Tuesday, July 15, 2008

'Taint funny McGee

David Seaton's News Links
The New Yorker and I go a long way back, my parents had a subscription before I was born: divorced, they had two subscriptions and I literally (or illiterately) began to read the New Yorker before I even knew how to read... I even like the smell and feel of the magazine's paper and ink from those days.

Also as a little boy I loved the drawings and writings of James Thurber, all of which proceeded from the magazine and I
had a precocious taste for New Yorker cartoons, (plus "Pogo,"of course), that marked me as a bit different from my Disneyed little chums.

Anybody who is a snob before they turn five is likely to be incorrigible.

This is just to make clear that the New Yorker and I are family and I tend to take their covers on faith. Frankly, I can't imagine ever taking sides against the New Yorker on anything.

If I had to speculate, I would say that someone at the New Yorker Magazine is very, very, very pissed off at Barack Obama. This could be for any number of reasons ranging from his policy flip flops, down to a snub at a cocktail party.

What I am sure of that it is not just "innocent" satire. Innocent is the last word I would ever apply to the New Yorker... or to Barack Obama for that matter.

I agree with Mike Huckabee, in my opinion America's sharpest, most human and most interesting politician, when he was asked on Fox if the cover was just satire,
HUCKABEE: Well, I don't know how clear it is, though. It's clear to people who keep up to politics, but if you're walking down the corridor of an airport, you just happen to look over the bookstore, you're just going to see that image, and, frankly, I don't know that the average person who doesn't know "The New Yorker," who doesn't read the article, is going to get that it's satire.

COLMES: If you see an image of Barack Obama -- Michelle looks like Angela Davis, you know, assault rifles, burning flag, Osama bin Laden, who in their right mind would take that seriously?

HUCKABEE: A whole lot of people who don't bother to do anything other than just look at the image. Believe me, I've been a candidate, I'm telling you that there are a whole lot of people that don't get beyond the surface.

There are a lot of people who follow every bit of the news, but there are many Americans who just read the headlines or they hear the lead story, they don't dig down deep.

That cover -- I can understand why Obama was, you know, pretty burned about it. He was more burned than the flag over this.
The cover pictured above, which has caused such an uproar, is also an occasion to riff on an article in today's New York Times. Here are some choice bits:
What’s so funny about Barack Obama? Apparently not very much, at least not yet.(...) Comedy has been no easier for the phalanx of late-night television hosts who depend on skewering political leaders for a healthy quotient of their nightly monologues. Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and others have delivered a nightly stream of jokes about the Republican running for president — each one a variant on the same theme: John McCain is old.

But there has been little humor about Mr. Obama: about his age, his speaking ability, his intelligence, his family, his physique. And within a late-night landscape dominated by white hosts, white writers, and overwhelmingly white audiences, there has been almost none about his race.(...) anything approaching a joke about Mr. Obama himself has fallen flat. When Mr. Stewart on “The Daily Show” recently tried to joke about Mr. Obama changing his position on campaign financing, for instance, he met with such obvious resistance from the audience, he said, “You know, you’re allowed to laugh at him.” Mr. Stewart said in a telephone interview on Monday, “People have a tendency to react as far as their ideology allows them.”(...) There is no doubt, several representatives of the late-night shows said, that so far their audiences (and at least some of the shows’ writers) seem to be favorably disposed toward Mr. Obama, to a degree that perhaps leaves them more resistant to jokes about him than those about most previous candidates.(...) Of course, the question of race is also mentioned as one reason Mr. Obama has proved to be so elusive a target for satire.

“Anything that has even a whiff of being racist, no one is going to laugh,” said Rob Burnett, an executive producer for Mr. Letterman. “The audience is not going to allow anyone to do that.”(...) One issue that clearly has some impact on writing jokes about Mr. Obama is a consistency among the big late-night shows. Not only are all the hosts white, the vast majority of their audiences are white. “I think white audiences get a little self-conscious if race comes up,” Mr. Sweeney of Mr. O’Brien’s show said.(...) Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the ABC late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” said of Mr. Obama, “There’s a weird reverse racism going on. You can’t joke about him because he’s half-white. It’s silly. I think it’s more a problem because he’s so polished, he doesn’t seem to have any flaws.”
Humor is a royal gate into the subconscious and I think this article gives a key to an important thing that the white, college educated American middle classes are looking for in Barack Obama. In a land steeped in irony, the land of the loud raspberry, you are not allowed to laugh at him.

