The new August edition of my favorite DC newspaper, The Rock Creek Free Press is in the honor box at Dupont Circle North Metro exit now--hopefully. Last month, the July copies disappeared in a flash, and the opportunistic Washington Examiner--on my sh*t list already for running a prominent ad for handguns the day after the shooting at Virginia Tech--took to filling the box with its own freebee paper.
A Chronicle Review article this week,"The Science of Satire" by Harvard University psychology professor Mahzarin R. Banaji, spells out just what's wrong with that New Yorker cover, why it's far from "just satire," and why Remnick's incredulous response to the outcry is so embarrassing.
The brain, Blitt (artist) would be advised to understand, is a complex machine whose operating principles we know something about. When presented with A and B in close spatial or temporal proximity, the mind naturally and effortlessly associates the two. Obama=Osama is an easy association to produce via simple transmogrification. Flag burning=unpatriotic=unAmerican=unChristian=Muslim is child's play for the cortex....There is no getting around the fact that the very association Blitt helplessly confessed he didn't intend to create was made indelibly for us, by him.*
What made Blitt (artist) and Remnick's response to the public outcry even more problematic were their justifications that tumbled out in response to challenges about the cover. Remnick showed off other covers by the same artist that were, in his mind, similarly offensive. In one cover image, Vice President Cheney is shown to be the boss of President Bush; in anther, there's a flood in the Oval Office, with the administration afloat..When the artist's intention was to depict Cheney as the boss, he faithfully drew Cheney as the boss. That's satire? When the artist's intention was to depict the drowning of the administration, he sketched the drowning of the administration. Far out!
I said that Remnick's response was embarrassing. Why? Because it was so freakin lame and because as the editor of the New Yorker and thus presumably knowledgeable and sophisticated, he should have KNOWN BETTER.
If you can't access the Chronicle Review online, perhaps your local liberry will have a copy in the print edition. It's well worth your time and effort to go read it.
*(Doesn't this also make you think of this week's ad mashup--Obama and the two starlets?)