Monday, July 14, 2008

Much ado about nothing

So there's the expected hue and cry over the latest cover of The New Yorker which shows a cartoon depicting Obama in the oval office, dressed in the republican-fantasized MuslimTerroristAttire (good detail. The shalwar is just a tad above the ankle). Bumping fists with him is an angry Michelle Obama with a menacing afro, touting a machine gun and caustic smirk that seems to transmit a call for the white man's blood. Burning in the fireplace beside them is the American flag.

I personally thought the cartoon was funny when I first saw it. It isn't much of a work of art really, that should even warrant the disussion that it has sparked. In fact the joke's rather simplistic. A no-brainer for the average reader of the sophisticated magazine; just poking a bit of fun at the the outrageous Obama rumor-brigade run by the right-wing media and politicians throughout the country.

The cartoon would have made no story if it had in fact been limited to the eyes of the readers of The New Yorker which, incidentally, is not even usually available at your average newsstand, especially not to the innocent, easily-led sheep in the rural heartlands of America.

But as it goes, it's four months to the election and anything smelling of Obama controversy is tasty meat for the media at this time. Obama campaign issued a hurt, angry response; Obama supporters called for an apology and rejected the 'satire' arguement. Some furiously explained why an exaggeration of untruths about Obama does not compare up to older cartoonic depictions of exaggerated truths about Bush and Cheney that have graced the magazine's covers in the past.

Of course, many left-wingers are less perturbed. That's The New Yorker for you, they say. They're just making a joke which isn't even very new.

Here's what I think: I understand the fears of Obama supporters, that the monstrous Fox News and its followers won't get the satire and instead probably end up using the cartoon as their desktop backgrounds to remind them of Obama's general badness.

Yes, they will.

But, as Taimoor pointed out to me earlier this morning, the publicizing of the cartoon keeps Obama on the cover and for most part, does make everyone who might have forwarded an Obama rumor email in the past look like an idiot. At least to the others, if not themselves. Unfortunately though, satire is not the most popular medium of information and most popular media like Fox News are very literal and easy on intellectual stimulus. So for all those who watch Fox News for News, nothing much will change. The cartoon will just be a minor reinforcement of beliefs which weren't going anywhere anyway.

For those who don't watch Fox News for their news though, one look at the cartoon should just make them smile derisively and consider the ridiculous in the Anti-Obama rumor machine. Again, a minor reinforcement of an opinion they probably already had.


TQ said...

A lot of good points although you said that satire isnt a popular medium in the US. The daily show and colbert draw about 1.4 million viewers daily and are satire-based of course, whereas fox "news" draws about 1.1 million per hour (many repeat viewers that solely watch fox news and no other new channel) so they arent that far apart in terms of influence and reach.

The better point there i think would be that not many people will be exposed to this since most people do not pay attention to politics or watch news channels daily and thus it will mostly be political junkies paying attention to this and they wont be swayed either way as you said.

It's not easy being green - Kermit the Frog said...

yep, u have a point. A better way to say it would be 'a large number of popular media' since many media outlets other than fox are also low on satire or intellectual value, such as tabloid-ish newspapers or tabloids. The daily show and colbert report are actually a very important medium of information for young people. I read some statistics the other day that showed them to be hugely popular amg the youth who
get their news from them...but for many others who may not be watching fox but just not news at all, satire does come pretty down on the list

omairh said...

what's wrong with Fox News anyway? I think its terrific entertainment!

In any case, I really do not think that its 'much ado about nothing' really - the obama campaign should be taking this seriously. labeling obama as a terrorist muslim out to destroy the Sacred American Way of Life in the Land of Opportunity and the Statue of Liberty is actually a masterstroke by the republicans as far as I am concerned.

I gather both husband (hello taimoor) and wife are ardent obama supporters (and pretty strong democrats) in that respective order. No amount of obama-bashing is going to sway your opinions and the opinions of those like you.

It really is about two sets of people - first: the caucasian-scared-out-of-their-wits-of-'islamists'. Anybody who calls muslims 'islamists' are obviously not quite intelligent to being with anyway. The conservatives don't really need to do a lot except sow a seed of doubt in their minds with regards to obama's leanings. It would be enough to convince them to vote the other way.

The second are those who are democrats but are not particularly aligned towards obama himself. It is entirely possible that they might actually feel that obama might be a tad too overzealous in his approach to get rid of the labels that are being attached to him. That might convince them to vote the other way also.

With the elections four months away, these seemingly stupid and inconsequential rumours are only going to gain momentum. It is necessary from an obama campaign point of view to quell them right now, instead of three months later when they could seriously affect the result.

In the end, hardcore conservatives will vote republican - democrats may or may not vote for obama - and that is what the republicans are counting on.

There is a reason why they win most of the elections!

Madiha Waris Qureshi said...

Well, the Republicans to their credit have a much more creative record of misleading the American public in the past. The Obama rumors date back to 2004, and have really reached their pinnacle, a point where the 'truth' is out there and anyone who refuses to believe it is really just looking for an excuse not to vote for the guy. Unfortunately, we must accept that the people who say they think the cartoon depicts the real Obamas simply prove that false perceptions already are out there, New Yorker or not. The cartoon just doesn't warrant that much credit or importance.

The people who don't get the joke (which admittedly fell Flat on its face) are the same people who believe Stephen Colbert when he calls Obama a secret Muslim (The New Yorker's editor used Colbert's reference in his defence). These are people who will never vote for Obama because he's a liberal, black democrat who will 'raise the taxes and destroy the american dream' --- and are just looking for an excuse, any excuse, to explain that. These people are not Obama's ticket to presidency.

That said, of course the Obama campaign must grab onto any chance to quell the rumors and falsehoods as it already has been doing through a recently set up website. But the New Yorker's readers threatening to unscubscribe, and the angry democrats and liberals complaining about freedom of expression gone too far, MUST stop and think for a minute about the following irony: The Muslims were taunted for protesting (albeit going way overboard) over the Danish cartoons, which, not very unlike this cartoon, carried a grossly exaggerated and false depiction of their religion. American liberals aren't being very liberal right now.

P.s. If the Republicans still win with an infinitely weaker candidate and a horrific governing record in the past 8 years, perhaps it's time for us to also accept that this is what the majority of Americans want for themselves and this is what they must get. Things don't change for nations until they WANT change badly enough. Until then, they must suffer for their blindness.

TQ said...

Hi Omair,

Interesting point. While your description seems heavy on the caricature side, i agree with your description of two groups of the american electorate. You are however discounting the proportions in which the various groups you mentioned make up this country (and many others you didnt mention). The hardcore right wing (with whom these issues would resonate) is about 20-30% of the electorate (as evidenced by bush's approval ratings despite his error prone presidency) and the hardcore left wing (your description of which i would differ on) makes up about the same number depending on which issue you look at. That leaves a huge middle ground of folks to whom a vast array of issues matter more than those illustrated in the cartoon (gas, economy etc).

regarding supporting obama, i wouldnt say my support is ardent by any means. I agree with him and the democrats on most issues, but am open to voting for conservative republicans (not the ones in your description, i am referring to a real conservative in the veign of Ron paul minus the racist past)