By now, most of us have probably seen the recent cover of the New Yorker, which featured Barack Obama in North African Muslim garb, doing a "terrorist fist-bump" with his wife Michelle (dressed in Black Panther garb) as the American flag burns in the hearth, and a portrait of Osama bin Laden graces the mantle. For those of who have missed this controversy, here's the image New Yorker chose to run with for their cover last week.
O-bots (as I call the die-hard Obama fans) were absolutely outraged. According to them, this image only feeds in to the RepubliCons misinformation campaign, giving them healthy fodder for their insane attacks on the supposedly Muslim Obama, and his radical, America-hating ways. (No word on how this necessarily taps into their latest meme: "Obama is an elitist.") This cover, according to the O-bots, represented nothing more than a racist smear of oft-debunked misinformation, intended to help John McCain, and hurt Barack Obama.
The New Yorker, which is not exactly a right-wing rag - and which has often been depicted as an old-money East Coast elitist publication itself - proclaimed that the cover was meant to be satire. Noting that the cover was called "The Politics of Fear," the New Yorker claimed to be lampooning right-wing efforts to depict Obama as a Muslim, and his politics to be based in an ideology of black power.
I find this entire argument to be extremely interesting. When I first saw the cover, my first thought was, the right-wingers are going to LOOOOOVE this. As the New Yorker's explanations came out, I viewed it simply as a failed attempt at satire, one which might have done more to help the causes it was intending to humiliate. At the end of the day though, I think the whole controversy does more to shed light on how insane our body politic has become in America, than it does to hurt Obama, or to help the Right. (It will also do wonders for the New Yorker's financial outlook.) When the world appears to have truly gone insane, attempts at satire become much more difficult to pull off. How can you lampoon the wrong-wing, when tomorrow someone like Michael Savage or Rush Limbaugh will come out and say something ten times more insane that your satirical take on the Wrong? In the words of my good buddy Kurt - "Reality has trumped satire."
Would Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" have still been funny if 17th Century Britons were already eating poor Irish children? Probably not! And if they had been stuffing themselves with tender Celtic sweetmeats - what could Swift possibly have written that would have been more insane than what was already happening?
Has the Far Right gone so off the chain that satire is impossible? Is the right simply self-satirizing?
As my friends at the Viking Youth Power Hour say, we live in interesting times, to say the very least. If satire is impossible now though, I might say that things are getting a little too interesting.