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Classic Hipster Racism

Racialicious’s AJ Plaid talks about “hipster racism”, in the context of the New Yorker Obama cover debacle:

I define hipster racism (I’m borrowing the phrase from Carmen Van Kerckhove) as ideas, speech, and action meant to denigrate another’s person race or ethnicity under the guise of being urbane, witty (meaning “ironic” nowadays), educated, liberal, and/or trendy.


AJ goes on to explain:

Well, some of the New Yorker editorial staffers, in trying to demonstrate these traits, showed themselves far more closely aligned to some of those “hardworking white folks” who may hold these beliefs that the Obamas aren’t true Americans, who will use the White House to carry out the collective and international people of color revenge against white people, as the high afro-wearing Black militants (think 6os era Black Panthers) and non-Western garbed folks seem to signify in the popular consciousness. The editorial staffers also must not have heard the ad nauseum arguments of their fellow media workers employing racist and sexist stereotypes of presenting the Obamas as “angry”—especially presenting Michelle as an “angry, vengeful Black woman,” as the cover more subtly conveys with the framed picture of Osama bin Laden over the fireplace, which has a burning flag in it. In other words, the New Yorker cover isn’t hip at all; it’s damn tired.

I agree. But I have to admit, I’m less incensed by hipster racism on the part of the New Yorker, which at least tried to be satirical even if the satire fell flat as a three-day-old Coke, than I am by more local examples of hipster racism that are just flat-out stupid.

When a 25-year-old Manhattan graduate student who was assaulted Tuesday night got dressed that morning, she probably didn’t anticipate that her T-shirt would provoke four teens into shoving her, pulling out her earphones and spitting in her face.

Then again, with a shirt sporting the slogan, “Obama is my slave,” it may have been wise to consider the possibility.

Now she’s suing the $69 shirt’s designer, Apollo Braun, for “all he’s got,” the designer claims.

I have only one thing to say about this.

She paid $69 for that?

62 comments to Classic Hipster Racism

  • nojojojo–wow, thanks for cross-posting my piece, friend! (And I’m going to take a fan-girl moment and say that I love love love this blog! Ya’ll do good work here, and keep it up!)

    OK, to what you said: I see both examples (actually all three, including what my (now ex-) partner said, as all of a piece. Whether at a local or national, this ish is pandemic. It further erodes any personal or national conversations because hipster racism is, at the core, disingenuous. And, when we feel up to doing so, any form we encounter as PoCs and those white folks who believe themselves to be anti-racist, needs to call it out. It needs to stop ’cause it ain’t adding anything to anyone. In fact–as your example–it harms everyone involved.

  • Yeah I don’t quite get why an iron on letters t-shirt cost $69. I’m also wondering why no one has been able to get in contact with the student. I wonder if it’s a publicity stunt.

  • Juan

    $69 for a racist ass shirt that’s just a bunch of letters you iron on? She paid that much for it? She [probably] not only thought there was nothing wrong with the shirt but she also paid that much for it?

    Not sure if I can feel any less sorry for her. Or laugh any harder at her being mistreated..

  • A.

    “— and that his outrageous design reflects not his views but those of “ordinary WASPs.””

    Looks like the Ordinary WASPs are racist as hell, including the idiot that made that shit.

    Seriously, white hipsters, own up to the fact that you’re bigots. Maybe then we can get some damn progress around here.

  • Jackie M.

    Wow. I confess I’m the hippest white person on the block, but can someone explain how that shirt is funny? Because the more I think about it, the more it seems to go from “offensive” to “deeply offensive.”

  • Jackie M.

    “not the hippest white person on the block” I meant.

    Case in point.

  • Jackie M.

    And wordpress just told me I’m posting comment too quickly; slow down. How awesome is that?

  • dianne

    She’s suing the designer??? Um, if no one was STUPID enough to wear the thing, it wouldn’t matter.

    Random thought: I wonder if my (white) husband would pay $69 for a shirt that said “Obama is my Jesus,” as he does seem to think Obama is the Second Coming.

    Of course, we’re no hipsters…

    Someone tried to tell me today that the New Yorker cover was not offensive but satire because it was the New Yorker. I guess that makes me Sitting Bull.

  • WHEW. i just wrote a post about this and told myself i was going to step away from the computer before i threw it in anger, but that didn’t happen. and i am glad i came here to find the discussion on “hipster racism” because it is REAL. i hate the cries of “it’s just snark!” or “it’s ironic!”

    no.

    snark and irony have become ways for people to say and do hateful things and feel justified treating anyone who calls them out like they’re overly sensitive and foolish.

  • thanks for posting this.

    this is a topic that has come up recently in my circle of friends here in seattle. we’ve been noticing a lot of “ironic” racism that is STILL RACISM (like lol!) coming up in the form of obama-targeting among our clueless, impressionable hipster population.

    then our city’s alternative newspaper, The Stranger, tried to be “ironically offensive” but ended up being OVERTLY RACIST by depicting a drawing of obama as a “lawn jockey” juxtaposed with another picture of mccain as a strung-up P.O.W. pinata.

    the stranger got a lot of letters to the editor/hatemail on account of their poor taste, to the point where one of the editors acknowledged that it was racist. i’m hoping that ongoing dialogue about the issue, coupled with quick responses to the people who are perpetuating this “racism as the new black” trend will help make it clear that racism should never be in fashion.

  • Damn. Satire is hard. It should not be practiced by the comfortable. The US is cursed with inadequate satirists, people with verbal skills but soft, squishy minds. (And I’m not excluding myself from that list.)

    Satirists need to be nasty, but also wary of hubris. They need to take care when they choose whom to satirize. Wise satirists target the strong, not the weak. Stupid satirists (and any of us can be stupid) deserve what we get when it blows up in our faces.

    The New Yorker succeeds best when it satirizes New Yorkers. It succeeds least when it satirizes Dumb Yokels Who Don’t Live in New York, which is what I think it was trying to do in that cover.

    If it was easy to do, maybe I’d write more.

    Eileen

  • Another thing: maybe I’m old-fashioned (well, there’s no maybe about it) and maybe this is a different topic, but I don’t think we should allow the term “hipster” to refer to only white people, as much as they have currently tried to claim it and be it.

    However, I have to confess some ignorance. Did “hipster” refer, in the ’40′s, to white people who wanted to be hep/hip, or did it refer to everyone who was hep to the jive? I wasn’t alive then. I don’t know. But my feeling is, it was not the Forties equivalent of hippie, which I do remember as a strong disparagement, someone who wanted to be hip but lacked the tools. It meant something more, and the Beat aspired to it. They didn’t invent it.

    Maybe I’m out to lunch on this. Does anybody have a clue they could whack me with?

    Thanks,
    Eileen

  • Josh

    Eileen, I just had a talk a little while ago about that term with my alcoholic redneck South Philly friend Tracy –the one whom Karen Joy Fowler admires. I was like, “So when you say ‘hipster,’ you don’t mean it like in Ginsberg.” And he replied, “No, no angel-headed hipsters here.” He meant it in its current sense of middlebrow pseudosophisticates who suffer from what Mark Crispin Miller twenty years ago called “The Hipness Unto Death.” People who cultivate a Lettermanesque “ironic” distance from social or aesthetic engagement, so that although you can’t distinguish them by their actions from the biggest tools of the Establishment, they are comfortable with the purity of their souls.

    Of course, “hipster” meant something different to Ginsberg, or when Mailer expressed reverence for hipsters in 1959, or when Lord Buckley said “Hipsters, flipsters, and finger-poppin’ daddies, knock me your lobes! I come to lay Caesar out, not to hip you to him.” Or even when Anatole Broyard explained the term in 1948. Wynton Marsalis’s comic routine about the stoicism of the hipster is somewhere in between, but closer (even as a parody) to the old version rather than to the newer sense of the word.

  • nojojojo

    Eileen,

    I think the current “hipster” probably has nothing to do with the older iteration of “hipster”; it’s just another part of the “retro” trend that they’ve borrowed the old name. Or maybe it was applied to them, by people who remember the negative connotations of the old name; I’m not sure where it came from.

