Jenice Armstrong: Covering the Obamas

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A New Yorker cover has created a stir by depicting the Obamas in Islamic garb.

WELL, HARDY, HAR, har. Have you seen that New Yorker cover with Sen. Barack Obama on it all dressed up in Islamic-style dress?

In the illustration, he's wearing a turban and a loose-fitting garment. Oh, and get this, Michelle Obama has - gasp - an Afro and instead of doing the Jackie O-thing, she's wearing camouflage, toting an AK-47 and has an ammo belt slung across her back.

An American flag is burning in a fireplace presumably in the Oval Office and over the mantel is a picture of mass murderer Osama Bin Laden.

Still laughing? Thought not. The editor of the New Yorker calls the magazine's latest cover a well-intentioned attempt to satirize some of the right-wing fueled hogwash that has dogged the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and his wife.

"What I think it does is hold up a mirror to the prejudice and dark imaginings about Barack Obama's - both Obamas' - past, and their politics," David Remnick told the Huffington Post yesterday.

It goes without saying, of course, that editorial cartoonists do this kind of spoofing every day. American newspapers have a long history of just this kind of free speech. Done well, good satire is exaggerated. It's provocative. It gets you thinking. The goal of covers such as this one is to get readers worked up about certain issues and to stimulate discussion of ideas.

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If you judge the New Yorker cover strictly from that perspective, then the magazine succeeded beyond expectations. Called "The Politics of Fear," the illustration has been all the buzz on TV and radio talk shows, as well as on the blogosphere. When was the last time that the New Yorker has been at the center of anything like that? It caught the notice of Obama's camp, as well as that of Sen. John McCain's, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Both sides have condemned the magazine's offensive portrayal of the Obamas.

Regular readers of the New Yorker, no doubt, are savvy enough to understand and perhaps even appreciate the irony with which the cartoon was intended. They've seen enough of the magazine's covers throughout the years to recognize that this particular illustration fits squarely into the magazine's literary tradition.

But what about the rest of the world? In typical New Yorker fashion, there's not a single line of accompanying text nor any headline indicating a hint of irony or of the absurdity of how the Obamas have been characterized. It's one thing if they pick up the magazine and read the accompanying articles, which are reportedly thoughtful and well done. But how many folks are likely to do that? For a lot of people, their sole encounter with the magazine will be the image of Obama in a turban and of his gun-toting wife dressed like a terrorist.

Tee hee, hee. That ought to really put a smile on people's faces. *

Read Jenice Armstrong's blog at philly.com