The dangers of satire

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In case you haven't already seen it, or heard it discussed anywhere, here's the cover of the 21 July New Yorker ("The Politics of Fear" by Barry Blitt):

 

One of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn't belong (from Sesame Street). Question: which one?


Ok, most of you got it: the gesture: the fist bump (or whatever term you use for it). The other components in the cartoon — Michelle Obama's machine gun, Barack Obama's Arab dress, the portrait of Osama bin Laden, the American flag burning in the fireplace — signify Muslim identity or terrorist allegiance or both. But the gesture does not. (Neither does Michelle Obama's hairstyle, which I suppose is intended to be some kind of Afro. So the hairstyle is a possible alternative answer.)

Some background. Satire in general is dangerous: some people don't get it, and will just assume you're presenting opinions or claims — in this case, that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and that the Obamas together are, if not actually terrorists, nevertheless disloyal Americans (as, by implication, are African-Americans in general). Even people who do get it, who do understand that the depiction intends to confront, and mock, these beliefs and claims through over-the-top exaggeration, may have their opinions altered somewhat by such depictions, in the same way that explicit denials and refutations sometimes have the paradoxical effect of increasing, by a bit, the credibility of the claim that's denied or refuted.

But that's not my point here. There's been an avalanche of media and public opinion critiquing the New Yorker cover as satire, plus defenses of the cover as mockery by Danid Remnick (editor of the New Yorker) and others. I'm interested specifically in the gesture.

The gesture led off the New York Times story on how difficult it has been for comedians to skewer Obama ("Want Obama in a Punch Line? First, Find a Joke", by Bill Carter on the front page on 15 July:

The New Yorker magazine tried dipping its toe into broad satire involving Senator Obama with a cover image depicting the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and his wife, Michelle, as fist-bumping, flag-burning, bin Laden-loving terrorists in the Oval Office.

In the cover, the fist bump is presented along with clear signifiers of anti-Americanism, Muslim identity, and terrorism, suggesting that it is another such signifier. That's just wrong, and presenting the gesture this way is pernicious. The primary social-group signification of the gesture is, or at least was, "African-American", and it's never been associated with either Islam or terrorism, so that linking the gesture to anti-Americanism and terrorism (and, via another link, to Islam) promotes a (groundless) slur on African-Americans. I'm sure this is not what the New Yorker intended — quite the contrary, in fact — but its depiction of several signifiers together encourages this interpretation, and so advances a slur on African-Americans as treacherous anti-Americans.

Some restrictions. Yes, the whole thing is complicated, and I'll get to the complications. But before that, some restrictions on my topic.

I am NOT writing here about the expressions used to refer to this gesture: fist bump, fist pound, fist thump, pound, dap, etc. (A 6 July Safire column in the New York Times Magazine also listed closed fist high five, knuckle buckle, and fist jab, and there are no doubt more.) Different speakers at different times have used different expressions, and the actual gestures referred to, and their uses in social contexts, have differed some over the years, but none of that is what's at issue here: I'm talking about how people use the gesture now and am not concerned (here) about the labels for it or their origins.

Origins are not entirely irrelevant, though. It's clear that the gesture (whatever it was called) originated among African-Americans, probably African-American men, about 30 to 40 years ago (see some ADS-L discussion here, with citations), and has since diffused considerably, though it still has associations with African-Americans.

Functions of the gesture. It's also clear that the function of gesture is primarily to indicate solidarity and support. It can be used as a kind of greeting gesture, the equivalent of a handshake, but mostly it's celebratory — like a high five, but not so exuberant. It says, "I'm with you!"

Until the recent flaps, I'd seen the gesture as an easier, less aggressive, variant of the buddy-slap (on one shoulder) or the buddy-punch (on one biceps [for one biceps, see below]); it's just light touching, and that's something you can do with anyone, including people of the other sex. I like that.

