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Humor Isn’t Funny When You Have To Explain It

By Jesse Taylor
Monday, July 14, 2008 12:48 EDT
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imageThe hallmark of good satire is that it’s good enough to perhaps be taken credulously by those who aren’t too swift, but also ridiculous enough to show that whoever does take it seriously is a bit slow in the head.

This is not good satire.

The Obama campaign is condemning as “tasteless and offensive” a New Yorker magazine cover that depicts Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a turban, fist-bumping his gun-slinging wife.

An American flag burns in their fireplace.

The New Yorker says it’s satire. It certainly will be candy for cable news.

The Obama campaign quickly condemned the rendering. Spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement: “The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama’s right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree.”

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds quickly e-mailed: “We completely agree with the Obama campaign, it’s tasteless and offensive.”

The main problem with the image is that there’s absolutely no indication of satire involved. Take the New Yorker header off, and you’ve got something that could go up at any number of county Republican Parties with no alteration whatsoever. As Kevin Drum points out, what’s missing is any indication of agency in the picture – there’s no poke at the people saying this, merely a reflection of what’s being said. It’s not actually satirizing the phenomenon of right-wing e-mail forwards, it’s just creating the ultimate version thereof. To put it in a different context, it’s like holding a satirized Klan rally by holding a Klan rally…with a laser show that makes a three-story image of a burning cross. A bigger, badder, better version of the thing you’re attempting to mock doesn’t constitute mockery, it just constitutes a gaudier version of the thing you’re addressing.

Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor is an attorney and blogger from the great state of Ohio. He founded Pandagon in July, 2002, and has also served on the campaign and in the administration of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. He focuses on politics, race, law and pop culture, as well as the odd personal digression when the mood strikes.
 
 
 
 
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