Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The New Yorker cover and the politics of satire

In the early 1700s, English Protestants were the primary land owners and they charged outrageously high prices to poverty-stricken Irish renters. In "A Modest Proposal," Jonathan Swift proposes that plump, healthy Irish infants be sold as food to give the Irish a new source of income and the English a new food product to bolster their economy and eliminate the number of Catholics in Ireland. This premise is genius -- if you understand the concept of satire.

Everyone is freaking over the July 21st New Yorker cover this week. I think this bastion of liberal highbrowness may have run this cover in response to the tremendous amount of attention that New York magazine garnered recently with the death of its founder, Clay Felker, whose impressive obit ran in the New York Times, and whose praises Tom Wolfe sung in the July 8th issue. Until I read Wolfe's tribute, I didn't know that the New Yorker and New York were big rivals back in the day. Perhaps the New Yorker editor felt they needed a punchy, attention-getting cover.

The cover, which is brilliant, backfired. I'm sure the sophisticated readers of the magazine get it. But the majority of the country? Hardly. Right wingers are probably tacking it to their fridges with their Confederate flag magnets.

The illustrator, Barry Blitt, responds to an email by the Huffington Post regarding the cover :
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.
The New Yorker press release says it "satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama's campaign."

It seems as though we have lost touch with the very essence of irony and satire.

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