[Morphological note: biceps is, originally, singular, with (in English) a zero plural (though bicepses is also attested): right biceps, left biceps, both biceps. Some people have interpreted the -s as a mark of plurality and so back-formed a singular bicep. I'm not offended by that, but it's not my preferred usage. But please don't write to complain about my use of biceps as a singular.]

And it has diffused. Kindergartners in the U.S. do a fair amount of high-fiving these days, but some of them also do fist bumps. The message is, of course, a bit different in the two cases. (Kindergartners do not normally shake hands with each other, by the way.)

Fist bumps and machine guns. So how did the fist bump get lumped in with machine guns, the veneration of Osama bin Laden, and flag-burning? By poisonous deliberate invention, apparently. Surely it started with vile anti-Obama mutterings, but it quickly made its way into the media. A Slate "Explainer" column, by Juliet Lapidos, tells us that

After [the Obamas] greeted each other with closed fists at a campaign rally, a commenter on the right-wing Web site Human Events [27 May] described the gesture as a "Hezbollah-style fist jab." Later, Fox News host [now ex-Fox News host E. D. Hill would refer to it as a "terrorist fist jab."

(Lapidos's piece goes on to briefly survey the ways in which members of various terrorist groups, from the Basque ETA to al-Qaeda to Colombia's FARC, do in fact greet each other — none of them involving fist bumps, of course.)

The Human Events episode is convoluted. As far as I can determine "Hezbollah-style fist jab" was not in Cal Thomas's posting "Obama: See No Evil", but came from a commenter, "Larry" in Alpine, Texas. Somehow the expression got attributed to Thomas, so that it then appeared that Thomas had edited his posting to remove the offending material. In fact, it seems that it was the comment that was deleted.

On to Hill's coverage on Fox News. Here's the beginning of the Media Matters for America account:

During the June 6 edition of Fox News' America's Pulse, host E.D. Hill teased an upcoming discussion by saying, "A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab? The gesture everyone seems to interpret differently." In the ensuing discussion with Janine Driver — whom Hill introduced as "a body language expert" — Hill referred to the "Michelle and Barack Obama fist bump or fist pound," adding that "people call it all sorts of things." Hill went on to ask Driver: "Let's start with the Barack and Michelle Obama, because that's what most people are writing about — the fist thump. Is that sort of a signal that young people get?" At no point during the discussion did Hill explain her earlier reference to "a terrorist fist jab."

[Who, some of you are wondering, is this body language expert Janine Driver? Check out her website to see a portrait of a very American phenomenon, the self-invented expert engaged in relentless self-promotion. "Comedienne, communications guru, body language expert, Lyin' Tamer" (the name is trademarked), she says, adding that

Since I was barely out of diapers, I've been researching, developing, and years later, instructing courses on trends, issues, and effective techniques in detecting deception, rapport building, body language, relationships and cognitive interviewing.

This is a peek into a world we've touched on a number of times here (often in connection with writers on sex differences), and I'm not going to pursue it in this posting, though it would make a good, though challenging, topic for a future posting.]

Now back to the New Yorker cover. What makes it complicated is that it not only mocks sleazy slurs on the Obamas — for the most part requiring only that the viewer catches the signifiers of terrorism, Islam, and ant-Americanism — but also requires the viewer to supply a second level of interpretation to the fist bump: the understanding that what's being mocked here is not the gesture itself but the sleazy association of the gesture (in some media) with Islam and terrorism.

New Yorker covers (and the other cartoons, inside the magazine) routinely depend on the viewer's bringing rich knowledge of the culture and current events to bear on their interpretation. (I've spent no small amount of time explaining New Yorker cartoons to people who lack some of this background knowledge.) Usually, if you don't have that knowledge, you're just baffled — but sometimes you'll try to infer some of this information. That means that unless you're right on top of the sleazy media treatments of fist bumps and also have some prior knowledge of who uses the gesture and for what purposes, you might understand it as just another signifier of Islam, terrorism, or ant-Americanism.

