When Does Satire Go To Far?

Published: July 18, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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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.


  1. Author

    I viewed the New Yorker cover as REALITY. As one who was born in Madison Square Garden, during the elephant act of Ringling Bros. Circus in 1934, delivered uncerimoniously into the peanut shells under the seats of section 33, and taken to Polyclinic Hospital (now gone) across the street, I speak with authority on NEW YORK, and The New Yorker Magazine, which I have read through all my ages.
    It shocked me that an avowed, credientialed liberal magazine, fighting for survival, presented such a cover, even as “satire”. However, living
    in the California belt which politically correct people would call “Redneck Country,” I can tell you folks that MANY relate to this cover as a truism. I am a Viet Nam vet, and whereas my brothers and sisters have nothing but scorn for our original Iraq policy, they have more than vitriol for negotiates and panderers. They know what Losing a War really means.

    We harbor deep suspicions about what that cover depicts: a DNA of Muslim heritage inserted into the brain of the White House….that is the real deal. You may disparage this viewpoint, but trust me, the white American has little in common with this kind of “Change” and the New Yorker cover illustrates better than words will ever convey, the suspicions and distrust that working-white-middle and even upper class Americans have with this untested 143-days-in-the-Senate candidate. Not to say the alternative for the Republicrats is any better. Throw your dice, this time it matters!
    Unfortunately, vetting, past history, campaign finance dollars and past dilliances cut great men and women from the Presidency…out of 200+ million, there should be a better offering. But, no. As DeTocqueville said so long ago: “Democracy will ultimately fail because, in order to survive, politicians have to promise more and more each time to the masses. Finally, it will collapse of its own expectations.” We are close to that tipping point now.

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