Riddikulus! (updated)

Last night, the interwebs were all abuzz with news of the most recent New Yorker cover. Generally, left-wing bloggers appear pretty outraged:

There’s no other ulterior motive to publish cartoons like this right? …This is disgusting. Might be worth canceling a subscription or two. [Daily Kos]

… so singularly out of touch … It may not be unusual for Upper East-Side liberals that a half-black man with an African father and Hussein for a middle name … might ascend to the presidency, but to some Americans IT IS EVERYTHING. [TPM]

While I was alarmed at first, the image grew on me as satire. It’s a veritable Where’s Waldo compendium of right-wing fears about the Obama candidacy:

  • Michelle Obama as old American black nationalism allied with …
  • Barack Obama as the purported American who is still loyal to his immigrant roots
  • The alliance between them represented by the “terrorist fist-jab
  • Washington’s replacement by Osama Bin Laden in the painting over the mantel (OMG OBL Booga Booga!)
  • Patriotism discarded, as shown by the flag in the fireplace

As I see it, the cartoon intends to show just how absurd people’s fears are: fears of foreigners as fifth columnists, fears that men who wear turbans (even if once, for a foreign photo-op) must be Muslims, and therefore unpatriotic. The cartoon makes these images concrete and then laughs at them, like a riddikulus spell against a boggart.

This approach is one I take with kids, who are both fascinated and afraid of me. When a five year old whispers loudly to his mother “Hey look Ma! A genie!” I turn around and offer the kid three wishes. This confuses them because they know that genies aren’t real, and it breaks through the wall between us. When 10 year olds say to each other “look out, he’s got a bomb!” I look at them and go “Boom!” More often than not, they laugh in response.

The problem is, it doesn’t work with grown-ups, who generally take themselves far more seriously then kids do. The kinds of people who have these fears are also generally deaf to irony.

I don’t think this cartoon will change people’s minds, nor do I think it’s trying to. It’s more like an episode of the Daily Show or the Colbert Report, something that mocks narrow-minded knee-jerk bigotry by pretending to take it seriously. If it makes you either squirm or laugh, it has done its job.

UPDATE Here’s the New Yorker’s explanation of what they were trying to do (thanks reader):

In a statement, The New Yorker magazine said the cartoon “combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are.” The New Yorker said the cover, called “The Politics of Fear”, was a critique of unfounded allegations that have tried to portray Mr Obama, a Christian, as a closet radical Muslim. “The burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall? All of them echo one attack or another. Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd. And that’s the spirit of this cover,” the statement said. [BBC]

188 thoughts on “Riddikulus! (updated)

  1. 148 · selective recollection said

    the reality of the supposed “reverse southern strategy”.

    by this logic since michelle said some stupid things in the past its fair game to assert she used the term “whitey.” no, in your world i assume that’s racist, or at least racially divisive, and a form of swift-boating. but falsely claiming mccain called his wife a c–t fine. no swiftboating here. sure, call a woman a c—t if it suits your needs. maybe its satire. hipster ironic misogyny perhaps. i have no problem with people going after mccain’s alleged ’86 joke, if its true.

    i love the innuendo laden line here

    innuendo? i name name and provefd links throughout this thread, includiong but not limited to:

    1.hillary 60 minutes performance, 2. bill clintons SC comments 3.gerry ferraro repeated racist comments 4. buba’s own accusation that obama “played the race card on him” 5.bob johnsons drug taking comments 6. andrew young accusation of obama as uncle tom 7. steph tubbs johnson calling somalia his native country 8. maggie williams sayng nothing wrong with drudge photo 9. bob kerrey madrassa smear and hussein, 10. billy shaheen referring to obama as drug dealer 11. rep Andrews confirmation that he heard racist strategy from Clinton camp 12. hillary’s hard working white americans” comment

    that’s just off the top of my head and pretty high up there in dem circles. as high as one can go in fact. even nixon didn’t let his southern strategy go that high. prominence matters. so tell me why its ok for the new yorker to satire this but not national review?

  2. but falsely claiming mccain called his wife a c–t fine.

    how do you know it is false? equating this to swiftboating… wow, you share the republican respect for war heroes.

    as high as one can go in fact.

    so soon you discount obama’s leadership. as for the litany you provide, the only really racist behavior was by bob kerrey, stephanie tubbs jones, and maggie williams. bill shaheen was fired for his comment, ferraro was disowned immediately and i am glad you see her as a person of great influence in the dem party. news to me, to be sure. hillary’s 60 minutes interview – here is the actual transcript. her immediate reaction “of course not”, not what you falsely claimed. if bob johnson starts counting as “as high up as they go”, then i guess i should count rev. moon as a leading light of the republican party.

