Sunday, July 27, 2008

Must We Mean What We Say? Part Two

I want to keep talking about this.

It seems like this New Yorker cover is one of a handful of incidents in this campaign (so far) that have caused a kind of violent reaction, or have provoked a public outcry that has (quite literally) shouted down the disturbance. The others that I would include in this group are Jeremiah Wright, Hillary Clinton mentioning the RFK assassination, and McCain's underling suggesting that a terrorist attack would benefit McCain's candidacy. There are others, probably, but those are the ones that stick out in my mind. And I think this because each of these instances have hit a nerve in the American public mind - in each of them there is at least a kernel of a truth that nobody really wants to address.

With the New Yorker cover, part of the problem is that what the artist is doing is merely re-iterating what a lot of people have already said about the Obamas. Like, I said, if this cartoon is satire, then it is bad satire because it's not adding anything novel to the conversation. But, furthermore, this cartoon has been a spark because it mocks people's beliefs without articulating what it is about those beliefs that deserve mocking.

The only analogy that I can think of is if a friend of mine admits to me, "I hate Muslims," and then I say (meaning it as a retort, or perhaps as some kind of refutation of his belief) "You hate Muslims." Perhaps I consider it as self-evident that someone shouldn't hate Muslims and that my friend is making a moral error when he says that he does, but this obviously isn't going to get us anywhere, let alone convince my friend that he is in the wrong. I'm merely repeating what he already said to me, and (maybe) insulting him in the process, depending on the tone of my voice.

And this is a very real and serious problem that needs to be dealt with. As evidence, check out (very, very quickly) The author of this post obviously thinks that (a) Islam is evil, and (b) Barack Obama is working to ensure the Muslim take over of the United States. This seems to be exactly the position that is being mocked and (unsuccessfully) satirized in the New Yorker. And I'm not saying that these positions shouldn't be mocked. I'm just questioning the effectiveness of the strategy of this cartoon.

So what? I mean, The New Yorker is a private institution, a member of the free press that publish what they want, right? They're definitely not obliged to tow Obama's line, right?

This April 1, 2008, USAToday poll found that "While a majority — 53% — identify Obama as a Christian, 16% of conservative Republicans, 16% of white evangelical Protestants and 19% of rural Americans believe the Illinois senator is Muslim." Is it a joke? I don't think so. A March 13, 2008 Wall Street Journal Poll showed that 13% of Americans believed that Obama is a Muslim. And, of course, you've got to love this:

But, in that case, shouldn't we be singing the praises of the New Yorker for having the courage to call out these voters, to expose their prejudices and mistaken beliefs?

Well, yes. If that's what I thought the New Yorker were doing. If it ends up helping
to dispel these Muslim rumors, then that can be counted as a positive outcome of this entire episode. But in what way is it helping to address anti-Islamic sentiment in
America? Or, for that matter, racism? I think that Kareem Shora, the Executive
Director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said it very well in
the latest issue of the New Yorker:

But we should look past the noise about whether or not the cover is offensive, a red-
herring issue with fairly predictable responses on all sides, to the deeper questions:
Why is the label "Muslim" such a powerful and popular weapon against Obama? And what
should the Obama camp be doing, instead of denouncing a magazine cover?

Personally, I don't put much blame on the Obama camp. After all, they're just trying
to win an election. But as for the rest of us, well, we need to start coming up with
some better ways, be they satirical or not, of addressing these deeper questions.

And we haven't even begun to look at the figure on the other side of the cover!

P.S. - Remind me to start talking more about the Duck-Rabbit. It is lurking somewhere behind the scenes here.

No comments: