The problem I have with the latest New Yorker cover and accompanying article isn't one of intent. The editor has described his goal in publishing the caricatured image of a Tribal/Muslim garbed Barack fist-bumping a militant Michelle as an attempt to "hold up a mirror to the prejudice and dark imaginings about Barack Obama's — both Obamas' — past". Got it. Good. But road to hell is paved with the best intentions (Dukakis...tank).
My problem is that the image itself, when added superficially to the aggregate American collective unconscious, will likely do more to fuel these dark imaginings than to dispel them. Tune into MSNBC, CNN, or Fox (if you must), and you'll see the image repeated again and again. Most will catch it while channel surfing and process it no further than what confronts them at first blush--backstory and nuanced explanation lost...Secret Muslim meme fueled...yet again.
Edward Bernays himself would be marvel (but not be shocked) at just how effectively and easily the Secret Muslim meme has been propagated and how pernicious this particular untruth has been. If you doubt the disproportionate weight viewers/readers give images over the words spoken/written you needn't look any further than Leslie Stahl's experiences with the Reagan White House and the way the substance of her stories was overshadowed by the accompanying images (excerpted from criticism.com):
In his book Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy, James Fallows shows how TV images smother speech with an anecdote about a CBS reporter doing a story on President Ronald Reagan in 1984. The reporter, Lesley Stahl, had documented the contradiction between what Reagan said and what he did by showing him speaking at the Special Olympics and at a nursing home while reporting that Reagan had cut funding to children with disabilities and opposed funding for public health.I love satire (can you tell?), even when it's pointed at my guy. But when someone who should know better publishes a cover image that negates the very story he is ostensibly trying to tell, well, that I have a problem with. Dave, maybe you should give Leslie a call. Just a thought. Sphere: Related Content
After Stahl's piece was broadcast, she got a call from a White House official, who praised her. Surprised by the compliments, She asked the White House official why he wasn't upset, pointing out that her piece had nailed the president. The official replied: "You television people still don't get it. No one heard what you said. Don't you people realize that the picture is all that counts. A powerful picture drowns out the words."