    6. andrew young accusation of obama as uncle tom
    even nixon didn’t let his southern strategy go that high.

    who knew that secretary of agriculture and president were lower ranking than a washed up ex-politician who hasn’t won an election since 1985. well, you learn something new every day. even from the vrwc acolytes.

  3. Mate, I’ve seen some aboriginals that are darker than Mallus.

    scratching my head puzzled. I am darker than Barack – does it mean I am black.
    Aboriginals are not blacks!!!! They are Aboriginals (indigenous)and they can be black…… Skin colour is not the defining factor for an Aboriginal. One must be accepted by an elder to be called one. so you can blonde blue eyed and yet be an Aboriginal.

  4. how do you know it is false?

    typical smear tactic. throw out an accusation and demand it be proved false.

    bill shaheen was fired for his comment

    but the racially coded “drug dealer” charge was never addressed.

    ferraro was disowned immediately and i am glad you see her as a person of great influence in the dem party

    not immedialtly. check again. she was your freakin VP nom too.

    hillary’s 60 minutes interview – here is the actual transcript. her immediate reaction “of course not”, not what you falsely claimed.

    which she followed with the “clever” qualifier “I take him on the basis of what he says” even kroft caught that. then came the “as far as i know” and consider the timing and context as i explained in #32

    if bob johnson starts counting as “as high up as they go”,

    he was speaking at a clinton campaign rally.

    who knew that secretary of agriculture and president were lower ranking than a washed up ex-politician who hasn’t won an election since 1985. well, you learn something new every day. even from the vrwc acolytes.

    well the agriculture guy got fired so he doesn’t count in your book. but i’ll call it even, the clintons are equal to nixon. both hard working, white Americans.

  5. now i tried to keep the examples limited to prominent Clinton supporters associated with the campaign, but if we just loked at prominat liberals we’d have gloria steinams problematic oppression Olympics op-ed, nina burleigh wanting to know his position on rap and OJ, and feminist icon erica jong calling him a boy.

    i i din’t even have to go to the cesspool that is the feminist blogs where obama is a wife beater and larry johnson, where the whitey rumor originated.

    but b/c some low-level right wing blogger hate obama this is a right wing smear campaign to be lampooned by liberals. but no racism in the democratic party. keep moving. nothing to see here.

  6. but the racially coded “drug dealer” charge was never addressed.

    first off, the “racial coding” only is in your mind. it was a smear, but it was clearly in relation to obama’s admissions in his book. The entire context is here. further, the clinton campaign promptly said the remarks were neither authorized nor condoned, and clinton even personally apologized to obama, that sounds like “addressed” to me.

    “The Republicans are not going to give up without a fight … and one of the things they’re certainly going to jump on is his drug use,” said Shaheen, the husband of former N.H. governor Jeanne Shaheen, who is planning to run for the Senate next year. Billy Shaheen contrasted Obama’s openness about his past drug use — which Obama mentioned again at a recent campaign appearance in New Hampshire — with the approach taken by George W. Bush in 1999 and 2000, when he ruled out questions about his behavior when he was “young and irresponsible.” Shaheen said Obama’s candor on the subject would “open the door” to further questions. “It’ll be, ‘When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?’” Shaheen said. “There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It’s hard to overcome.”

    she was your freakin VP nom too.

    about 25 years ago, was considered problematic even during that campaign due to her husband’s financial shenanigans, hasn’t won a single election or held a single important appointment since then. that’s fine though, do keep on with your insistence that ferraro is a person of great importance in the dem party of 2007/2008.

    he was speaking at a clinton campaign rally.

    so bill cunningham is “as high as they go” among repubs? and even if he isn’t, does mc cain’s team’ exhortation to “give them raw red meat” count?

    but i’ll call it even, the clintons are equal to nixon. both hard working, white Americans.

    thanks. your statement equating the clintons to nixon says it all.

