Speechwriting: Corporate, Weddings, Retirement

7/17/08

New Yorker Barack Obama Cover: Satire: To Laugh or Not to Laugh (just be careful if you laugh so hard you pee)

It depends on where your affinities lay.

As a Christian, I am not at all thrilled with shock art that insults my faith. Call it satire, call it art, call it kitsch for the gullible rebel, I do not like it. Andres Serrano's federally funded ($15,000) Piss Christ might be the best known of this, and, for me, it is offensive (in theory, not in reality). However, suspecting it only appeals to those already converted to Serrano's snickering perspective, it is no big deal. It could be even argued it makes a statement about how easily we distort who the true Christ is/was. It exists, I will not buy it, and it is, outside of this kind of discussion, forgotten.

Serrano's sort is free to speak out this way, and I want that freedom to remain. My faith was not shaken. Burn an American flag, pee on a plastic crucifix, throw a Bible or Koran in the toilet, wrap Obama in a turban or draw Mohammad as the Pope.

This is America; let freedom ring. Such freedom is increasingly rare in the world. If we do not live freely, we are not living at all.

My God, my faith in God is stronger than any picture, no matter how much I dislike it.

The Obama cover was not funded by the government, but by a magazine funded by subscribers and advertisers. The cover makes a misunderstood statement that, like John Lennon's famous "We're more popular than Jesus now," quote. It could be that the fear of it being misunderstood is bigger than the misunderstanding's reality. All the same, as Obama is coming of this with more support. He is leading, yet is enjoying underdog support.

I hold the concurrent view that he knowingly produced something offensive (with or without artistic merit), while expressing what I cheer him on to do: his opinion. Some of Serrano's work is pleasant and innocuous, while some of it is not accidentally controversial. KKK members, new and decaying corpses, semen, blood (regular and menstrual), sexual themes.

Do I believe he snickered when he made these? Who knows? I do not believe he naively thought, "Hey, I have an idea I think everyone will like." I think he actively looked for ways to shock. My opinion.

He hit some hot topics with a bludgeon: sex, race, death and religion. As I see it, he went the cheap way to make a deep point, but, like when Wes Craven makes a horror movie, he draws in a crowd to listen.

That is freedom used strategically to accomplish a message the best way he thought he could do.

Whether I am convinced the Obama cover was or was not satirical is not the issue to me. The issue is the freedom for the New Yorker to do so.

Obama's stand in the polls will not be hurt. If anything, he is getting the defended victim's bounce. If this was planned, the New Yorker has brilliantly executed great support of their candidate, and will probably sell a few extra copies of a magazine subscribed by less than 1 million people, got people talking about Obama positively, "Hey, he's a Christian, not a Muslim," even by atheists, or, "He's antiwar, not prowar," and forced John McCain, who had nothing to do with this, to defend Obama.

As for Serrano, I realize I have just touch the surface here, but, really, do either of us know his intent? Mind-reading has never been my speciality.

I am only guessing based on his subject matter. I have read some of his defenses of his work, but, if I let his art speak for itself, it is my opinion that he willfully has gone the way of Howard Stern while wearing the fur of an artist. Is he skilled? Very. Are there artistic points? I think so. Did he go out of his way to be shocking? Looks that way to me. Am I offended? Well, not really. I mean, sure -- in a theoretical sense, as he decided to pee on a symbol of my faith, but deep down, no. He's not that good. It is just a photo of a crucifix in yellow water that, outside of hallowed artistic walls and discussion board posts about satire, stopped mattering in the 1990s.

Who is reading "Howl" these days without also reading the note connected to the asterisk? I know, some of you English majors are smugly nodding you've read it. Some you even remember who wrote the famous preface, and why there is an asterisk. Asterisks aren't "all that." Just ask Barry Bonds.

Regarding the Obama cover, there is nothing there of significance. Nothing in the message that has not been done. The New Yorker has better press people, that's all.

It is much ado about nothing.

Bush gets his share, from Satan to Osama to Jesus to Dracula.

The New Yorker's audience is not Joe Sixpack, but well-paid, well-educated liberal-leaning readers. Those Joe Sixpacks who think Obama is Muslim are no more likely to vote for McCain now that they have seen a New Yorker cover, are they? If a magazine reinforces an image, it is hard to see that they would be dissuaded from supporting McCain (or Ron Paul).

I wonder how insulted people were when reading Gulliver's Travels.

Is there a chance in the world that any pro-Obama New Yorker reader will change their vote? No. Was Obama himself insulted? No. Will the New Yorker's offices be bombed by Muslim terrorists? No.

The rest of the huffing and puffing is academic, with pundits on both sides looking for an audience.

From Wikipedia:

A recent report indicates that there were 996,000 subscribers in 2004. The total number of subscribers has been increasing at about a 3% annual pace over the last several years. Despite the magazine's New York focus, its subscription base is expanding geographically; in 2003 there were more subscribers in California (167,000) than in New York (166,000) for the first time in the magazine's history. The average age of subscribers rose from 46.8 in 2004 to 48.4 in 2005, compared with a rise of 43.8 to 44.0 for the nation, and a rise from 45.4 to 46.3 for news magazine subscribers. The average household income of a New Yorker subscriber was $80,957 in 2005, while the average income for a U.S. household with a subscription to a news magazine was $67,003, and the U.S. average household income was $51,466.

Bad satire? Good satire? Debatable academically, but, if part of satire's intent is to intrigue a reader to understand the sides of an issue, the New Yorker is forcing this with strength. How often does a liberal-leaning magazine get its perspective argued on the dinner tables and blogs of conservative readers? Too often, people preach to themselves, and nothing changes. The New Yorker found a way to get their politics in the face of people who would otherwise ignore them. Bad satire? Maybe so, but brilliant either way.

If people misunderstand it, so what? Too bad for the New Yorker, too bad for Obama. Does this matter? Not really. If someone sees it, and decides not to vote for Barack "Osama" Obama, how is this different than someone who sees a picture of George "Adolf" Bush? This is a risk of political discourse.

An interesting piece:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satire#Misconception_of_satire
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