Sat-ire: (noun). Synonyms: Caricature, Parody, Irony.

  1. the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc;
  2. a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision or ridicule;
  3. a branch of literature consisting such works.

I can’t remember ever buying a copy of The New Yorker magazine. In the past, I believe I may have read an article or two in a bookstore. Last week during the frenzy surrounding this week’s cover featuring Barack and Michelle… after I had a good laugh… I decided to wait until the magazine came out and go through it myself before making any comment. I read and heard a lot of opinions against the cover before the magazine hit the stands. An opinion is good. An informed opinion is better. (Interestingly enough, I heard and read very little in support of what the artist of the cover, Barry Blitt… and the editors of the magazine were actually depicting: “the grotesque pack of lies about the Obamas”).

So yesterday I headed to Chapters bookstore and perused a copy. I went through it from cover to cover… twice… and decided I didn’t need to buy it. The only article in it which interested me I had already read online: “Making It: How Chicago Shaped Obama”. This somewhat scathing in-depth report by Ryan Lizza, documents Obama’s political maturation via the harsh political landscape of Chicago. It is more certainly damaging to his messianic image than the cover. I now understand how calculating of a chameleon… sorry, I mean magician… sorry, I mean politician he really is. I would bet my house that 99.9% of the people who were up in arms about the cover, who regurgitated some opinion on it… a satirical caricature of the false information and fantastical lies the so-called “right-wing” forces in America are spreading about Barack and Michelle… I would bet that they have not taken the time to look at a copy of this week’s magazine, much less read this article.

I read somewhere that the North American media: print, electronic and visual, are produced at a level to cater to those with a grade nine education. Now I don’t know if this is true or not, but most of the opinions that I read and heard in regards to The New Yorker cover, were juvenile to say the least. What I found interesting was that the commenters… all of whom would be considered intelligent men and women… certainly had more than a grade nine education. I would even venture to say much more. However, it seemed that their intelligence was conditioned to regress to a grade nine level, when it came to understanding the point the cover was making… through satire!

“Yeah Asa, but what about those rednecks or those who are not so sophisticated to understand the satire of this elitist magazine… who will get a glimpse of the cover and believe that Barack and Michelle are flag burning, fist bumping radicals?” 

I say that I understand why in American society, this appears to be a legitimate concern. In a culture of ignorance, image is everything. In a culture of ignorance, impact supersedes intent. In a culture of ignorance, the working principle is “just tell me… better yet, show me… what I need to believe”. In a culture of ignorance, there is no time to delve deeper. In a culture of ignorance, there is no desire to analyze subtleties. In a culture of ignorance, there is no benefit in questioning what one is told to see as reality.

I say that someone has to be pretty ignorant to be influenced by a satirical image on a magazine cover to believe (or confirm) that Barack is an America-hating, Osama bin Ladin loving, Al Qaeda supporting Muslim… and Michelle is also an American hating, Angela Davis afro wearing, 60’s type Black Panther revolutionary. I also say that someone has to be just as ignorant to believe that the magazine was trying to use this satirical image to subconsciously plant in the American publics mind that Barack is an America-hating, Osama bin Ladin loving, Al Qaeda supporting Muslim… and Michelle is also an American-hating, Angela Davis afro wearing, 60’s type Black Panther revolutionary.

The real issue is that Obama has become a demi-god among his supporters and a large section of the media. It is to be understood that he is untouchable. The unwritten rule is that he is not to be the subject of negative, or what is perceived to be potentially negative, scrutiny, portrayals nor jokes! He has come to embody what we have come to associate with the stereotypical, tyrannical African (Black) leader with a cult-like personality. He has become Mugabe-esque. Those who oppose him are attacked by his militias of intelligentsia… who are not armed with machetes, clubs and bricks… but utilize their pens… (I guess “keyboards” would be a more appropriate depiction)… and other media images, to agitate the lowest denominator of their constituency’s intelligence, to deem that any opposition is based on racists and right-wing reactionary agendas. If you are Black, then you are demonized and refered to as one or a combination of the following: a CIA trained operative/agitator, a Republican, an Uncle Tom, an Aunt Jemima, a House Negro or Negress, a traitor to the race with a “crab in a barrel mentality”. The tactics of the so-called “progressive” left to stifle any opposition appear to be very similar to the tactics employed by the so-called “reactionary” right. Melvin Bray has written an interesting piece, highlighting that democracy is well served by the freedom to satirize it’s leaders: “Another Look at The New Yorker’s Obama Cartoon”.  

The overall result of this controversy has been to Obama’s advantage. The majority of people, particularly his supporters and potential supporters, will boycott the magazine and will therefore miss the enlightening article by Ryan Lizza. The illusion of Obama’s image, as an agent of “change” politics, will remain intact. (Interestingly, Mr. Lizza was banned from the press corps accompanying Obama on his current tour of the Middle East).

An intelligent response to the controversy by Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of the New Yorker: “Take Cover”.