    In actuality I think this one is just the revision of the yuppie (young urban professional) of my generation (Gen X), except that a lot of hipsters don’t work in traditional professional jobs because they’re fashionably anti-capitalist. If they work, they’re freelancers. Many are wealthy enough to avoid working anyway — solidly middle/upper-class background with generous parents; a lot of accumulated generational wealth (I knew one who’d had a condo deeded to her as a college graduation gift); a trust fund; whatever, though it’s unfashionable to talk about their wealth so they often plead poverty and move into the poorest neighborhoods to be cool (which usually triggers a wave of gentrification in their wake). Also includes, in New York at least, a lot of trust fund kids from overseas, due to the strength of the Euro, and many of them have been stepping in the deepest piles of racism because they don’t really get the nuances here. (Doesn’t stop them from trying, though.) I believe the guy who made these shirts is from Israel or somewhere else, though I don’t know if he’s a trust fund baby. Though he might be; the trust fund hipsters always seem to start their own businesses trying to bottle and market their quintessential “coolness”, like these supposedly ironic $69 shirts. He’s probably got a high-end clothing boutique somewhere; because hipsters like expensive, “unusual” clothes.

    But basically, the current hipsters are the liberal twentysomethings of this generation, who are usually ham-handed in their liberalism (they’re anti-capitalist and anti-establishment, yet they don’t understand gentrification or their role in it; those who do understand don’t care), and who are constantly in search of new frontiers of whatever — drugs, real estate, sex, fashion. Otherwise they’re just as superficial and self-absorbed as any other twentysomethings. Usually white, as the yuppies were; I haven’t yet heard any PoC derivatives of yuppie, like buppie. They’re usually careful to include a token BBF or PoC in their circle of friends, though, so that they don’t appear racist. If PoC are lacking, they’ll take gay people.

    Whoa. Guess I don’t like them. -_-

  • Julia

    That girl with the t-shirt… wow. I’m having a hard time understanding why anyone would think it was a good idea to wear that shirt OR pay $69 for it in the first place. It’s hard to imagine that someone could be so far removed from reality and history as to not realize immediately that the shirt is offensive. I don’t know why any white person would want to wear it… the whole story just makes her sound like one of the world’s true fools.

  • “They’re usually careful to include a token BBF or PoC in their circle of friends, though, so that they don’t appear racist. If PoC are lacking, they’ll take gay people.”

    lol.

    And gay PoCs are a like triple word score. Though a not to surprising amount of the people that I would identify as hipsters also identify as queer (sexually or in terms of their gender). Which could be my environment (hello women’s college!) but is an interesting trend regardless. And probably why our queer community often felt so fractured. I basically gave up trying to ‘convince’ the well meaning white queer people that they were unacknowledged racists (um, excuse me why are you afraid to attend any small cultural events, hmm yeah I thought so) who should stop trying to look down on the straight girls.

    Anyway! Back to hipster racism or ironic racism (which isn’t actually ironic, thanks.) I’m glad to have found the term. This is exactly the thing that I find wrong with stores like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel (which how anyone still tries to say that shopping there is a political statement is beyond me.) They are often so loaded with surface level liberal politics and deep seated racist and classist attitudes. From the merchandise to the employees to the clientel.

  • JupiterPluvius

    “Hipster” in this context has nothing to do with the hipsters of the 1940s and 1950s. Thelonious Monk would laugh and laugh at these trust-fund babies trying so earnestly to be cool.

  • I think they meant it like those “Jesus is my Homeboy” t-shirts… ain’t they just SO COOL AND FUNNY? They are trying to show they BOW TO NO CONVENTIONS and are above regular bourgeois values, blah blah blah.

    But truthfully, I don’t even get the supposed joke of the “slave” shirt. (huh?)

    By contrast, however, the “Jesus is my Homeboy” shirts retail for $23.99!!! I’d say those people got fleeced big time! :D

  • DerelictDaughter11

    Hi all – I came via Shakeville…

    So, $69, eh? What the frack graduate student has $69 to blow on one racist t-shirt they could have made themselves? This has to be some weird publicity thing. Wow.

  • Hipster with too much money and too little brains.

    Not that I think assault is okay (I think they probably could have just heckled her), but I was amused.

  • I don’t get the idea that it can be hip to say racist or otherwise bigoted things because you know you don’t mean them.

    By that logic, it could be hip to go around advocating child abuse because I know I don’t mean it.

    Pathetic.

  • I had a similar reaction when I saw that shirt. $69???

