Answer: When it depicts a national, political candidate with a boatload of misconceptions that many still believe to be true.
The cartoon on the latest cover of New Yorker magazine has Senator Barack Obama standing in the oval office, dressed as a Muslim, a picture of Osama bin Laden above the mantel and a flag burning in the fireplace. His wife Michelle is dressed as a gun-toting terrorist.
In a statement, the magazine said that cartoonist Barry Blitt’s cover satirizes the “politics of fear” by depicting the various rumors surrounding the presidential candidate. “[The magazine] defended its choice, saying its readership is sophisticated enough to get the joke,” and that “inside the magazine is a serious critique of Obama’s political skills…”
Fair enough, but what about the voting population that doesn’tget the joke? What about a very real and sizeable group of voters that still believe the rumors surrounding Obama?
I like to skewer people’s points of views with my own jabs of humor, but there have been times when it has backfired because it was too sarcastic and impolite. I not only have gone back and apologized, but re-programmed myself with a greater awareness of self-restraint to avoid any embarrassing reoccurrence.
Unfortunately, most people who believe the rumors and missinformation about Obama don’t or won’t see the humor even with a title like “The Politics of Fear.”
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said “The New Yorker may think… that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature of Senator Obama’s right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree.” Republican John McCain called the cover “totally inappropriate.”
I’m not suggesting that all political cartoons be reduced to a level that is understandable to everyone. I do believe that the editors at the New Yorker have a responsibility to practice the kind of self-restraint where they can be both humorous and respectful.
Good satire can be cutting edge, but it should never be cutthroat.