What is Funny?: Fallout from the New Yorker Obama Cover

It’s been 24 hours since The New Yorker‘s Barack Obama “Politics of Fear” cover hit newsstands, which means the print world has had time to weigh in. Also, FBNY readers!: 55% percent of the couple of hundred of you who voted found it more offensive than not, which may mirror the response The New Yorker got from its own readers. Says WWD: “readers have sent in a flood of e-mails weighted heavily toward angry complaint, save for a few who praise the cover” leading some inside the Conde halls to worry there may be some long-term advertising fallout as a result. Meanwhile, editor David Remnick spent the better part of yesterday defending the cover against what Jack Shafer refers to as the “alleged umbrage umbrage of the chattering classes.

Overall, the general concern seems to be that outside the presumably sophisticated readership of The New Yorker the unwashed masses won’t get the joke and perhaps use the image to their own evil ends. Which, after some consideration, is maybe a valid point only in so far as one wonders whether the satire factor of this image is too dependent on the fact that it’s running on the cover of The New Yorker, i.e. “The New Yorker” blazoned across the top of the image is actually the caption it requires to serve as satire, meaning one has to understand what The New Yorker represents to get the joke. (Over at the LAT Andrew Malcolm expressed concern over the lack of caption). Or maybe, as the NYT suggests, it’s just that Obama isn’t funny.

Says the Times‘ Bill Carter:

There has been little humor about Mr. Obama: about his age, his speaking ability, his intelligence, his family, his physique. And within a late-night landscape dominated by white hosts, white writers, and overwhelmingly white audiences, there has been almost none about his race.
According to Salon, however, it’s the American public that’s lacking a funny bone, thanks to, you guessed it, eight un-funny years of George Bush: “The Bush era has made liberals so terrified of right-wing smears it has caused them to completely lose their sense of humor.”