    You could do that at cafe press fo r $20ish dollars, and chances are it wouldn’t be a terribly misunderstood joke like that piece of crap.

  • Esme

    Maybe I’m just not hip but…

    I don’t get it. I mean, what is the NOT racist interpretation of that shirt? I mean, “I’m a slave to Obama” or some such would work, since there’s a lot of liberals who are just fanatically pro-Obama to the point that the word “minions” sounds appropriate. But “Obama is my slave?” I don’t get it

  • blackgirlinmaine

    Like others have already said, why the hell would anyone wear such a shirt and why would you pay $69 for it?

    I don’t condone violence but walking around with a shirt like that is asking for trouble IMO.

  • I swear stupidity must be contagious because it seems to have reached epidemic levels since the king of stupid took up residence in the White House.

  • tenacitus

    Why is that foolish child suing the t shirt designer?

  • [...]as if it’s a constitutional amendment.

    Scratch that.

  • jeannette

    see, that’s the whole thing. it was satire — not irony. satire isn’t hip. political cartoonists aren’t hip, they’re wonks. and it totally did fall flat — which isn’t hip.

    i think the jury is still out on whether or not the obama cover was racist. i’m inclined to say it wasn’t (for the reason that the object, obamas, is not the subject, the scurrilous ideas of white racists about the obamas).

    and i’m still looking for the real argument that it was racist.

    hipster racism, it was not. and i don’t think the t shirt asshole was a hipster racist either. she’s just a pig. i woulda waxed her if i saw her too.

  • jeannette

    p.s. nojojo, you rock.

  • Norman Mailer wrote a condescending and embarrassing essay in the 1950′s called “The White Negro” about white people trying to imitate what their idea of what “being black” meant. Beat writer Jack Kerouac (from the same time period) could be quite poetic when at his best, but the few POC characters in his many books lack any real depth or complexity.

    What’s old is new again….

    Bob Simpson

  • I’m pretty confident the story about the t-shirt wearer being attacked and threatening to sue the maker is a publicity stunt; the maker is a talentless, moronic attention whore for whom that kind of behavior would be standard operating procedure. As I commented in another location, though, he’s got no idea what he’s provoking. Whoever actually does physically attack him will be totally in the wrong, but what he’s doing is as stupid as playing on the freeway, and sooner or later his ass is going to be run down if he keeps this up.

    My feelings about the New Yorker cover might be different if the Ryan Lizza article it was meant to pimp wasn’t such a crappy piece of journalism; I’m having a hard time finishing it, it’s such a transparently biased hatchet job. Here’s a sample: “He had ties to so many of the city’s élite factions that the local press described him as ‘a well-connected attorney.’” OMG they did??? You mean someone who planned a career in politics made a point of building relationships with other people who were in politics? How did nobody notice before how opportunistic and underhanded and, I don’t know, um, competent that makes him? I mean, what the fucking fuck. Be careful with that straining, man, you’re gonna pull a muscle.

    I’d also have different feelings about it if it were an illustration, rather than the cover. By putting it on the cover, the message (unless they’re just stupid, and I don’t think they are) is, “We’re going to use this fairly inflammatory image that, while it satirizes, also underscores negative and racist images of two prominent people as a statement about why you should buy this issue. We think it will attract people who want to read what we have to say. We kind of don’t care whether they’re people who get the joke or not.” And when you get to the story, lo and behold, it’s a smear.

    So I don’t even know if it’s hipster racism, really; it might just be the plain old kind, wherein we telegraph our unconscious unease by trying to project it onto someone else — oh, we don’t think these things, it’s those ignorant rednecks who do! Except, you know, that that’s a pack of elitist bullshit, too, really.

  • Oh, and by the way, I’m pretty sure that bothering to put the accent over the e in “elite” means you’re part of it.

