Honestly, I can't get worked up about it.
Maybe because it's summertime. Maybe because economic analysts are predicting more than 100 U.S. banks could fail this year, and the bank-run scene from It's a Wonderful Life keeps flashing through my mind. (Maybe I should mosey on down to the local branch.) Or maybe because it's The New Yorker, and, honestly, who cares?
Whatever the reason, I can't get worked up over the cover cartoon depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as fist-jabbing Muslim terrorists.
What's most interesting to me is not his caricature but hers. He's a secret Muslim, but she's something worse—an angry black woman. Notice the huge, billowy 'fro and the hand on her hip? Message: Adherents of Islam are kinda scary, but a powerful black woman (excluding Oprah or sex toys like Beyoncé)—whoa!
And why camouflage pants and a gun? Why not a Black Panther beret and a dashiki? Why not have her standing over some prone white man, gun aimed at you-know-what? Or is that going someplace I don't want to think about?
The New Yorker, naturally, defends the cartoon as satire. The Obama campaign has decried the cover as tasteless and offensive, and a spokesman for John McCain has done the same.
Tasteless? Okay. Offensive? Eh. The cover made me roll my eyes, but I wasn't offended. Then again, I wasn't offended by Imus, either. It seems to me that getting offended by stuff like this is like getting offended by a pigeon that craps on your head. What's the point? The incident is all about the pigeon and its natural inclinations. It has nothing to do with you.
The limitation of The New Yorker, with its smug and insular editorial stance, is that in trying so hard to reach provocative and transgressive, it often lands instead on lead-footed and dumb. Remember the famous cover with the Hasidic man kissing the black woman? Yeah, yeah, we get that this is supposed to be satirizing the fears and xenophobic slurs of certain right-wing zealots who oppose Obama. The only problem is:
1) It's a little late. The terrorist fist-jab incident having long been thoroughly mocked. In humor, timing is everything.
2) It's not very sharp. If you have to explain satire, it's not working.
Chris Hondros / Getty Images
If it's not clear whether you're making fun of stereotypes and fear-based lies or (consciously or unconsciously) playing into them, you need to go back to the sketching pad. The cover is an attempt to mock the lies swirling around Obama, and maybe in the white-wine sipping corridors of the Upper West Side it comes across that way, but in much of America this just looks like reiteration.
I'm no political cartoonist, but wouldn't it have been more pointed to add a window with Rush Limbaugh peeking through in horror? Or to have had Bill O'Reilly sitting on the couch with a grin? Or maybe to have gone the other way and suggest the Obamas are secretly something they have not been accused of being, like, I don't know—undercover Anglophiles? Closet Nascar fans? Saturday night bingo players on the down low?
Mainly though, this tempest-in-a-teapot points out, yet again, the double-bind quandary in which Obama finds himself, and with which he is going to have to deal. On the one hand, he cannot afford to sit idly by and allow himself to be swift-boated by lies, insinuations and falsehoods, or even their satirically-intended-but-not-necessarily-received-that-way counterparts. He does need to confront some of this stuff, lest he end up looking like the weak-kneed Democrats of the past.
On the other hand, brother is running for president. And pigeons will do what pigeons will do. Sometimes you just have to say nothing, brush that stuff off your shoulder and keep on stepping. We know he knows how to do that.
Kim McLarin is the author of "Jump at the Sun: A Novel."