Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The New Yorker Cartoon

The New Yorker cartoon – on the front page of the magazine, no less – is a monument to tasteless commentary. But there is a difficulty in protesting it.

The idea seems to be to satirize stupid commentary on Sen. Barack Obama. The cartoon shows him in Islamic garb: Take that all you people who suppose that Obama is a Muslim, rather than a practicing Christian. His lovely wife Michelle is dressed as a 60’s radical, wearing an afro and carrying a Kalashnikov rifle: Take that all you bottom feeders who have suggested that Michelle lacked pride in her country, and so on… and on. An American flag is shown burning in the fireplace, a slam on opinion from the right that Obama’s failure to wear a flag pin signals an absence of patriotism.

Now, all this is not funny. Satire is not supposed to be funny, especially for those who “don’t get it.” And, judging from much of the commentary surrounding the New Yorker’s tasteless cover art, the great unwashed American – who is not a subscriber to the New Yorker – decidedly does not get it.

Satirically speaking, we should all be grateful that we live in a flag pin wearing country in which political cartoons to not precipitate the burning down of embassy buildings, where pop stars like Madonna are not stoned when they desecrate religious crosses in their videos, where “artist” who plunge religious crosses in vials of urine during their “art shows” are permitted to ply their craft unmolested by offended Christians.

The great blab battle just now is between conservatives and progressives on the question of who is more offensive. Most of the points ticked off in the cartoon were ventilated in the Democrat primary season, and conservatives did not have a dog in that fight. As always, Rush Limbaugh, the conservative cop who launched "operation chaos" to prolong the primary fisticuffs between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, is an exception.

"Anyone who's tried to paint Obama as a Muslim, anyone who's tried to portray Michelle as angry or a secret revolutionary out to get Whitey, anyone who has questioned their patriotism,” huffed the Huffington Post, “ -- well, here's your image."

The conservatives say that progressives launched these offensive caricatures of Obama’s positions from their blog sites in order to get conservatives to cop to bias and defamation of character. Conservatives respond that their commentary has observed the proprieties – and what are they supposed to do anyway: hide Bill Ayres and the Black Power rantings of Obama’s former preacher behind the flower pot? Most of the commentary from the right has proceeded within the acceptable limits of political discourse. And for every idiot on the Right who thinks Michelle has a Kalashnikov in her closet, there are ranters and ravers on the Left, like Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake who delight in running pictures showing the august Sen. Lieberman in blackface. So there!

The difficulty in protesting all this is that everyone must stop at protestation. The First Amendment – Is there a pin? – is still the law of the land. Crass stupidity in this the home of the brave and the land of the free is grudgingly allowed, even on the front page of the New Yorker, whose entire staff this year will be voting for Obama ( a little satirizing there).

But let's make sure, as this whole discussion tumbles into absurdity, that those who in the past have thrown stones are disarmed when the call goes out, as it will, to be a little more civil. The Hamsherites , at least morally, have surrendered their place in the discussion.

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