  • Oh, heh, sometimes Photoshop really does make this world a better place: http://www.flickr.com/photos/26506439@N04/

  • jeannette

    susie,

    ….while it satirizes, also underscores negative and racist images of two prominent people….

    i’ve been thinking about satire, and about whether or not the racist right wing ideas about the obamas are worth risking your objection.

    my understanding of satire is kind of standard. (juvenalian, the cruel and cutting kind, like A Modest Proposal, by Swift, in which he proposes that during the next famine, permitted if not authorized by the english, the irish need not suffer if they eat their babies.)

    and i can’t see that making a satire of racist ideas about the obama can be done without depicting the racist idea.

    in other words, swift is not saying the irish eat their babies. by the same token, TNY is not saying the obamas are terrorists. i think everybody gets this, i don’t think anybody believes that this is a true picture of the obamas. i really don’t like the arguments made universally, by black people and white ones, that most people in this country are too stupid to get the joke. i don’t believe this. i don’t think we are.

    if the image were meaner, sharper, better drawn, wittier in concept — if the joke were funny, in short — would it be racist?

    is the problem with this cover that it’s not funny enough? or gross/cruel/satirical/cannibalistic enough?

  • Jeannette,

    We can discuss this without your needing to be quite that condescending. I mean, I appreciate your explaining that Swift didn’t mean that the Irish ate babies, but I did kind of get that. However, no one ever had ever claimed that the Irish ate babies. Plenty of people have claimed that Obama is a Muslim, and a hater of America, and any number of other things the picture depicts. I don’t quite get how you think that no one has these ideas about the Obamas. Have you read this blog? I could take you to snopes.com right now and show you e-mail forwards that substantiate nearly every one of the slurs the cover enshrines.

    Swift’s satire was brilliant because he took a commonplace, hateful idea — that the Irish (my dad’s people, as an aside) were somewhat subhuman — and cast it as a bizarre extreme that illuminated the atrocity and inhumanity of the underlying attitude. Please show me where the NY cover achieves this. It’s merely a catalog of wrong-headed ideas that people have very clearly expressed about the Obamas. There’s nothing original about it, nothing illuminating, nothing but a sort of smirky superiority to the stupid hicks who believe these things.

    It’s the kind of “satire” that a moderately intelligent 13-year-old is capable of, and bespeaks an attitude that’s one of the things that makes moderately intelligent 13-year-olds so annoying. It’s definitely not worth being mentioned in the same breath with Swift.

  • I just realized I left out a phrase — I’d meant to write “substantiate the currency of every one…” Sorry.

  • jeannette

    susie,

    i didn’t mean to be condescending, i didn’t think swift had much cultural currency these days. and all of these very painful arguments have been made much more painful because no one is defining the terms.

    you’re the first person who has put your finger on the problem for me. the obama satire is a laundry list of libels which exist, not a creation of libels which don’t exist.

    i’m still concerned by the idea, much in discussion, that the obama cover will be taken by stupid people, black and white, who don’t get the joke, for the truth.

    the laundry list aspect, that the cover contains every single outrageous untruth the right wing invents about the obamas, is the satire. nobody, even those who perpetrate the madrassa rumors, believes that the cartoon depicts anything like the truth of who the obamas are. these are sucker punches, just like swift boating kerry was.

    and, how can you make fun of these racist allegations without naming the devil? i’m asking in all sincerity.

    salutations, and thanks.

  • jeannette

    i think they’re more than sucker punches, i believe they’re organized political campaigns. i think karl rove is certainly on the case here.

  • jeannette

    susie,
    sorry for the spam.
    i think that the highest purpose of journalism is to label as poisonous and untrue those political trends which are.
    i think this is what TNY tried to do, and failed, because the art/joke/gag isn’t good enough. but it’s the ball park they’re trying to play in, and they’re the first to do it. doing it badly doesn’t mean they’re not doing it.
    your finding offensive that they’re making fun of the stupid hicks who believe this stuff is confusing me.
    i think we should drive the motherf*ckers who believe this stuff into the ground, but that satire is literally all we got.
    i won’t say i’m superior to the stupid hicks who believe this stuff. i think we all are, and we’re all trying to be.

  • I appreciate the clarification, but again, I’m afraid I don’t need you to explain to me what the satire is, either. I’m not saying the drawing’s not satire. I’m saying it’s crap satire — I expect a bit better from The New Yorker than something that could easily have come from Mad magazine — and that something can be intended as satire and still make one wonder about what level of unconscious discomfort the ostensible satirist may have with the topic at hand. If Swift had written a “satire” about how the Irish are all drunkards who have too many children and can’t feed themselves, we wouldn’t have thought much of his satirical skills, and we might also have wondered whether some part of him might actually have agreed with those sentiments, even if he didn’t want to associate himself with the stereotype of the people who held them.

