18 July 2008

Holy Fist Bump, Batman

Also published at AZspot.net

This is a stroke of genius by the New Yorker. The magazine has recently been treated to a colossal frenzy of free marketing for a picture that screams for added words. It’s spawned a stream of editorial cartoons in response, many (this one is my favorite) of which, unlike the Muslim garbed, 1960s black militant Obama and Michelle glossy front cover, hold more truth essence.

This afternoon, I listened to a conservative talk radio host on a local Christian radio program (is there any other kind of Christian radio than hard core conservative?, a true barometer of how extremists hold control over mainstream media outlets, and resemble a contrived reality), and he was slamming Obama for his reaction to the cartoon, saying that it showed Obama, unlike McCain, had no sense of humor. While I know an Obama campaign spokesman declared it to be “tasteless and offensive”, Obama himself did not appear to be upset over it.

OBAMA: Well, I know it was the “New Yorker’s” attempt at satire. I don’t think they were entirely successful with it. But you know what, it’s a cartoon, Larry, and that’s why we’ve got the First Amendment. And I think the American people are probably spending a little more time worrying about what’s happening with the banking system and the housing market, and what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, than a cartoon. So I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it.

KING: But didn’t it personally sting you?

OBAMA: No. You know, we’ve — one of the things, when you’re running for president for almost two years, is you get a pretty thick skin. And, you know, I’ve seen and heard worse.

I do think that, you know, in attempting to satirize something, they probably fueled some misconceptions about me instead. But, you know, that was their editorial judgment. And, as I said, ultimately, it’s a cartoon, it’s not where the American people are spending a lot of their time thinking about.

McCain (er, his campaign spokespeople), for the record, agreed that it was “tasteless and offensive” also.

While I enjoy satirical drawings of this sort, I have to state that from the perspective of Obama and his family, I can see where they would be not pleased at the comic portrayal. How would you like it if someone painted a poster of you and your mate, depicting you as a couple of child molesters or other variant perverted deviant, and splashed it across everybody’s television set and computer monitor? And I think the aforementioned radio talker makes a gross generalization about Obama’s sense (lack) of humor. Of course, Obama doesn’t have the reputation and extensive history for anger outbursts like McCain either. And Obama doesn’t seem the type to call his wife a nasty word, in public, that rhymes with “punt” like McCain did on one occasion. Many high level military officers find McCain’s temper to be worrisome.

But back to the Barry Blitt drawing — a couple of other quick thoughts:

  • Sophisticated sorts acquainted with the New Yorker fare seemingly should “get it”, but even many of those were offended about it. Disparaging Obama for their reaction is silly. Now some of my conservative brethren will chime in that liberals are guilty of precisely the same thing when they point out how all the bigots, homophobes and racists flock to the GOP. But they are different affairs — a substantive smacking of Republican election strategy has been subtle pandering to these groups, and even Republican insiders have confessed this dirty truth.

  • If not familiar with the New Yorker periodical, the initial image presentation, without proper context, no doubt could inflame a casual viewers getting a glimpse, especially if they weren’t attentive to the words being broadcast.

  • While the cartoon is panning those troglodytes that continue to peddle inane, preposterous conspiracy emails about Obama, the picture resonates stronger than the theme. It’s like “Don’t Think of an elephant” or Nixon’s “I’m not a crook” admonition.

On the last thought point, this is something that Republicans have used much more effectively than Democrats to win elections. Liberals naively believe that the “power of ideas” will eventually hold sway, conservatives have been much masterful at framing the political dialog — conjuring effective euphemisms and twisting the frame to suit their argument. They’ve poured money into conservative think tanks and formulated a strategic fortress over legislative deeds. Meanwhile, the monied champions for liberal causes are either single issue centered or foolishly attempt to wage rhetorical battle with their own inferior selves instead of financing more abled champions. The evolution of the internet is evening the political stakes, but never discount the power of images. Words may convince another of a valid argument, but images tap into emotion, a much mightier power, operating at a higher acceptance probability, even if the persuasion is at a subconscious level. The techniques are not new — advertising and marketing have made fortunes refining these techniques.

Which brings me back, again, to Mr. Conservative Talk Host. He was presenting his audience with a frame that since Obama fails to “take a joke”, it means he’s a condescending elitist that believes he’s smarter than most everyone else who are too stupid to figure out Obama’s not actually the Muslim Antichrist abomination foretold in the Book of Revelation as parodied in a funny drawing. Whoa, that’s a whopping leap of logic. All the while the host engages in this thought thread, he peppers it with side notes on how he really “likes” smart Obama the person, even if he disagrees 100% with his policy stances. This line of reasoning is particularly galling to me:

  1. If one examines Obama’s public record, it’s quite clear he’s no elitist. Raised by a single mother, and blessed with none of the advantages most political elites enjoy, he bootstrapped himself to career success. Disagree with his politics you may, but he made arduous strides in realms of community service, law and political service.

  2. McCain, while honorably serving the U.S. in the Vietnam War, is a child of privilege. His father was Navy admiral (who was involved in the USS Liberty coverup). His father’s father was a Navy admiral. He married into success, engaging in an extramarital affair with before divorcing his first wife, who he disdained after she suffered a horrible accident and became disfigured. Cindy McCain is an beer baron heiress whose worth exceeds $100 million.

  3. One candidate has a base that is predominately comprised of small grassroots donors, most empowered by internet access. The other is enveloped with lobbyists, who all hold key staff slots in his campaign. Granted, Obama is not free from the sphere of lobbyist influence, and McCain certainly has some individual donors in his allegiance. But again, comparatively speaking, Obama is the working people’s candiate, McCain is the elitist lobbyist candidate.

  4. The radio host seems to be following the conservative ideologue talking point handbook that worked against John Kerry in 2004. Then, a chickenhawk who had his daddy arrange a cushy National Guard (back in the 1970s, Guard duty did not involve transport to active war zones like it does in today’s Iraq occupation) where he skipped out of his obligation was held up as the patriotic hero. His election rival, who answered the call and honorably served his nation, rewarded with medals for his battlefield service, was slandered as unpatriotic.

Meanwhile, an illegal immoral invasion is bankrupting the nation, the President has declared himself (along with Congress acquiescence) impervious to the rule of law, the U.S. Constitution is being shredded, transportation costs are skyrocketing, the bottom is falling out of big banking houses, economic malaise continues to permeate, etc.…


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