It isn't permitted to laugh at him because in the acceptable discourse of genteel America, it is not allowed to ridicule a person of color for any reason at all no matter how absurd they are and if anyone does so, it is permitted to look down on that person as a despicable, ignorant, racist, pig.

One of the most comical situations in American life is to see a well educated, middle class, white American confronted with that rarest of creatures, an obnoxious African-American (some do actually exist, I'm told) and watch the good lady or gentleman tie him or herself into knots rather than to just tell a putz of color to get stuffed.

Mind you, this is totally hypocritical; skin color still blinds middle class Americans to obvious absurdities. For example, it allows middle class Americans to applaud and to nod approval when a person raised entirely by a white middle class family, with the means to send him to good prep school, solely because of his skin color, has the nerve, the unmitigated chutzpah to lecture the African-American community, as represented by the NAACP on "personal responsibility".
"Now, I know some say I've been too tough on folks about this responsibility stuff. But I'm not going to stop talking about it." While it is right to assail Washington and Wall Street for some of the inequality in the country, "we also have to demand more from ourselves," he said.(...) Obama reiterated his campaign stance that, even if they are disadvantaged, American blacks have to "do more in our own lives" rather than point the finger elsewhere.(...) "It starts with teaching our daughters to never allow images on television to tell them what they are worth; and teaching our sons to treat women with respect, and to realize that responsibility does not end at conception; that what makes them men is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."
This speech is entirely and cynically pitched toward the white middle class and is as enormously cruel and insensitive as the "clinging to guns and religion" remark he made about poor whites.

The plight of contemporary poor black youth and the plight of poor white youth stem from dis-industrialization. I grew up in a town with a large black community and attended junior high and high school with African-Americans and in the 50s they all had fathers with jobs. Real working class, unionized jobs. Those jobs no longer exist.

It is cruel to say,
"What makes them men is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."
It is cruel because as human beings, men and women, be they black or white, have to fuck and children just happen: most of us just happened.

But to "raise a child" is also quite an ordinary thing that doesn't require courage so much as it does money and that in turn means steady jobs that pay enough to have an orderly home life. Poor blacks do crack and smack and poor whites do meths because... there are no jobs for people with little education that pay enough to make a home and to raise a family: they have no future.

Getting back to the point I raised before: America's educated, white, middle class want a president that can't be laughed at.

George W. Bush is the world's laughing stock, a figure of fun for the whole planet. This raucous laughter pains the educated, American middle class: these are people who travel and experience this derision and contempt as a personal affront, and who, behind their mild exterior, are as proud as Old Nick.

If nothing else they want the laughter to stop.

Bush is the laughing stock of the world, in part because of his ineptness, but mostly because America's chickens are finally coming home to roost, the next president is going to preside over a situation of near or perhaps real collapse of America's long held positions in both economic and military spheres.

Any post-Bush honeymoon the next president may have with the world will be very short lived and whoever he is, he too will soon be greeted by angry demonstrators all over the planet and by governments, like the Russians and the Chinese, that are not going to cut anybody any slack just because they are in their 70s or because their hair is curly and their teeth are pearly.

Obama or McCain, the next few years are going to be humiliating, but with president Obama, America's educated middle class and their wannabees will be able to smugly dismiss the jeering disrespect of the world as crude and ugly racism and thus maintain some sense of their own superiority and their belief in American Exceptionalism.


lanikai said...

You are very smart, which I'm sure you already know, and i learn each time I read your blog. Thanks for doing it. In the sea of sheep a thinking man is a treasure.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Thank you very much for your kind words.

aml said...

I think ignoring the New Yorker cover would have been the best course of action for the Obama campaign. Instead, we see the attack dogs at work and it's a little disturbing (and silly) when they go after The New Yorker for God's sake. Hopefully, late night hosts will pick up on that trend.