As you no doubt already know, The New Yorker is being vilified for running the cartoon that illustrates this week’s cover of their magazine (and this post), created by New Yorker regular Barry Blitt. Racist! Offensive! Not Funny!, cry the outraged Obama followers. The New Yorker has even been accused of fearing the reality of a black President (that’s funny, too). However, unlike the Islamic extremists who wanted to kill Danish cartoonists who drew caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005 that they found sacrilegious!, no one is calling for Blitt’s head on a palette – yet. But given the depth of outrage being expressed on the blogosphere and throughout the land, I don’t rule it out.
Never mind that the cartoon is titled “The Politics of Fear” and is intended to satirize the slurs and stupidity that have been hurled at Obama to discredit him. Never mind that The New Yorker has been the standard-bearer of American humor, satire and intellectual sophistication since Benchley, Parker et al held court at The Algonquin Hotel. Politically-correct sensibilities have been insulted and attention must be paid. There was no similar hew and cry when ugly caricatures of Hillary Clinton flooded the Internet, along with souvenir Hillary nutcrackers (just put the nut between her thighs and squeeze). But I guess we must pick our battles.
We’ve not only lost all perspective and common sense in this country, we’ve completely lost our sense of humor, especially about ourselves and anything/anyone we hold dear. Maybe this is another September 11th side effect, like not being able to make terrorist jokes at the airport, or having to pretend that the United States doesn’t have a cultural influence around the world that arouses the ire of people even crazier and more humorless than ourselves. Years ago, during a chat with my [black] father, I said “I believe in calling a spade a spade; oh, I forgot: this is the 90s, you can’t call a spade a spade.” We laughed. Having grown up in the era of All in the Family, Saturday Night Live and Jackie Mason in their irreverent heyday, I find today’s unsmiling propriety deeply depressing.
I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that this American cartoon crisis is happening at the same time that the Japanese are being chastised for a mobile phone commercial that features the company’s monkey mascot as a political candidate advocating change (racist! offensive! not funny!). Never mind that Japanese culture doesn’t have the same racist associations with blacks/monkeys that we do, it’s just not appropriate!!! In another monkey regard, animal advocates in Spain are trying to secure basic human rights for apes. Folks, we’ve lost our minds.
What I find especially interesting about all this humorless crap is that one could regard it as a smokescreen. Almost no one has mentioned the magazine’s very revealing article, “How Chicago Shaped Obama” by Ryan Lizza, which details Obama’s lesser-known political development during the early 90s and the fact that he has been a canny politician with his eyes on the White House for quite some time. I suggest that behaving as if a young, smart, black politician is devoid of the ambition, even ruthlessness, that it takes to become President is what’s really racist and offensive – and naïve. And anyone tough enough to be President should know how to take a joke, even one he doesn’t like, and advise his supporters to do the same.