Thursday, July 24, 2008

Al Ahram takes note of that New Yorker cover

The infamous New Yorker cover featuring Obama in Islamic garb and Michelle toting a machine gun has got to be the coolest thing to hit the public sphere in a long time. Consider this: the cartoon is subtle and cleverly executed. It has a message which is disparaging towards conservatives, but liberals are unhappy anyway. More remarkable still, they are unhappy with some justification. It just doesn't get better than that. Try telling that to Al Ahram, though. They'll never see it. The article compiles quotes from a number of writers, inclucing a point that I find interesting, a lament that the cartoon wasn't cruder:
Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle told Politico: "I think, as a piece of satire, it utterly fails." Anderson believes that the cover might have been more effective if it had included the title of the cartoon, "The Politics of Fear," on the front of the magazine.
The article goes on to hand-wring:
It would not be too much to say that depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as militants and terrorist sympathisers "feeds into the terrible rise in anti-Muslim sentiment" during this election season. The problem with this kind of so-called "spoof" -- which taps into deep and far-reaching racist imagery -- is that a lot of people just won't get the joke (or won't want to), and will use it deliberately for their own Islamophobic purposes. Playing into the worst fears of voters with the image is not thought provoking; it's just hate provoking or fear provoking.
Let's say we don't think Islamophobia is the world's greatest problem, is there nevertheless some artistic failure in the cartoon? Did it it fail to get its message across to anyone but a tiny audience? I don't think so. I think the cartoonist has fun with the image-manipulation. It isn't sneering at conservatives so much as poking them in the ribs a bit. "Wait 'til the Obamas get into office and your worst fears are realized . . . just kidding!" it seems to say. It may be that the audience that can really savor the cartoon's playful approach is small, but that isn't necessary a failing. The audience for Proust is also small. Is that kind of artistic success worth the risk that an angry mob incited by Sean Hannity will hang Obama from the nearest lamp-post or worse still, not vote for him? Sure--anything for art's sake.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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