The New Yorker Misses Its Mark (And Then Some)
Looking at the cartoon on the cover of this week’s New Yorker magazine, it struck me that cartoons do not easily lend themselves to third party satire. In a press release announcing its latest issue, The New Yorker describes the cartoon thusly:
On the cover of the July 21, 2008, issue of the The New Yorker, in “The Politics of Fear,” artist Barry Blitt satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama’s campaign.
The press release goes on to preview other items in this week’s issue and presumably was generated solely as a marketing tool, not to explain one of this week’s cartoons. Except in this case, an explanation is needed. And that makes the cartoon a failure.
Cartoons, satirical and otherwise, are intended to stand on their own. Readers usually take cartoons at face value and attribute the statement/criticism/humor therein to it subject, not to a third party. When glancing over a cartoon, readers won’t, nor should they, go looking for a description, a disclaimer or directional arrows outside of the cartoon. “This isn’t how we think of Senator Obama. This is how his critics are trying to portray him. The tweaking is intended for them, over there.”
A cartoon requiring an explanation is untenable also for archival purposes and future readers. Suppose the cartoon gets separated from the explanation. Fifty years from now, will someone look at the cover and think, “Oh, The New Yorker didn’t like Barack Obama; look at how badly they portrayed him”? In point of fact, they clearly are not averse to his candidacy inasmuch as the issue also contains a nuanced article interpreting (not to say excusing) his recent changes of stance on several issues.
But a cartoon that requires any kind of exterior text to be understood fails an important requisite: that the message of the cartoon be stand-alone and fully contained within its own four lines. This New Yorker cartoon, judged within its own four lines, ends up lampooning the object for which it was attempting to advocate.