Consider these two New Yorker covers:
Both are by Barry Blitt. The one depicting the radical, terrorist, Muslim Obamas “graced” the July 21, 2008, issue, and caused what I considered to be way too much controversy. It was obviously intended to mock the right-wing media’s treatment of Obama, and was in fact entitled “The Politics of Fear.” But, following the magazine’s unbreakable convention, the title didn’t appear on the cover, but in the Table of Contents. Some worried that, especially without the benefit of the title, many would miss the joke. I never thought so; it struck me as what I’ll call “projection snobbery” — attributing to the New Yorker and its readers condescension and disregard of the opinions of those “too dumb” to get it, while it turned out that everyone got it.
The other cover, “Hanging Chador”, is from next Monday’s issue, which I received yesterday. Yes, I get it: There’s a disputed election in Iran, and there was also a disputed election in the U.S.! It happened in 2000!!
It’s early, but so far I’ve not seen any expression of disapproval, in the mainstream media or even in the blogosphere, over the image. But for reasons I’m finding hard to articulate (readers? any help?), I find this “Hanging Chador” much more offensive than “The Politics of Fear.”
Up front, I’m not one of those people who’s ever been able to take “Justice” Scalia’s advice and “get over” the Supreme Court’s wholly unprincipled ruling in Bush v. Gore, effectively handing the election to Bush 43. (It doesn’t help that the man the Court installed was a cataclysm.) But there was some comedy in the whole Florida recount, and no B-level comedian was able to resist verbal or visual puns on the “hanging chads” that might have determined the outcome (again absent the Supreme Court’s hijack). Despite some very bad and occasionally borderline-scary behavior, no one was being killed over the 2000 election, and even I must admit that the Republic yet stands.
There’s nothing remotely funny about what is going on Iran, though. Indeed, the New Yorker’s own Laura Secor is at the top of my list of clear and careful writers on the subject; in both her blog and in her Talk of the Town comment, her lucid prose and clear exposition make the horror, the stakes, and the shifting landscape (lately among the clerics) clear.
The cover, by contrast, is clever and jokey — not what’s called for. I rarely think that jokes are inappropriate, but in this case I see a profound if unintended disrespect. There’s no one in Iran scrutinizing ballots to discern “the intent of the voter.” The votes didn’t matter, and the protesters’ attempt to make it otherwise are being met with intimidation, violence, and death.