That's what so dismayed me about the cover. It had such a good chance of feeding into a vicious slur. Satire is dangerous in general, but this bit of it seemed even more dangerous to me than usual.

Meanwhile, back on Language Log, terrorist fist jab appeared in a posting by Eric Bakovic. In quotation marks. Eric's intention was clearly (to me, at any rate) to mock E. D. Hill's use of the expression. But quotation marks are perilous: they do many kinds of work, including simple quotation (which would, in this case, indicate that the expression was in fact the name of the gesture, and implicate that the gesture is associated with terrorism). Eric's intended use was a species of "sneer quotation", but if you didn't know the history of the term (and missed Mark Liberman's posting "Terrorist hand signs at home plate?"), you could easily miss the sneer and infer that the gesture was in fact a terrorist one.

At the time, I thought that Eric's posting was ok — mocking should absolutely not be over the line — though I winced a bit in worry. Then Ryan Rosso made a follow-up comment to Eric's posting that used the expression, three times, without quotation marks, to convey congratulations:

Wow Eric, I need to give you terrorist fist jabs for all the great things you just mentioned in this post:

-My name
-The reference to someone who calls herself "conservative beach girl"
-A comic
-The Ali G – Noam Chomsky interview
-Terrorist fist jabs!

That's five terrorist fist jabs! Good work.

Yes, it was joking, but it seemed to me to be really perilous (not unlike using feminazis as a reference to feminists, intending to mock Rush Limbaugh's use of the word, but risking putting the word into more general circulation).

At that point, I wrote Eric, expressing my fears that such uses of the expression might just reproduce nasty (and false) claims about African-Americans. Eric (who is a very nice man) offered to write a public apology, but then the New Yorker cover appeared, and I thought it was time to do something more extensive. It's taken a while, but here it is.

 



33 Comments

  1. Dan T. said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

    Perhaps they're trying to tie in stereotypical '60s-style militant black radicalism (which sometimes took anti-American and/or pro-Islamic forms) with all the other things in the picture?

  2. fiona hanington said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

    The Vanity Fair spoof cover showing the McCains also includes the fist bump, but probably only to increase the association with the New Yorker version:
    http://www.vanityfair.com/online/politics/2008/07/new-yorker-cover.html

    Incidently, comments on the Vanity Fair page led me to this spoof version also showing the McCains (published before the VF one?):
    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/dayart/20080715/cartoon20080715.gif

  3. S Onosson said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

    I first encountered this gesture on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, where my brother-in-law used it with me much as a handshake. As I recall, he referred to it as "touch" (the use of determiners in Vincentian English is somewhat different than my dialect, so I'm not entirely sure if that was a verb or a noun). I know you don't want to focus on the terminology, but I mention this to point out that the gesture is probably in contemporary use in quite a few others places than the U.S.A.

  4. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 3:40 pm

    For the Michelle Obama caricature, I assumed the cartoonist was trying to approximate Angela Davis in her late '60s/early '70s heyday.

    (here with fist pump rather than fist bump)

  5. Mark P said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 3:50 pm

    I had seen the reference to "terrorist fist jab" but since I didn't read the crap that accompanied it, I had no idea what they were talking about. Who on Earth, or at least in the US, has not seen the fist bump? Who could possibly be so ignorant that they legitimately associate it with terrorists? In my view, no one confuses that gesture unless they do so intentionally.

    But I think the NY cover fails as satire on other counts. Satire depends on an element of truth, and there is no truth in the image. The object of the satire is not present and the image itself does not really point to the object, which is those who believe or say they believe that Obama's true nature is represented by the image. Whether it is objectionable is not the issue; the issue is that as satire it's just not done very well.

  6. K. said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 4:15 pm

    I'm going to have to respectfully disagree. The dap is what makes the satire. All else being equal, it would have been unclear to me whether the illustration was endorsing or mocking the rumors it addresses. But the ludicrous inclusion of the dap clearly signifies the intent to me, and to every fist-bumping American I know. There are people out there who legitimately believe Barack Obama is a Secret Muslim, but there can be nobody who legitimately construes the dap as a "terrorist fist jab."

