Among our ever growing roster of things to hate and fear, Islamic terrorists are probably the most hated and certainly the most feared. For the better part of this decade, the stated goal of America has been to hunt down and bring terrorists to justice (torture and kill them). Toby Keith wrote songs about it. Entire industries have emerged with business models that include killing terrorists and protecting Americans from the ones that get away.
And for the last year or so, there exists an unstoppable whisper campaign implying that Senator Obama is a terrorist whose goal it is to seize our government in the name of al-Qaeda. It's not just the e-mails and the peawits who believe them, either. Everyone from Ann Coulter to Mitt Romney to TIME Magazine's very serious Mark Halperin are helping to spread this dangerous filth.
The rumor doesn't merely repeat what Republicans have said about everyone from Senator Kerry to Max Cleland -- that the Democrats want the terrorists to win, or that they're "with the terrorists." This new thing with Senator Obama is much more insidious as it literally paints Senator Obama as an actual terrorist. Not an enabler or appeaser -- but literally as a member of our nation's mortal enemy. And so if it's our goal to bring terrorists to justice (kill, torture, etc...), this ridiculous and so-far-fetched-it's-insane-how-many-stupid-people-believe-it rumor puts Senator Obama and his family at risk of being targeted by an unhinged far-right zealot who has "kill 'em all, and let God sort them out" tattooed across his forehead.
The challenge, then, is to somehow combat the insanity of the whisper campaign without making matters worse and putting the Obamas in further danger. Without the correct tone, we run the risk of feeding the rumor rather than killing it. As such, the only way to kill a flesh-eating virus of these proportions is to employ some artful semantic construction and, in the case of this New Yorker cover, much much much better satire. So yes, it's satire. But it's really bad satire.
The problem with the New Yorker cover isn't that it shows Senator Obama in a turban and all the rest of it. The problem is that the cartoon totally fails to underscore who and what's being satirized. The people worthy of satire aren't the Obamas, but rather the asshats who are actively passing off this crap as the truth. To that point, I can understand what the artist, Barry Blitt who is otherwise an amazing illustrator, was getting at. By publishing such a drawing, the New Yorker "becomes" the rumor spreader, even though it's really not. But such a complex meta-joke is, firstly, tricky to accomplish, and, secondly, too abstract to adequately smack down the gargantuan size and volume of these rumors. So the point is lost without the benefit of the "it's about scare tactics" press release, and the cartoon fails. But, unfortunately, such a failure makes the cover part and parcel of the rumor it seeks to expose.
In other words, without reading the article, any given yokel will see the cover (as it's aired around the clock on cable news) and think, "Hey Jessup! Lookie yonder! This here drawing shows Hoo-Sane is a Muslim terrrrst. I knew it!"
In order to preserve the integrity of the drawing, while emphasizing the point, Blitt could've used the same illustration but drawn it within a large comic book speech bubble emanating from the mouth of an exaggerated, fat, inbred, toothless hillbilly sitting at his toothless hillbilly computer. Or the illustration could've been on the computer screen itself with the hillbilly looking bug-eyed and outraged. Either way.
This would've succeeded in illustrating just who believes these rumors and where they're coming from. And isn't that the point? That certain Americans are so scared and paranoid that they'll believe anything?
I want a major magazine to satirize and shame the culprits behind this thing. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Chris Matthews and other broadcast professionals "accidentally" calling the senator "Osama." Or Ann Coulter suggesting that pundits shouldn't say the senator's name and "hijack" in the same sentence. Or the Tennessee Republican Party spreading the e-mail rumors as fact -- complete with the turban photograph. Or the thick portfolio of photographs and screen-grabs of Republicans without lapel pins whining about how Senator Obama doesn't always wear one. I want the New Yorker to illustrate the shallow kindergarten-throwbacks who won't vote for the senator because of his middle name.
Being someone who has engaged in his fair share of outrageous and sometimes tasteless cartoon satire (here and here) I recognize this cover as satire. I once produced a cartoon in which President Bush choked on a pretzel and died, and then Cheney decides to haul him around Weekend At Bernie's style. The obvious point being that the president is a puppet of Cheney. We weren't suggesting that the president was dead in real life. Just a puppet. It would've been an entirely different cartoon if we had simply shown the president as corpse -- Hey look, the president choked on a pretzel -- the end. Or in the case of the New Yorker, Hey look, the Obamas are Islamic militants who hate America... (chirp, chirp... chirp, chirp).
The New Yorker cover, regardless of how many people are blowing it off as a joke, fails to be funny, fails to accomplish its satirical goal and only succeeds in being a part of that which it had hoped to condemn.
Follow Bob Cesca on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bobcesca_go