Sunday, November 2, 2008

Who is the real Barack Hussein Obama Osama Obama?

I am not sure the Associative Property works this way.
(a screen shot from Brave New Films)

"I don't care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents can't read. But, damn it, they can see pictures!"
-Thomas Nast

Slate's Jack Shafer aptly quoted Mr. Nast in his look at the New Yorker's button pushing "Politics of Fear" cover. Painting Barack Hussein and Michelle Obama in all stereotypes that about this summer, Barry Blitt depicted the two in "standard terrorist" garb--you know, the turbans, the AK-47, the obligatory Osama Bin Laden portraite. It seemed like everyone had something to say when the issue hit the new stands. Some lauded the satire, heralding readers as sophisticated enough to understand the intended satire. Shafer, himself, wrote that "Only weak thinkers fear strong images."

Others, however, questioned the
New Yorker's taste, in inevitably the publics ability to discern fact from fiction. As Rachel Sklar of the Huffington Post posited, "This is going to upset a lot of people, probably for the same reason it's going to delight a lot of other people, namely those on the right."

With all hurtful/illegitamate stereotypes (Barak as a Muslim, Michelle as Angry, both as radical and unpatriotic...) rolled into one cover, it seemed to become unclear to readers and pundits alike where the joke lie: in a satire of the man or the rumors surrounding him. The critical looks from all sides made it clear that how something appeared carried as much heft as what something actually said. Satire or not, people weren't sure and
not everybody seemed to trust the public to figure it out.

This past weekend,
Glenn Greenwald of Salon feared that confusion was abound once more in claiming that "One of the few things worse than right-wing pundits trying to depict Barack Obama as a Muslim in order to win the election are the ones who do it but then are too cowardly to admit they're doing it." Mark Steyn of the National Review called the media a band of "eunuchs in Sultan Barack's harem" on both the pages of the Review and on The Hugh Hewitt Show.

While not calling Obama a Muslim outright, and certainly not branding him "Terrorist," Greenwald decries such analogies as "pathetically desperate." And neither Steyn's remarks nor the
New Yorker cover were the first to draw the tie between "Obama" and "Muslim."

So again, the question is raised: can the American public look past the visual and rhetorical laden narratives of the media? Or will the satire and word play muddle their understanding of what's really being said?

These questions leave me especially fearful in light of some recent Obama endorsements. Last week,
Amir Taheri penned "Obama and the Arabs: Why Muslims See Him As One of Them" for the New York Post. Taheri drags the question to the foreground in insinuating, quite dubiously, that "While Obama has tried to push his origins into the background, his 'Islamic roots' have won him a place in many Arabs' hearts." He goes on to find that "pan-Arab nationalists angry with the United States," Palestinian radicals and gasp! liberals, alike, are hopeful in his ability to create the radical changes they are hoping for.

The kicker? According to
reliable Taheri, some Arab commentators know better than to believe all they are given and counsel readers to tread with caution. "Every American president would be governed by American interests. Obama's understanding of politics is not important here," he quotes Tareq Al-Houmayed of the daily Asharq Alawsat. After his laundry list of Arab's for Obama, he goes on to demonize the Arab world in pitting what's important "here" against what's important "there." So when he claims that "Muslims see him as one one of them," it can't be a good thing, right?

Muslim or Not is no longer the question. I can only hope that the critics who spoke so passionately against the
New Yorker's cover weren't right, and that the American people can disentangle lose connections to find stronger truths. As things stand, it seems power is in how confused the media can render the reader. Admitedly, the New Yorker adamantly declared their cover satire, but Steyn and Taheri and the Post's intentions can only be assumed.  Yet, something seems fishy.  After all, in the end, what seems to be is not exactly what is, and there seems to be power in the ability to confuse the two.

1 comment:

M. Dery said...

Shorter. Shorter. Shorter. Post is WAY too long. More important, I can't quite find the point, here. Syntactical trainwrecks and solecisms muddy your meaning. For example, "Painting Barack Hussein and Michelle Obama in all stereotypes that about this summer" is a sentence that defies diagramming. Is there a missing word here? Another example of garbled sentence structure: "Others, however, questioned the New Yorker's taste, in inevitably the publics ability to discern..." NO idea what "in inevitably" means, in this context. Also, please spellcheck before posting. (As in: "portraite.") Compose offline, then spellcheck, then paste into blog window. Watch those grammar glitches: " seemed to become unclear to readers and pundits alike where the joke lay," not "lie." See Strunk.
Bottom line: What's your thesis? That Americans have a tin ear when it comes to ironic humor? That ironic humor in these times of killing seriousness only plays into the hands of the intolerant? I'm not getting it.