A major cause of the decline of the left has been its drift from a populist to a puritanical approach towards life. Thus it is no surprise that a New Yorker cartoon ridiculing the attacks on the Democratic presidential candidate – with a drawing of what the Obamas would look like if what the right said about them was true -has come under fire from liberals.
Richard Prince reports in Journal-isms:
“Obama himself, informed of the cover by the news media, said he would have no comment. But Burton, his spokesman, said, ‘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.’. . .
Jake Tapper of ABC News wrote on his blog: “Intent factors into these matters, of course, but no Upper East Side liberal – no matter how superior they feel their intellect is – should assume that just because they’re mocking such ridiculousness, the illustration won’t feed into the same beast in emails and other media. It’s a recruitment poster for the right-wing.”
Rachel Sklar in the Huffington Post wrote: “Presumably the New Yorker readership is sophisticated enough to get the joke, but still: 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.”
It is for such reasons that the liberal elite contains some of the most boring people on earth. If they can’t even get the point of a New Yorker cover, how can they possibly deal with more complex matters?
In fact, irony has been in a tough state for some time. A couple of years ago I was talking with an author who was writing a book on 50 years of Harvard students. What’s it like now, I asked. “There’s not an ounce of irony on campus.” Some years earlier I was tossed off a local public radio talk show and when I asked one of the station’s other staffers why I had been expelled, he replied simply, “Excessive irony.”
Even the late night humorists find it hard. While Jon Stewart oscillates between the ironic and the slap stick, the Stephen Colbert show that follows has all the subtlety of heavy vaudeville, not unlike news talk shows on which participants prove their point by out-shouting the other guests.
A good dictionary definition of irony is “the use of words [or, in the case of the New Yorker, drawings] to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning.”
Why has it fallen on such hard times? I suspect it is in part because the people who run our country these daysnot only take themselves quite literally, but expect everyone else to do so as well. It may also have something to do with the population explosion, because pyramids of any size have the same amount of room at the very top. The larger the bottom of the pyramid, the most desperate the fight for space at the tip. For those engaged in such a struggle there is no room for ironic perspective.
There was a time whenAmericans didn’t take their politicians so seriously, aided by the like of HL Mencken who wrote of Warren Harding’s rhetorical style:
“It reminds me of a string of wet sponges. It reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup… It drags itself up out of a dark abyss of pish and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.”
Or with the help of Walt Whitman who wrote of Democratic convention:
“The members who comprised it were seven-eighths of them, …the meanest kind of bawling and blowing officeholders, office-seekers, pimps, malignants, conspirators, murderers, fancy-men, custom-house clerks, contracts, kept-editors, spaniels well train’d to carry and fetch, jobbers, infidels, disunionists, terrorists, mail riflers, slave-catchers, pushers of slavery, creatures of the President, creatures of would-be Presidents, spies, bribers, compromisers, lobbyists, spongers, ruin’d sports, expell’d gamblers, policy-backers, monte-dealers, duellists, carriers of conceal’d weapons, deaf men, pimpled men, scarred inside with vile disease, gaudy outside with gold chains made from the people’s money and harlots’ money twisted together; crawling, serpentine men, the lousy combinings and born freedom-sellers of the earth.”
The very thought of a candidate’s aide calling a New Yorker cover “tasteless and offensive” would once have been considered itself a joke, rather than something to discuss thoughtfully.
The only way to have reasonably decent politicians is to keep them humble, make constant fun of them and don’t let them get away with anything. It is by ignoring such rules that we have ended up with the likes of George Bush and Bill Clinton.
Of course, the campaigns don’t want this sort of discipline and – having conned Americans into treating them as intellects, prophets or living disciples of Jesus himself – they are going to do what they can to prevent the tone from slipping into skepticism and irony.
The Salvadorian poet Roque Dalton put it well: “You can judge the moral bearing of a political system, a political institution, a political man by the degree of danger they attach to the fact of being observed through the eyes of a satiric poet.”
The New Yorker put the Obama crowd to this test, and they failed.