  7. David Scrimshaw said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 4:19 pm

    It seems to me that a person who offers a "terrorist fist jab" instead of a "thumbs up" or a "pat on the back" is intending to convey not only a congratulatory message, but that (perhaps, like you,) they:

    – are current with the latest news;
    – reject giving an unfamiliar gesture a negative connotation; and
    – possibly feel that the "war on terror" has been ineffective and counterproductive to the point that it is laughable.

  8. dr pepper said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 4:24 pm

    Ok, now i'm confused about the ethnic relationship of the fist bump. Because until Barack and Michelle i had only ever seen europeans do it, more specifically wasp frat boy types using it as described above: as a buddy gesture.

    As for the New Yorker cover. It would have been great satire if the picture had been enclosed in a cartoon speech balloon emerging from the mouth of a gestulating conservative stereotype.

    Then next week they could have printed something like the Vanity Fair image, emerging from a freaked out liberal.

    It would have gone very well with the "Poitics of Fear" angle.

  9. rootlesscosmo said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 4:33 pm

    I followed the Angela Davis link to what seems to be an unofficial site created in 2005. While the pictures at the top of the page are unquestionably of her, the one below, which you included, almost certainly isn't.

  10. Ryan Rosso said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 5:02 pm

    Arnold,

    While my own use of the expression several times in that comment was purely intended as harmless, I can, in some way, understand your concern.

    First, I must make it clear that I was also, like Eric, mocking E.D. Hill's usage. When I first saw the clip of that show, I was incredibly surprised Fox would let that slide, whether it was coined by her or another person. So, when I saw Eric's mention of it, I was glad to see that someone else found the term to be so ridiculous.

    In my comment, I used the term excessively out of excitement without considering the possible consequences. It is true that many, unaware of the joking reference, would construe the term incorrectly and might come to an unfortunate conclusion. However, I have never seen a poster, commenter, or anyone on this site who I did not find intelligent and able to take the use of the expressions for what it was – a joke.

    With that all said, I must apologize to you, Arnold, and anyone else who was offended by my use of the terms. I will make sure to be more careful next time I decide to comment in a joking manner.

    If anyone would like to discuss this issue further, feel free to e-mail me at rossor@student.gvsu.edu

  11. Ryan Rosso said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 5:07 pm

    On a side note:

    I use the fist jab with all of my friends and prefer it over a high five or pat on the back.

  12. John said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 5:43 pm

    In Blitt's cartoon, I understood Michelle Obama's combat fatigues, assault rifle, and big afro to be all of a piece: I think they're supposed to recall the Black Panther Movement, a Black leftist political organization in the 1960's whose members were notorious for carrying rifles in public.

    See http://www.africawithin.com/studies/black_panther_party1.htm

  13. Mausie said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 6:44 pm

    Like others, I think you've misconstrued the caricature of Michelle Obama — she is, in this picture, a 1970s-style militant black radical. Thus, the cover is playing not just on fears of Islam, but of the black planet. These fears are articulated most obnoxiously by Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair http://www.slate.com/id/2190589/ A young Michelle Obama's senior thesis at Princeton, in which she tries to establish some grounds for understanding the self-identification of African-Americans in an Ivy League college, is turned, by Hitchens, into a radical manifesto.

    The fist bump (which was of course the defining image of Obama's victory in the Democratic primary) becomes the thing which unites all of these sleazy fears and mischaracterisations of the Obamas. In anti-Obama discourse, they are both enemies from without and from within, crystallized in an apparently counter-cultural gesture that mystified many Americans (even if Michelle says they learned it from their young campaign staff). We see both the ridiculous assertions that Barack Obama is secretly Muslim, and also the more insidious and deeply ingrained racism in American culture — that directed toward African-Americans.

