“Tasteless and Offensive” — and sticky

The New Yorker satirical cartoon showing the terrorist fist bump in the Oval office would have been fine inside the magazine, but is a mistake on the cover, because it will unconsciously reinforce baseless (and base) stereotypes in many casual viewers. Most of those who will take the time to decode the cover and appreciate the satire will already be sophisticated observers and will not be moved by the satire.

The New Yorker has published a cover satirical cartoon of Barack and Michelle Obama executing a terrorist fist bump in the Oval office– he in Muslim garb, she in an Afro with an AK-47 over her shoulder, American flag burning in the fireplace, and portrait of Bin Laden on the wall. (See HuffPo roundup)

The point is to satirize the ridiculousness of these subterranean attacks on Obama, and it might be funny (though possibly still tasteless and offensive) inside the magazine where no one would see it more than once. But putting it on the cover is a mistake because the likely result is to reinforce the pernicious stereotypes among casual and unsophisticated viewers on newsstands — cognitive science and advertising lore suggests that repeated exposure will even have this effect on sophisticated observers. Most of those who will appreciate the humor already get the point, and so won’t be politically influenced much by the cartoon. So the net political effect will be to reinforce the stereotype.

The New Yorker has some pretensions to political seriousness in addition to cultural commentary; it’s badly stubbed its toe here.