The New Yorker, the Obamas, and the Rest of Us
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Editor's note: this is a note sent to us by Carol Jenkins and our friends at the Women's Media Center.
I've spent a considerable amount of time examining and thinking about the much maligned "satiric" New Yorker cover-the one with Michelle and Barack Obama dressed as terrorists, a portrait of Osama bin Laden on the wall, a flag burning in the fireplace. Michelle Obama, armed with afro and AK47, gives Barack a conspirational fist bump. I've been accused by friends of not having much of a sense of humor, so I wanted to give it a fair appraisal before responding. I even reviewed the definition of "satire." It doesn't have to be funny--satire can be ironic--and can have elements of attack, ridicule and censure.
That said, The New Yorker owes the Obamas, and the rest of us, an apology--and retraction of the cover. I know that those of us who demand this will be called predictable "whiners,"enemies of free speech and, of course, humorless. But a line was crossed here by a publication seemingly not the least bit in touch with the murmuring, low grade fires of unrest burning across this country. Not clever enough by half, the cartoon reinforces the worst fears of those who experience the Obamas as "unknown" and legitimizes those who've been agitating a colossal smear effort.
The characterization of Michelle Obama is particularly gratuitious--the militant, angry black woman--complete with an attack weapon. In the old days, before everybody (women, people of color, the working class) got hot under the collar, this "satire" would have been acceptable, ever so charming stuff. Now it's singularly obtuse, and worse. It makes one wonder, again, about the makeup of the New Yorker staff--was it not diverse enough to elicit even a single protest? The Women's Media Center joins our colleagues at NOW, The Feminist Majority, The National Council of Women's Organizations,The Women's Coalition for Dignity and Diversity in the Media, The National Council for Black Civic Participation, The Coalition of 100 Black Women, and others--representing over 15 million women and men--in calling for retraction of the cover. Go here and here to sign our partners' petitions to let the publishers of The New Yorker know how you feel.
-Carol Jenkins, WMC President