New Yorker: "Satire" At Its Worse

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[Elections 2003: Commentary On New Yorker]

The July 21 cover of The New Yorker magazine has an incredibly insensitive and irresponsible caricature of Senator Obama and his wife Michelle. 

Spokes people for the magazine have stated that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. In a statement Monday, the magazine said the cover "combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are."

"The burning flag, the nationalist-radical and Islamic outfits, the fist-bump, the portrait on the wall? All of them echo one attack or another. Satire is part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd. And that's the spirit of this cover," the New Yorker statement said.

The spokesperson also points to the two articles on Senator Obama contained inside the magazine, calling them "very serious." 

I read both of the articles. They were very serious articles and well written. I was expecting to find some explanation and/or correlation between the cover and the magazine content. Not having found either I am left to draw the conclusion that this cover in no way shape of form addresses the stereotypes in any positive manner. 

It only seems to perpetuate if not validate them.Usually in satire, human or individual vices or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, irony, or other methods, ideally with the intent to bring about improvement.  Also, what usually makes satire funny and/or valuable is its basis in reality.

In the case of The New Yorker, the Obama’s appear to be the object of the ridicule not those “right-wing critics” who are responsible for the ridiculous and oft times culturally based attacks on them.  The Obama’s are not Muslim, they are Christian. They are not radicals who burn the flag; they are honorable American’s who love their country. 

In fact, in spite of the voluminous death threats they have received, they love their country to the point of being willing to sacrifice their lives for it.  In this instance The New Yorker appears to be punishing the victim of the ridicule not the perpetrator, if not perpetuating distortions of their own. As a person with a very good sense of humor, I have at times stepped over the line.

I have come to learn (at times painfully and at the expense of the feelings of the butt of my joke) that just because I think it’s funny does not make it so.  A joke, or in this instance satire is only funny or valuable if the audience gets it.  In this case, the only ones who got it were the Obama’s, and they're not laughing.

Wilmer J. Leon, Ph. D, is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “On With Leon,” a regular guest on CNN’s Lou Dobb’s Tonight, and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  Go to or email:


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