    The cover, in my opinion, is very clever, and (obviously) deeply provocative. It asks the question, are people really worried about Obama being a muslim? Only the crazies out there are, really, and you're never going to reach them. No one really thought that that gesture was a 'terrorist fist jab', and that laughable term gives way to the real root of the gesture, which you note in your post. The fear that's being pointed out here is in the other part of that image — black people in the White House, expressing black identities

    And while so many people have said 'well it would be okay if they clearly telegraphed that its satire, and clearly telegraphed exactly what they were satirising, and very specifically pointed out that it was them, those Republicans, not me, that are being made fun of here', to me (as a non-American and something of a gob-smacked observer of American political discourse), the ambiguity is what makes it so powerful, and so successful. Is this really just a 'Republican' fear?' Or is it a bipartisan anxiety? The deep-seated and virulent racism of democrat-voting cities like Pittsburgh (and indeed the segregation of Chicago) would suggest the latter, as would the treatment of hip hop by both the media and politicians over the past 25 years. Islamic terrorism is the current fear, but a particular construction of race has been the American pathology for a long time.

    So really, the objection that you have to the image is the very message the image is trying to convey. Many Americans see signifiers of African-American culture as something to be feared, and African-Americans in positions of power as threats to their lives and liberties, and those fears are as ridiculous, pointless and offensive as the idea of a gun-toting terrorist Barack Obama living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

  14. Jonny Rain said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 7:27 pm

    "it…requires the viewer to supply a second level of interpretation to the fist bump"

    While I don't think dogs could get this, isn't the New Yorker written for people?

    That said, as someone who is himself a user of the fist-bump, supportive of the general effort to stamp out Islamist terrorism and pro-American (as I believe Obama to be as well) I find this cartoon to be entirely harmless. I don't fear public fist-bumping any more than I did prior to reading your article.

    I think the intent of the artist is obvious. The right-wing media has attempted to turn the Obamas into scary black Muslims, with all the connotations and associations that go along with such a smear campaign. The different levels of interpretation that trouble you come quite easily to most educated people.

  15. Gerg said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

    SRSLY?

    You take yourself far too seriously. Do you really think someone to decide that Blacks are terrorists on the basis of a New Yorker cover? That's actually what you're saying. That bigotry comes as a result of people misinterpreting cartoons in a niche magazine targeting urban intellectuals.

    "That means that unless you're right on top of the sleazy media treatments of fist bumps and also have some prior knowledge of who uses the gesture and for what purposes, you might understand it as just another signifier of Islam, terrorism, or ant-Americanism."

    For what it's worth I don't even live in the US and I was barraged with mockery of this particular bit of media sleaze so I can't really imagine anyone missing that. But in any case even if someone looks at this cover a year from now (which always seems to me the real problem with the New Yorker — that it seems dated and irrelevant in a few weeks, let alone a year), you've got to be off your rocker to think the big danger in this cartoon is that someone might start thinking their favourite basketball player is a terrorist or anti-American because they saw it on a New Yorker cartoon.

  16. Anonymous Cowherd said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 8:15 pm

    +1 and a terrorist fist jab to Jonny Rain. I don't think anyone in America even *pretended* to misinterpret the New Yorker cover except Fox and [Ff]riends. Yes, the camo and rifle are references to the Black Panthers. Yes, the "fist jab" is making fun of Fox, not of the Obamas.
    As Jon Stewart had to remind his studio audience a couple of weeks ago: "You know, *it's okay* to laugh at him!"

  17. W. Kiernan said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

    It's a wonderful picture, full of love. The main thing, the most important thing about that picture is how Michelle Obama's big-boot clad feet are crossed. Everything else is secondary to the way Blitt drew her feet.

  18. Michael Moncur said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 11:34 pm

    I have to agree with K. The "terrorist fist jab" makes the satire.

    If the fist jab was replaced by a valid signifier of anti-Americanism – suppose, for example, Mr. and Mrs. Obama were facing forward and holding a "Death to America" sign – it would be very easy to consider it a serious attempt to defame Obama. Out of context, for someone who doesn't know the New Yorker or its political stance, it wouldn't look like satire at all.

