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Best Thing Yet About the Obama New Yorker cover

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If you haven't seen it yet, check out Lee Siegel's extremely smart piece about the New Yorker cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as anti-American, Osama-sympathizing radicals. It's the first piece I've seen that really gets at why the art didn't work as satire.

In short, Siegel is arguing that satire works best -- or, rather works at all -- when it is lampooning a widely accepted truth. Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" magnifies, and thus satirizes, the English crown's cruel treatment of the Irish. But what truth does the New Yorker cover satirize? Siegel has a suggestion for how it could have been done right: "But if that very same New Yorker cover had been drawn in a balloon over the head of a deranged citizen -- or a ruthless political operative -- it would have appeared as plausible only in the mind of that person," Siegel writes. "The image would have come across as absurd and unjust -- a version of reality exaggerated to the point of madness." Right on.

Siegel (who by the way is not the admired novelist Lee Siegel) is a very fine cultural critic who wrote the best-ever takedown of Barbara Kingsolver, for which I will always have a soft spot for him. He used to have a somewhat irrational antipathy toward the New York Times, but it is a pleasure to see him contributing such fine pieces there.