  7. but b/c some low-level right wing blogger hate obama this is a right wing smear campaign to be lampooned by liberals. but no racism in the democratic party. keep moving. nothing to see here.

    of course, there’s racism in the dem party. after all, they are popular among over half of the americans, and you can’t get there without courting some racist votes. they still have robert byrd in the senate after all. although, hopefully that blot will be erased soon.

    but it is also true that blacks have historically tended to vote dem, and the republican strategy has been to fill election with majority whites, both by whipping up racial sentiments among sympathetic whites, and by keeping blacks from the polls using various concoctions. also, their pro wealthy policies have generally had the effect of destroying the middle and low-income class over the past 25 years. I guess the absence of nuance, or an examination of actions, can allow one to claim that institutionalized and enshrined exploitation of racial sentiments “is equal to” some quotes by secondary dem figures.

    as for the boy thing, i am glad you are so attuned to the lingo of oppression that you divined from erica jong’s essay that she is a closet plantation owner.

  8. first off, the “racial coding” only is in your mind.

    i don’t recall bush, who has used drugs, being accused of dealing tham. i wonder why. the southern strategy is about code words.

    that sounds like “addressed” to me.

    addressed would’ve been calling it racist. look, this ishow htese things work. you fire the gyuy to keep plausible denial, but the dirty work is done. and to be fair, it is plausiobel clinton had nothing to do wioth it, just as its plausible bush had nothing to do with swift boats, mccan black baby, or willike horton (bush I)

    either way, the imoprtant thing as far as we’re concerned is that a democrat, not s republican started this smear. its primarily a democratic scandel as swiftboating is a republican one.

    about 25 years ago, was considered problematic even during that campaign due to her husband’s financial shenanigans, hasn’t won a single election or held a single important appointment since then. that’s fine though, do keep on with your insistence that ferraro is a person of great importance in the dem party of 2007/2008.

    notice the double standars. you cite unhinged debbie schusel and i give you your former VP. notice the differnce between status. that’s waht makes this a dem scandel.

    so bill cunningham is “as high as they go” among repubs

    high up as they go refers to bill and hillary. cunningham sounds like a one-off looney. but if people associated with mccain engage in a concerted campagin to smear obama you would have a point. however, right now it is the clintons (or was). and there is a narrative and timing, like the 3am coincidentally coming out around the same time as the drudge pic and 60 min interview, right in the middle of hillary’s firewall (oh, tx, pa). i know, it couldve been a coincidence…maybe bush really had nothing to do with the rumors of mccain’s black baby.

    thanks. your statement equating the clintons to nixon says it all.

    i know its a hrd pill to swallow. but many dems even realize it now. and they used race b/f (executing a mentally handicapped black man when bill first ran) and of course the misogyny, not to mention financial scandals like marc rich. now this failed southern strategy. very nixonian.

  9. just staying with right wing attack dogs: michael savage. rush limbaugh. to name just two. forget the barrage on fox about osama, husein and terrorist fist jabs.

    sure. but notice how the double standard. i’m going high up in the dem party and your giving me talk show hosts. imagine the vitrol i could find on daily kos or larry johnson.

  10. i don’t recall bush, who has used drugs, being accused of dealing tham. i wonder why. the southern strategy is about code words.

    rtfa. or at least the section i specially quoted for you where shaheen talks about that explicitly. and the repubs have their heads deep up in their youknowwhat, but i am assuming that even they wouldn’t turn around and accuse bush.

    and didn’t realize that an advisor’s one statement, which caused him to be fired, and led to apologies, and negations by the clinton is equivalent to a month of bombarding advertisements costing millions of dollars, with nary a word in opposition by the candidate. stretching moral equivalence is the new game played by the jetsetters these days, i see.

    like the 3am coincidentally coming out around the same time as the drudge pic

    of course, the 3 am ad was fear mongering. but i will believe that clinton had something to do with drudge when i have somebody other than drudge, fox, and you saying that it is so. interesting leap from there to bush washing his hands off the black baby calls face to face with mccain.

    i know its a hrd pill to swallow.

    imaginary pills are indeed hard to swallow.

    you cite unhinged debbie schusel

    i never did. not once. the problem with written comments is that they say what i said, not what you want them to say.

    good night.

  11. 160 · selective recollection said

    but the best of all is the smear so eagerly repeated here that hillary was responsible for everything. i report, you decide.

    media matters is not a reliable source. they’ve been carrying the clinton’s racist water for a while now. where the rumors originated, i don’t know. but the clintons used them (early on the word was obama was not “vetted” recall, and later they argued there might be a sept surprise) while trying to maintain plausible denial.

