireplace is the American flag.

    “President Obama and First Lady – as Seen From the Right-Wing Point of View” might have been the caption. Phil Klein of American Spectator nailed it: “This cartoon is intended to make fun of conservatives as ignorant racists and essentially marginalize any criticism of Obama as moronic.”

    Why did progressives recoil? Because the more savvy among them sense that, like much humor, this cartoon was an exaggeration that contained no small kernel of recognizable truth.

    After all, Barack did dump the flag pin. Michelle did say she had never been proud of her country before now. Barack did don that Ali Baba outfit in Somalia. His father and stepfather were Muslims. He does have a benefactor, Bill Ayers, who said after 9/11 he regrets not planting more bombs in the 1960s. He did have a pastor who lionizes Black Muslim Minister Louis Farrakhan. Put glasses on him, and Barack could play Malcolm X in the movies.

    And assume the point of the cartoon had been to satirize the Obamas. Why would that have been so outrageous?

  2. Craig, what is your take on the cover of David Buuck’s Tripwire 6, which uses a pointedly offensive racist panel from _Tin Tin in the Congo_ for an issue that focuses on poetry from South Africa and Zimbabwe?

  3. hey gary,

    i can’t really see the cover. i’ll get a copy the next time i’m at SPD and let you know 😉

    what’s your take of the cover?


  4. Hi Craig,

    My take on the Tripwire 6 cover is similar to my take on the New Yorker cover, to the artwork of Michael Ray Charles, to the work of South African comics artists Joe Dog and Conrad Botes (whose work, by the way, I did bring in to my global satire workshop).

    All use inflammatory or potentially hurtful imagery–and all of them have used this imagery on covers of books or collections–as part of larger projects that addresses, foreground, study, and critique, racism.

    As I said in my initial blog post about the NYer cover, I balked at reading that issue on the subway.

    I would feel the same way about reading this book about Michael Ray Charles’ art on the subway as well, or for that matter, Dog and Botes’ Bitterkomix, or that issue of Tripwire. (If you do a Google Image search for Tin Tin in the Congo (without quotes), you’ll see several panels similar to the one used on Tripwire.)

    Part of my reason for balking is for the reasons you bring up: I know the images are going to be initially viscerally experienced, and they are hurtful. The other, purely selfish reason, is that I don’t want to court anger in a person who doesn’t know, for instance, who Michael Ray Charles is, or what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. While that could lead to an interesting discussion, it could just as easily never reach that point.

    Would I personally use imagery like this for a cover of my own work? No, and especially not after reading about the NAACP and Governor Paterson condemning Blitt and Remnick. Mainly because I don’t want to find myself in that position.

    My feelings about whether or not it’s a mistake for others to use this kind of imagery are less cut-and-dry. Charles has been criticized quite a bit for his work, and for the reasons that you give, that his images are viscerally experienced and hurtful as the very thing he’s attempting to critique. The fact that he is African-American doesn’t matter to those who argue that he shouldn’t be working with this imagery in the first place.

    Take a look at this painting, which is fairly typical of his work. It seems plausible that this image alone is going to upset a good number of people—maybe even most who see it. (For those who felt the NYer cover didn’t go far enough, imagine it, or something more like it, on the cover instead).

    Is it failed artwork if it upsets people? What if it upsets more people than it enlightens? Should Charles abandon working with this kind of imagery—or “smash the mirror,” as you put it?

    Those aren’t rhetorical questions—I don’t know the answer.

    And this brings up even more philosophical questions about art and what it ought to be doing, what it ought to use in doing it, how it ought to do it. And whether or not art and artists can evolve, if that’s a good word, beyond the need, if that’s a good word, to engage the viewer with the world as it is and/or was. Can the present be fully engaged without reference to the past, and can our future be engaged without reference to the present? And will audiences, the world, evolve with it?

  5. Craig, resisting a military takeover of an urban university by holing up for ten days in the men's room of the literature department, where he copes with starvation & fear by reading volumes of verse on the can and scribbling poems on scraps of toilet paper, The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolano.

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