Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Re: Obama, The New Yorker Displays Its New Yorky-ness

Amid all the brouhaha over the New Yorker's latest cover, which depicts Barack and Michelle Obama as America-hating, flag-burning, big-haired, terrorist-loving armed black militants, the argument seems to boil down to whether the cover is offensive or it's let's-not-take-ourselves-so-seriously satire. The crux of the matter is that it boils down to context, audience and timing.

This being MediaScrum, this imbroglio is certainly a scrum and it's being played in, and about, the media. If this is indeed satire, the New Yorker is assuming everyone gets the joke - we all know that Barack is not a Muslim, loves our country, the fist bump is not a coded terrorist signal, etc. But let's face, this is New York, where some apocryphal dowager expressed disbelief in the election of Nixon (or Reagan, depending on who's telling the story) by exclaiming, "How could he have won? I don't know anyone who voted for him!" In other words, of course, everyone is in on the joke - or are they?

What percentage of the American voting public is not going to purchase the New Yorker but simply see the cover displayed on television and in the press and therefore have it confirm existing prejudices or raise lingering questions about Obama's patriotism, trustworthiness and so on? There was an excellent op-ed in the New York Times on June 27, "Your Brain Lies to You": http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/27/opinion/27aamodt.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=aamodt&st=nyt&oref=slogin. A pair of neuroscience experts points out that over time, you forget where you first learned about a false statement, and you may eventually forget that it is false. Therefore, the key is not refuting a false statement; it's preventing the false statement from being made in the first place. A quote attributed to Churchill summed this up nicely, "A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can put on its shoes." In six weeks, a substantial (and scary) percentage of the public will swear up and down that they saw a photo that proves Barack and Michelle are Muslim terrorists!

If the New Yorker wanted to satirize misperceptions about Obama, it should have done so AFTER the election. Then we could all have had a good laugh - we're so dumb we elected a Muslim terrorist as our president, ha, ha! Doing it now feeds the confusion of an electorate so misguided that voters are opposed to Obama both because he is Muslim AND because of his nut-job Christian minister! Talk about cognitive dissonance!