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The Difference Between Snark & Satire: Obama & ‘The New Yorker’


The slowly-becoming “infamous” ‘New Yorker’ image of the right wing’s insinuations about the Obamas reduced to absurdity, says more about the left than the right. The most reactionary side of the left bounces claims of racism–which are half-right–with incredibly condescending concerns about how a significant amount of the country isn’t going to “get it” and therefore, it will damage Obama’s reputation. This goes beyond issues of the image being problematic, or not funny, or offensive, and cuts to the core of the left’s on-going problem, one that Obama’s been fighting even as he’s used as its poster-boy: left-wing elitism.

The hypocrisy and endlessly frustrating aspects of the mainstream left become clearer with Obama’s campaign and so, even if the dude loses to McCain, wins and ends up being a total schlockmeister, simply wins, or even gets murked, Obama’s impact beyond making the borders of who can run for president a little more porous, are solidified. By simply running, Obama’s exposed the fundamental racism of the left, a racism they masquerade as tough-minded cultural “realism” about the world and how people just won’t vote for Obama–the same regional “realism” that’s got them up in arms about how the wrong people won’t get this ‘New Yorker’ cover–but is the exact same fear of veering from the status quo more honestly expressed by the right.

By simply running, Obama’s upset the long-standing belief–really, paranoia–that all black leaders and blacks in power will stick together no matter what. Those recent off-camera comments by Jesse Jackson shouldn’t have been a controversy at all because if you support or like Obama, it just makes sense that Jesse Jackson would be upset with the guy! There’s no place in Obama’s politics for Jesse Jackson types. If anybody was thinking hard, Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama should’ve both come out of that mini-controversy looking pretty good. Both of them stood their ground. The same stands for this ‘New Yorker’ cover, where their sense of smug humor and over-the-top imagery simply don’t jibe with Obama’s campaign or message and for the first time in a couple of decades, the Democratic candidate doesn’t have a lot in common with the mainstream left (except for a terrible plan to get out of Iraq and a refusal to see how despite cooked-up Saddam/Al Qaeda links, Iraq and Afghanistan are inextricably connected).

‘The New Yorker’ and its cover typify this very rarified and relatively new brand of liberal elitism. While there’s plenty of talk about the right’s new-found, incredibly insular but pseudo-populist bastardization of Neo-Conservatism, or even recent talks of downright silly concepts like pro-life Libertarians, there’s less talk of left-wing equivalents. ‘The New Yorker’ as it currently stands, represents this left-wing hypocrisy. It’s a magazine read by plenty of people, all across the country, yet it tries to retain its former exclusivity. Pockets of smug assholes in big cities and small towns can take comfort in ‘The New Yorker’s attempt at cultural and political groupthink. It’s the same as the false right-wing reconcilliation of populism and elitism: The “I’m a regular, good ol’ boy but I’m also the father of a former president and a millionaire myself” argument put on by President Bush.

What’s disturbing about this cover is just how explicit it makes ‘The New Yorker’s percieved exclusivity, almost flaunting the “controversial” rather than controversial nature of it all. There’s little to no interest in this cover for anyone not in on the joke. That’s fine or it would’ve been fine if ‘The New Yorker’ was still as New York and hip as it once was, but as I said, you can stumble into any Borders or Barnes & Noble in any bumfuck town and find a copy. Additionally, there’s such a sense of purpose and grabbing for that iconic cover that’ll define this election, that the whole thing feels contrived and self-involved. Making this “controversial” cover is based on the assumption that anyone outside of its readers and political-types give a single shit about ‘The New Yorker’.

The cover wants to be iconic and lasting, but the magazine and the art make no attempt to appeal to anyone but the converted. It’s based on the assumption that you get and agree with cartoonist. It’s over-the-top portrayal isn’t a problem because people may not get it but because there’s no room for disagreement in the cartoon. That’s why it isn’t satire. It pokes fun of nothing in general or towards any human truths outside of “the right’s real dumb and they think or like to present the Obamas as this anti-American couple”. It’s snark rather than satire because it feeds off inclusivity, it doesn’t start there and spiral out, like the best satire does and even say, ‘The Colbert Report’ can do at times. It’s like the obvious ironic T-shirt sold at Urban Outfitters versus like finding the ‘Corona’ shirt from Wal-Mart with the two half-limes in the bottle and then the third bottle has an entire lime on it and it says “Greedy” and rocking it to the point where people may not realize you’re joking and just think you’re this Corona/party dude. Both are stupid, but at least one’s going all the way with it.Not that there should’ve been, but it is interesting that this image from ‘The Weekly Standard’ a few weeks ago didn’t generate any controversy because it’s the perfect analogue to the Obama ‘New Yorker’ cover. It’s a reduction to absurdity of the big, giant fears of the left: poor whites. Interestingly, ‘The Weekly Standard’s a Conservative magazine and so, its a similar weird, uncomfortable thing of them attempting satire by joshing something they think they understand or sympathize with but for the most part, don’t get and even if they do, take their comfort and humor too close for comfort. If anything ‘When Bubba Meets Obama is significantly more offensive than the ‘New Yorker’ cover. At least, ‘The New Yorker’ got the offensive stereotypes right, ‘The Weekly Standard’ uses your typical American “redneck” as a stand-in for the quite different Appalachian…

Written by Brandon

July 15th, 2008 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Barack Obama

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