    You keep saying that nobody believes all those things. I wish I had your optimism about this. Again, let’s go to snopes, and I’ll show you the e-mails on all these topics, and you can bet that if someone’s gotten one of them, they’ve gotten them all, just like I get every left wing forward that goes around, because that’s what my friends believe. And just like there are people who believe that Bill Gates will give them money if they forward an e-mail (I just got that one again from an old friend of my brother’s), there are people who believe, among many other things, that Obama is the Anti-Christ. And these people vote.

    Do I think anyone will believe that The New Yorker is openly endorsing that view? No. What I think is that to pretend that, if there are people who do, that’s just a funny thing to laugh at; or that if people find that image disturbing they’re just not hip enough for the joke; or that putting it on the cover as the main statement that issue makes to the newsstand buyer isn’t questionable judgment; are all attitudes that come very easily to upper-middle class White hipsters. Who apparently don’t really give that much of a fuck about what it’s really like, how incredibly dangerous it is, among other things, to be someone about whom all of those things are believed. Ha ha. Much less that something like being Muslim is being even tangentially compared to baby-eating, by the way. I find that distasteful, and kind of stupid, and again, perhaps satire, but as akin to Swift as McDonald’s is to haute cuisine.

  • Context is very important when trying to do satire. If the New Yorker illustration had been placed in the interior of the magazine next to a some big headline about political lies and ignorance in America, it might have worked.

    I’m not sure though, I think I would have stared at the layout for quite a while and showed it around before I sent it out to newstands across this country. Sometimes people can suggest the kind of tweaks that can save an idea from disaster…assuming it’s even salvageable.

    The idea is to step right up to the abyss but not fall into it. If satire isn’t edgy, it’s dull. But if it’s open to multiple contradictory misinterpretations, it does more harm then good. It’s like what Joseph Pulitzer said about newspapers, they “should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”. Satire should work the same way.

    I write labor cartoons for my artist-partner and we’ve fallen into the abyss a few times. Usually one us of felt uneasy about the context, but we decided to say,”What the hell”, and go with it anyway. We do that less now and have learned to trust our instincts more. If doesn’t feel right, it’s probably a bad idea.

    Instinct evolved as a survival mechanism. Now that the reputation of the New Yorker has taken a serious hit, maybe they’ll hone their instincts better. Hiring more independent-minded POC into high level editorial,positions would hopefully make that happen.

    It’s a shame really that they screwed this up so badly, they have published some important stuff in the past .

  • Hmm. I think my first comment at July 19th, 2008 at 12:01 am is still stuck in moderation. No hurry. :-)

  • No, I saw it yesterday. Look more closely.

  • oppressors love to pretend they are deconstructing racism and privilege by merely imitating it and calling it irony. what it really is is a safe reinforcement of power that they can passive aggressively say was just a joke when they are confronted with it.

  • nojojojo

    Update for all: It’s sounding now like the “Obama is my slave” thing was a hoax. So instead of an example of hipster racism on the part of a mystery grad student, we’ve got it on the part of a newspaper editor. Oh, and still on the part of the asshole selling the shirts.\

    Anyway, sorry all, for not seeing through this myself.

  • A quibble — Swift didn’t propose the poor Irish eat their children, but rather that the babies of the poor be raised to be delicate dishes for the tables of the wealthy. From his Modest Proposal:

    “I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle or swine; and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom; always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.”

    Love, C.

  • Neither the cover and the article in that infamous issue are up to the standards the NYer touts it holds for itself.

    Most of all, in the NYer’s arrogance and ignorance it seems to forgotten the very many people who live in New York and the greater Metropolitan area who are practicing Muslims from very many places around the world. Somehow one feels they didn’t care for the cover either.

    Love, C.

  • Swift didn’t propose the poor Irish eat their children,
    Ha. That’ll teach me not to re-read something before I bloviate about it.

  • Isn’t it just amazing how we (and that means me, certainly) can forget something important about a work we studied so frequently and extensively while a student? :)

    It was an extended ‘conceit’ on Swift’s part, that the rich devour the poor, as, of course the rich do do.

    Love, C.

  • I need an island and big fat drink when I read this stuff. What an asshat.

