Monday, July 14, 2008

The Death of Satire

Everyone else is yammering about this, so I've resisted all day. But I can't stand it anymore.

Here is the piece of magazine cover art that's driving everyone insane:

Well, there it is. Awful, ain't it?

Apparently, some people have trouble understanding that it is meant as a JOKE--as a piece of satire poking fun at the idiots who think that Barack Obama is a Muslim, or a terrorist, or unpatriotic, or that Michelle is an unreconstructed member of the Weather Underground or the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Trey Ellis, at Huffington Post, thinks that the cover would have been okay if the artist had just put the image inside a thought bubble and put a picture of Bill O'Reilly at the bottom of the page. This is a strategy generally known as "killing the joke by explaining it." This can also be accomplished by placing a banner across the picture that says, "Satire--Do Not Take Seriously."

And this is why we cannot have satire anymore, apparently. Jon Stewart is okay, because he smirks and grimaces enough to let you know when a joke is a joke. Stephen Colbert is a little more dangerous, because on his show, he lives entirely inside his persona and rarely ever winks at you. But he's still okay, because ten thousand writers and commentators have explained his satirical stance, so we all know what he's about, even if we couldn't figure it out for ourselves.

But this? A piece of visual art, slapped down in front of you with no mediating presence to guide you through it? No Finnegan's Wake-style skeleton key to unlock the Deeper Meanings? No voice-over telling you what to think? What were those idiots at the New Yorker thinking?

This is why Huckleberry Finn is pulled off school library bookshelves all over the country. No one seems able to read it anymore. I mean, they can decode the words perfectly well; they just can't read it. Too many layers. Too many levels. Too many narrative masks. Hell, we can't even read Dickens anymore--and that's not even about the satire; it's just too much descriptive text to wade through. It's boring, yo. Like...what? I'm supposed to read 500 pages of history and character description and shit, when Saw IV is on cable? You want to know when the "best of times" is? It's when that guy's head fucking explodes.

(And somewhere out there, someone is reading this and saying, "Nobody's head explodes in Saw IV.")

I'm sorry Obama's camp is putting out Statements of Displeasure about the cover. He's been so good at letting crap roll off him; I wish he would let this go, as well.

Or joke about it. Please! What I wouldn't give for a politician who could get the joke and not be afraid of being seen to get the joke--and maybe even do it one better--like commenting that the artist left out Michelle's "Death to Whitey" armband.


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