New Yorker Magazine Publishes Offensive Obama Caricature

July 13, 2008 · Print This Article · Email This Post

New Yorker Magazine's Barack Obama CaricatureWe’ve always approached The New Yorker with a sense of delight and intellectual curiosity. The normally urbane and witty magazine, a staple on the American literary scene since 1925, has given us excellent reads and great cartoons by such luminaries as Charles Addams, William Steig, Saul Steinberg and James Thurber. But the cover of the July 21, 2008 issue is unwarranted — vicious, tasteless, and beyond the pale, it portrays the worst of Barack Obama stereotyping. What were they thinking? According to a New Yorker press release, Barry Blitt’s illustration, “The Politics of Fear,” supposedly “satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama’s campaign.” Then why is it we’re left with the strange feeling that the cover is irresponsible journalism which has sunk to the lowest common denominator to sell lots of copies of the magazine?

It’s definitely an attention-getter. But what does it make the viewer think?

The New Yorker's Iconographic Eustace Tilley, Who Appeared on the First CoverThe cover strangely panders to the right, including pretty much every nasty racial and religious stereotype which has been proffered about Obama, many of which have spread across the Internet in email campaigns. Blitt’s cartoon shows a turbaned Obama, wearing sandals and some sort of allegedly Muslim garb, and his gun-toting wife Michelle — reminiscent of Angela Davis of the Black Panthers — in the White House, near a crackling fire in which roasts the American flag, while a portrait of Osama bin Laden hangs over the mantel. We ended one friendship last year over an onslaught of emails from a friend who began sending us anti-Hispanic emails during the immigration frenzy — now all but forgotten as the economy staggers from a series of one-two punches: oil prices and the credit crunch. This year, the focus switched and we began to receive Obama hate mails from our friend. Asked to stop sending these, he persisted. He genuinely believed that Obama was a Muslim, educated at Islamic fundamentalist schools, etc. Finally, as the niece of a Nisei interned at Manzanar in California during World War II, we sadly told our friend that we just didn’t want friends who were prejudiced. And thus an otherwise perfectly good friendship ended over one person’s inability to refrain from hitting the “send” button.

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

And who the hell is Barry Blitt? His “under construction” website offers few clues. And what was his editor thinking? Questioned by Nico Pitney, national editor of the Huffington Post, Blitt said: “I think the idea that the Obamas are branded as unpatriotic [let alone as terrorists] in certain sectors is preposterous. It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is.” Well, Barry, it didn’t quite work out that way. You can see another of Blitt’s attempts at humor here, where he portrays Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad playing footsie in a men’s restroom, a la disgraced Senator Larry Craig’s bathrooms antics at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Bathroom humor, Barry? Like we told our old friend in Alabama, we don’t want friends who are prejudiced and pander to the worst in people. Sure, you’re an excellent cartoonist. But you’re no doubt also familiar with Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s adage: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” You’ve used your powers unwisely.

Read Ryan Lizza’s accompanying New Yorker article, “Making It: How Chicago Shaped Obama.” The article itself largely advances the premise that while Obama “runs as an outsider. . .he has succeeded by mastering the inside game.” This comes as no surprise to us — Obama didn’t beat the penultimate insiders, Bill and Hillary Clinton, at their own game by sheer luck and pluck. Obama reaction to the Blitt’s cartoon was swift; campaign spokesman Bill Burton described it as “tasteless and offensive.” And that it is.

Copyright ©2008


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