by JS O’Brien
The New Yorker’s newest cover features Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House, an Osama bin Laden poster on the wall, the American flag burning in the fireplace, and Michelle in an Afro with an assault weapon slung over her shoulder.Â Barack is in Middle Eastern garb.
The cover has drawn widespread outrage from both the right and left, with the left complaining that it reinforces smears already put forward by the right, and the right shouting that the New Yorker should also cover the smears circulating about John McCain (whatever those might be).
David Remnick, the magazine’s editor, told the Washington Post that, “It’s clearly a joke, a parody of these crazy fears and rumors and scare tactics about Obama’s past and ideology, and if you can’t tell it’s a joke by the flag burning in the Oval Office, I don’t know what more to say.”
David Remnick’s surprise doesn’t surprise me.Â There’s a certain kind of liberal who lives amonst other liberals and never has a conversation with a conservative who doesn’t possess an Ivy League degree.Â The rest of us know that the David Remnicks of the world live in a sterile bubble, but the David Remnicks think their world represents realityÂ for the rest of us.
Let me try to explain it to you, David.
In the winter of 1971, CBS debuted what many believe was the most successful sitcom in history:Â Â All in the Family.Â The show starred veteran character-actor Carroll O’Connor as flaming bigot, Archie Bunker.Â He voiced words like “spic,” “fag,” “dago,” “wop,” “chink,” and “spade.”Â He made people angry and he made people laugh.Â The show was clearly satire.Â CBS announced before its first airing that it was satire.
And yet …
My memories of watching All in the Family in my home or other homes in Southside Virginia was that the white people around me laughed in all the wrong places.Â Archie would make a grotesquely bigoted statement and get a round of laughter and applause from those watching with me.Â “You tell ’em, Archie!” was a pretty common comment.Â In my school, a popular T-shirt featured Carroll O’Connor hanging out of a busÂ and the words, “Archie’s freedom ride.”
The fact is, David, satire and parody work only when the topic can be taken so far to the extreme that everyone understands you are poking fun.Â Sometimes, it’s impossible to do that.Â For instance, how much farther could you have taken Nazi depictions of Jews, had you decided to ridicule Hitler in 1939?Â How much farther could you take blackface and huge, white lips, banjos, and happy dancin’ feet?Â How much more obese and shiny can the big mammies be?
David, you’re getting the reaction you’re getting because those of us who live in the rest of America — you know, the unimportant part to the west, north, and southÂ of Manhattan — understand that you now have a cheering section screaming, “You get ’em New Yorker!” “Tell it like it is, New Yorker!” “Get the politically correcters, New Yorker!”Â They believe in what you published on your cover.Â You are simply giving them more reason to believe because they think you believe it.
And, no, David, they can’t tell it’s a joke by the American flag burning in the fireplace.Â They’re dead serious about that.Â And if you don’t know what more to say, then perhaps you need to find another profession.
I expect to seeÂ the New Yorker’s cover on a T-shirt any day.Â What do you suppose the caption will be?
“Osama binÂ ObamaÂ for President” should do nicely.