After 9/11, some pious nitwits, suffering from an America-centrism akin to the medieval belief that the Earth was the center of the universe, intoned that “irony was dead.” Seven years later, they’ve been proven right — but not in the way they intended. Irony may have been killed, but not by sincerity — it’s been killed by cynicism. Vast swaths of the left have apparently been so traumatized by the Big Lie techniques employed by the Bush administration, its media lickspittles like Fox News, and the right-wing attack machine, that they have come to regard all images or texts that contain negative stereotypes as too politically dangerous to run. If you satirically depict Obama as an Islamist terrorist, in this view, you are only reinforcing and giving broader currency to right-wing smears.
Since the essence of satire is exaggerating negative stereotypes, this means that satire itself is off limits. Or, at least, all satire except that which the cowering — but oh so semiotically sophisticated — left-wing commentariat deems to be sufficiently broad-brush and polemical to pass its funny test. There’s no arguing taste in humor, of course, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that those who find Barry Blitt’s drawing completely unfunny have traded their appreciation of subtlety and nuance for an instrumental, ends-obsessed, political-unto-death worldview.
I’m pissed that my copy of the New Yorker bearing the provocative Blitt cover hasn’t showed up in my mailbox yet.
I’m also a bit taken aback by the notion being swung around in some blog comments that only people of color are capable of correctly measuring offensiveness. Certainly white assholes too easily dismiss black folks’ claims of racism when they deserve to be heard. But let’s not overcompensate by granting some magical offensiveness divining power to people from historically oppressed groups. It is possible that a person of color, by virtue of being first and foremost a person —fallible, limited, subjective, feet of clay, etc.— could be wrong. Or that person of color (or not of color, whatever that really means) who are not offended could reasonably disagree.
For the record, irony ain’t dead. It’s been thriving well enough, and this latest sandbox kerfuffle is but a small instance of its vitality.