The New Yorker has kicked up a storm with the cover for its July 21 issue.

Cartoonist Barry Blitt has depicted Barack Obama in traditional Muslim dress and his wife Michelle as a terrorist in what the magazine says is a satirical swipe at the increasingly hysterical right-wing reaction to the Democrats’ presidential candidate.

Obama’s team doesn’t share the joke, however, and have described the cartoon as “tasteless and offensive”.

At first glance they might well have a point.

But in the context of that particular issue of The New Yorker, called “The Politics of Fear”, then the cartoon works perfectly.

Also, if you view the slideshow of Blitt’s political cartoons, then the Obama image fits in with the satirical edge the magazine was hoping to achieve.

The magazine’s statement, defending itself against the Obama’s team’s criticism, sums it up as: “The burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall? All of them echo one attack or another.

“Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd.

“And that’s the spirit of this cover.”

And having looked at the cover again in context and in relation to the articles inside the magazine, that is what the cartoon manages to pull off.

So have the Obama team missed a trick by criticising the cover cartoon out of hand?

Would they have been better advised to acknowledge the strength of the imagery and link it to the articles inside the magazine highlighting the right-wing’s distorted attacks on the presidential candidate?

Rather than making the debate about the numerous unfounded allegations that are being made about Obama, isn’t the focus now deflected to the magazine and a discussion on taste and possibly even censorship.

In many ways, the Obama’s team reaction could eventually become yet another contentious issue trotted out by their man’s fiercest critics in an attempt to further muddy the waters and create an atmosphere of negativity around the Democratic candidate.

And the fact that a spokesman for the Republican candidate, John McCain, has also criticised the cover is irrelevant. It ranks in the “well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” category and I’m sure if Obama’s team had praised the magazine’s cover as a bold satire then his opponent would have followed suit.

Chances are that this will become yet another minor storm in a long-drawn out election race – one of many that are all but forgotten almost as quickly as they flared up.

But it could also rank as a missed opportunity by the Obama team. Only time will tell.


One response »

  1. Ursula says:

    Paul, I don’t know enough about the subject you raise to comment much, despite the fact that I am a faithful reader of “The New Yorker”. Your entry reminded me of a friend of mine who recently said Osama instead of Obama; he was embarrassed about it. I reassured him that both are good looking men indeed; and anyway Obama is most certainly going to go the way of JFK. Paranoid – me? Most certainly not.

    The New Yorker’s covers or cartoons not always easy to comprehend. People – like the Obamas – shouldn’t rise to the challenge; but then I am a fine one to talk, aren’t I?


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