  12. 163 · selective recollection said

    i specially quoted for you where shaheen talks about that explicitly.

    yes. that’s the dirty trick. say the republicans will accuse obama of being a drug-dealer (a racially coded smear of a black man) so you have plausible denial. do it right b/f the all-white iowa caucus then get “fired.” and if there was nothing wrong with it, why fire him?

    of course, the 3 am ad was fear mongering. but i will believe that clinton had something to do with drudge when i have somebody other than drudge, fox, and you saying that it is so. interesting leap from there to bush washing his hands off the black baby calls face to face with mccain.

    in the world of dirty tircks you’re rarely going to see stuff w/o plausible denial. consider the clinton camps reaction to the drudge pic. you yourself called it racist. consider the timing. who gained. doesn’t it work well with the 3am ad. and watch the 60min interview.

    i never did. not once

    in your 1st comment, you cited an article, presumably showing the republicans where responsible for the rumors. the article cited debbie schussel, who of course is as high up there as gerry ferraro, former vp candidate and feminist icon.

  13. a month of bombarding advertisements costing millions of dollars, with nary a word in opposition by the candidate. stretching moral equivalence is the new game played by the jetsetters these days, i see.

    what are you talking about here? swift boats?

  14. 159 · selective recollection said

    as for the boy thing, i am glad you are so attuned to the lingo of oppression that you divined from erica jong’s essay that she is a closet plantation owner.

    yeah, i don’t ususally refer to a black man as boy. but that’s just me.

  15. Aboriginals are not blacks!!!!

    I cant believe that someone who lives in Australia would say that. The aborigines have always been called blacks in Australia.

  16. well hmf, re malcolm and martin there are things i agee with and things i don’t. either way, its been close to a 1/2 century since their heyday and its important to move on,

    It’s also important to correctly represent their views, last time you spoke about either of these two they spun on their backs so much, you turned them into this guy

  17. 82 · glass houses said

    oh wow cc got your panties in a bunch much? :)

    Hee hee! Notice how glass houses never came up with an answer, and could only resort to something he heard in the third grade about a year ago?

    It’s okay, gs. We feel your pain. :P

  18. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X have informed me that they’re sick and tired of being invoked to lend authority to the polemics of message-board ideologues. In particular, they both agree that implying familiarity with them by using their first names is the kind of thing Hitler would do.

  19. they both agree that implying familiarity with them by using their first names is the kind of thing Hitler would do.

    Adolf, please. That’s what Eva and Benito would want.

  20. 171 · redr said

    Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X have informed me that they’re sick and tired of being invoked to lend authority to the polemics of message-board ideologues. In particular, they both agree that implying familiarity with them by using their first names is the kind of thing Hitler would do

    What about Oprah?

  21. Actually, Obama is Gilbert Gottfried in disguise. (or vice versa) Those 2 are never in the same room at the same time. It is too strange. They suspiciously look similar. The current New Yorker cover brings out their similar features. Perhaps Fux Gnus should investigate since they are the only ones qualified to do such serious and responsible reporting.

    No, the real truth is that the New Yorker artist is trying to prove once and for all that Obama is a closet Krispy Kreme donut fan (drawn with his Krispy Kreme Donut worker hat.) Once Obama is elected, he will put an end to the heinous trend of Krispy Kreme donut shops closing around the country. He WILL save America. (Seriously at this point, anyone will be better than Bush in my opinion.)

  22. The Colbert Report has made a satire about Obama being a secret muslim for some time now. The New Yorker’s target market (same as The Colbert Report) are probably upper class/affulent liberals. I can imagine people not understanding the satire behind the cover – as their the butt of the joke!

  23. From today’s NYT:

    The furor over this week’s New Yorker cover — the satirical cartoon of Barack and Michelle Obama in Muslim and black-militant poses — boils down to this: We get it, but what will those folks in fly-over country think? The answer is that they get it as well. Irony, it turns out, does cross the Hudson River. And if they don’t get it, if they see the cover as affirmation of the sludge they’ve heard on talk radio or certain cable outlets, they’re never going to vote for Barack Hussein Obama anyway.
  24. I cant believe that someone who lives in Australia would say that. The aborigines have always been called blacks in Australia.

    to call an Aboriginal an Abo is the equivalent of using of the “N” word.

  25. Omigosh, finally, someone who sees that this is SATIRE– hellloooooo. I grew up with the New Yorker on my coffee table and right away it was clear to me what this cover was conveying– the absurdity of a “terrorist fist bump”. It saddens me that people are so literal they would use an extremely smart– not to mention frickin’ funny– cover such as this to further their own ignorant, racist points of view.