  • Isn’t it just amazing how we (and that means me, certainly) can forget something important about a work we studied so frequently and extensively while a student? :)

    Oh, in all honesty, I’d never read it that closely. I read it years ago because I’d seen it mentioned a number of times, and it seemed like something I should be conversant with. But obviously I ought to read it again.

  • jb

    how bout the 30-something white hipster who sent me an evite to her birthday party where the theme was: GHETTO FAB. Come like the hot ass mess you know you wanna be!

    or something along those lines…

    i no longer interact with this person

  • i no longer interact with this person

    Wow, I can’t imagine why not. She sounds so lovely, and not at all, you know, incredibly fucking stupid.

  • abw

    Nojojojo, I second your opinion about the New York TImes. With that said, hipster/progressive/colorblind racism can be as annoying , silly,and restrictive as conservative colorblind racism which makes it as tired as the latter-especially when they perceive themselves as being “oh so much more” enlightened, hence superior, than everybody else. The words, stated thoughts, and actions(which to me is more annoying that the two examples aboves) of these enlightened radical bigots is proof positive of their often unconscious bias. They fail to realize that there is a vast difference between being genuinely antiracist and colorblind-and to be an effective progressive hipster you should be anti-racist and progressive /left leaning. Then again these people tend to be sex-blind, gender-blind, etc. and only progressive-sometimes only moderately progressive-in class-based issues-if that at times.

  • Thanks for the post, nojojojo. I agree with your reaction to the New Yorker cover, and I think the other reactions I see in the comments here are revealing. People, the best satire is often, even usually, tasteless and offensive. So those of you who think that the New Yorker Obama cover fails as satire because it’s tasteless and offensive are way off the mark.

    It’s possible for people to miss this in Swift’s Modest Proposal partly because they’ve never read it (that 18th-century prose is, like, so hard to get through), but mainly because it’s so distant from us. If an Iraqi, say, were to suggest today that Iraqi babies be fattened up for American tables, I doubt that most American liberals would get it. (And “fat” is so insensitive! The babies would be big-boned, not fat! How can I say such awful things?) Someone in the comments said that the “comfortable” don’t do satire. Dean Swift was pretty comfortable, especially for an Irishman in his day, so that fails as a criterion too.

    I discussed this at some length at my blog, so see http://thisislikesogay.blogspot.com/2008/07/strike-while-ironys-hot.html if you’re interested. To make my position clear, though, like nojojojo I thought the New Yorker cover wasn’t hip at all, just tired. I’ve never liked Barry Blitt’s work anyway. But the visual responses to the Obama cover that I saw were no better; I’ve linked to Vanity Fair’s and The Nation’s in my blog entry. The positive feedback they got from some Obama fans just confirms my feeling that a lot of liberals don’t understand what satire is supposed to be. That would be okay if they didn’t think they so were so much smarter than their opposition.

  • A.

    Satire also has an element of mocking something, which this doesn’t really have. Satire can make something problematic into something so totally ridiculous, such as fattening up and eating Irish children, or anything by Dave Chappelle, but, at the same time, it talks about our own issues in the process.

    Not much was ridiculous about that. It’s exactly how a sizeable amount of people in the US view the Obamas, and our media continues to push it. It’s a lot more different from things like Hitler being interviewed by Warhol and things like that.

  • Remember, A., I’m not defending the New Yorker cover. I think it was meant to mock something, but the artist didn’t make it clear enough what he was mocking. I suppose it was meant to mock the inflammatory caricatures of Obama and his wife that so many Americans are willing to accept as fact. It was very much “about our own issues.” Since the New Yorker is a liberal magazine, I don’t see why so many people reacted as if the image had appeared on The National Review instead.

    It still sounds as if you want the satire to be too easy. The fact is that a sizeable number of English people considered the Irish to be subhuman when Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal.” That’s a view that persisted well into the 19th century, and can be seen in American political cartoons from that period too.

    Serious satire, satire with teeth in it, takes on topics that aren’t “ridiculous.” In some ways, it seems to me that Blitt’s satire may have been more successful than he could have hoped: it revealed how many Americans see Islam (so that it’s a “smear”, in Obama’s word, to suggest that he is one) and African-American anger as bad things, and those are very much our issues.

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