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.

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Phil
Phil
12 years ago

I agree with you. I agree that the third party satire is unclear. The New Yorker is going to sell its product as its editor attempts to “explain ” the cartoon. My problem is that I’m not entirely convinced that the eastern establishment liberals do think that Barak and Michelle Obama belong in the white house in the way that for generations their families have been the powerful (both democrat and republicans) and influential in Washington. I can’t help thinking that the cartoon in some unintented way describes perfectly the contempt these wealthy aristocrats have for outsiders.

Citizen Critic
Citizen Critic
12 years ago

The New Yorker cover is huge hit, a run away success! Every news channel in the country covered it, and the ‘talking heads’ spent hours of prime time discussing it.
If that is not success –what is?

rhody
rhody
12 years ago

Another classic example of the New York publishing establishment (whether left or right) having not a clue how something will play beyond Manhattan.

James
James
12 years ago

What strikes me is how sensitive the left is regarding any criticism of Obama. The same people who cheer over Michael Moore’s well edited lies about George Bush can not tolerate a satire of the Obama’s in a left leaning magazine. They become upset if someone says his middle name.
They hate George Bush, they think he is a “cowboy”. I would argue that Bush’s views are more nuanced than that of your average liberal who, like the sheep in Orwell’s Animal Farm, think that everything about Bush is bad and everything about Obama is good.

Richard
Richard
12 years ago

Please lighten up, Ms C., will ya. You make yourself sound both pompous and dumb– and I know you are not dumb — by laboriously crafting such a creaky critique of the cartoon. The New Yorker makes a great point- and got it right. Better recognize now that many of your political friends are doing everything they can to demonize Obama, trying to make gullible people fear him for mo reason. Don’t pretend they are not doing that. I see the blogs & get the emails. You’d think that Islamic school in Indonesia that indoctrinated him would be so proud of him, right? But they don’t exist. I particularly appreciate the portrayal of Michelle Obama as Angela Davis circa 1970. I hopes she kicks some ass. The left and the middle (me) is only sensitive about the MANY conservatives who are trying to portray Obama as things he is not, but as things they know people will fear. Like he is a Muslim. And OMG, he’s a NEGRO too. My uncle Joe always said the only good NEE-gro was a dead nee-gro. Yup, he did. When they rioted after MLK Jr was slain he said the army should take machine guns into Roxbury & mow them down. Don’t you love a New England racist? You must know a few! There was one “Jew guy” Joe liked, too. You all wouldn’t have to say anything to convince my uncle about Barack. But he’s the dead one now. In the future, separate from its New Yorker press release., the cartoon will live on– I see it framed on a wall in the Obama Presidential Library. Cheers! Try again. BTW I love “rhody’s” comment here blaming the “New York publishing establishment” for the cartoon. I assume rhody was NOT referring to Rubert Murdoch.… Read more »

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