  26. We desis should also consider that the New Yorker is a very unfriendly place for Browns. After all, look what they did to Tina.

  27. if you define ‘conservative media’ solely as Human Events, Fox, Townhall, Malkin/Hotair, AceofSpades, Little Green Footballs, RenewAmerica, Don Surber, Free Republic etc then the cover seems incomplete as satire, because it fails to capture the desperate lurch from “Obama-Muslimofascist” to “Obama-Commie/Amurrica Hater/Regular Motions-Havin’ Elitist” that most of these outlets haven’t been able to avoid as the former approach ran into some credibility problems of it’s own.

  28. Funny how this was never brought up in a post by ennis/sepia mutiny. That one was as horrifying, if not more, since it was in earnest, and wasnt even an attempt at satire.

    And one cover is as related to south asians/desis in America as the other.

  29. Melbourne Desi:

    to call an Aboriginal an Abo is the equivalent of using of the “N” word.

    Be glad that he didn’t choose his handle to be “boong”.

  30. Omigosh, finally, someone who sees that this is SATIRE– hellloooooo. I grew up with the New Yorker on my coffee table and right away it was clear to me what this cover was conveying– the absurdity of a “terrorist fist bump”. It saddens me that people are so literal they would use an extremely smart– not to mention frickin’ funny– cover such as this to further their own ignorant, racist points of view.

    I recently saw the movie Clueless.

  31. How (double) smears originate (from the link in 183):

    The morning after Obama locked up the nomination, I was writing a “Trailhead” item that mocked the media’s difficulty in figuring out what to call the now famous gesture. “Fist-pound,” “knuckle-bump,” and “fist-to-fist thumbs up” were among the funnier examples, but one of them—”Hezbollah-style fist jab”—was particularly risible. It came from the Web site for Human Events, a hard-right weekly. Unfortunately, I failed to note that its provenance was not the magazine itself but a reader comment posted below an unrelated column by Cal Thomas. I linked the phrase to the column but didn’t explain that the words weren’t Thomas’.

    Many “Trailhead” readers clicked through to Thomas’ column and, not finding the phrase there, assumed that Thomas or his bosses had wiped it from his column. What really happened, it seems, is that Human Events removed the reader comment after many other readers posted comments taking offense and/or debunking it. These latter comments remained, while the comment that provoked the outrage vanished into thin air, creating further confusion about its origin.

    When I realized the confusion I’d helped cause, I posted a correction. But it was too late. Liberal bloggers from all over had already seized on the phrase. Time and Politico misreported that the words were Thomas’. Then, fatefully, Fox News anchor E.D. Hill jauntily paraphrased “Hezbollah-style fist jab” on air as “terrorist fist jab.” Hill wasn’t endorsing the phrase, but she failed to make clear that she was citing someone else’s characterization. She apologized the next day but lost her show anyway.

  32. Now, Obama says the cartoon offends Muslim Americans (or, I read a headline saying that, somewhere). Did he really say that? Oy vey. This is gonna be a long four years……

    Melbourne Desi – that’s cool, all that moving around! I have a good friend and colleague in Boston who worked in the UK, Melbourne, and Boston as a doc and she says that in her ideal world she would live in Australia and work in the US. I always thought that was interesting.

  33. she says that in her ideal world she would live in Australia and work in the US. I always thought that was interesting.

    Absolutely. So would I. Had to make a choice between USA and Oz. Life beat work but it was a close fight. The deciding factor was the mess of the INS in the USA and I dont like illegal migrants. No queue jumpers, please.

  34. Not sure if this thread is still active but the NYT has an editorial today that tries to explain why this satire is a little difficult to pass off. It goes to the argument that this particular satire was not very well execulted. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/20/weekinreview/20seigel.html?ref=politics)

    The problem is that the cartoon accurately portrays a ridiculous real-life caricature that exists as literal fact in the minds of some people, and it portrays it in terms that are absolutely true to that caricature. An analogous instance would have been a cartoon without commentary appearing in a liberal Northern newspaper in the 1920s — a time when Southern violence against blacks was unabated — that showed a black man raping a white woman while eating a watermelon. The effect of accurately reproducing such a ridiculous image that dwelled unridiculously in the minds of some people would have been merely to broaden its vicious reach. The adherents of that image would have gone unsatirized and untouched.