    In short: the lunatic fringe among Obama's opponents could email it to each other as a nice illustration to support their "Obama is a secret Muslim" views.

    When you add the fist jab – in fact it's the central focus of the cartoon – it pushes the whole thing over the edge into satire. It indirectly brings in "the object of the satire" that Mark P said was missing: those ridiculous people, presumably all members of the Fox News staff, who would interpret a celebratory gesture as an indication of terrorism.

    Yes, there's certainly a risk that those who are completely unfamiliar with the Obamas, the New Yorker, and the significance of fist bumps could interpret the cover wrongly, but there is always such a risk with satire, and judging from the fact that the cover didn't appear to affect Obama's popularity at all, I think it worked out just fine.

  19. outeast said,

    July 31, 2008 @ 8:17 am

    I've been unendingly gobsmacked by the hysteria surrounding the publication of this cartoon, and most especially by the directions from which these critiques have been coming. The suggestion that satire be avoided as 'dangerous' I find frankly horrifying. So what if you need to supply muliple levels of interpretation to understand it? Jonny Rain put it perfectly in pointing out that this is for people, not dogs.

  20. kip said,

    July 31, 2008 @ 8:40 am

    New Yorker covers (and the other cartoons, inside the magazine) routinely depend on the viewer's bringing rich knowledge of the culture and current events to bear on their interpretation. (I've spent no small amount of time explaining New Yorker cartoons to people who lack some of this background knowledge.)

    Anyone else reminded of that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine doesn't understand a cartoon from the New Yorker, and no one she asks can explain to her what is supposed to be funny, and she eventually tracks down the person who drew it and even he can't explain it?

  21. Stephen Jones said,

    July 31, 2008 @ 9:17 am

    Regarding the dangers of your satire being taken seriously in the seventies Northrop Frye, in the Rhetoric of Fiction had a whole chapter talking about Defoe's The Shortest Way with the Dissenters and how many actually thought he was advocating their extermination, and how Swift managed to avoid the trap with his A modest proposal.

    I must admit I liked the New Yorker's cover.

  22. Chud said,

    July 31, 2008 @ 10:51 am

    This was broadly reported on July 14:
    Obama's spokesman Bill Burton: “The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

    The next evening on Larry King Live, Obama:
    Well, I know it was the "New Yorker's" attempt at satire. I don't think they were entirely successful with it. But you know what, it's a cartoon, Larry, and that's why we've got the First Amendment. [...] I do think that, you know, in attempting to satirize something, they probably fueled some misconceptions about me instead. But, you know, that was their editorial judgment.
    ————–

    I think that if the Obama campaign had started with second approach, there wouldn't have been anything to this story. When they react with "tasteless and offensive", then the other guys can't really respond with (that is they're chicken to respond with) "within the boundaries of good taste and unoffensive to sensible humans". So everybody has to get in his two cents worth of offense.

  23. Chud said,

    July 31, 2008 @ 10:56 am

    And when somebody labels speech as "dangerous", that almost always means there's something interesting and valuable in it. The only exception is when someone labels his own speech as "dangerous", in which case there is never anything interesting or valuable in it.

  24. Martyn Cornell said,

    July 31, 2008 @ 11:52 am

    Since nobody else seems to have picked up Mausie on (?) her comment about the Christopher Hitchens article, where (?) she claimed that it "articulated most obnoxiously" the "fears of … the black planet" that were also allegedly parodied in the New Yorker cartoon, can I say that what Hitchens was articulating was anger at racist and murderous demagogery, and disappointment at Barack Obama not having distanced himself from it more unequivocally. The article certainly wasn't "obnoxious" in any sense, except to someone who thinks that an attack on one black person must be an attack on all black people.

  25. Frank said,

    July 31, 2008 @ 6:55 pm

    I absolutely love the instant saturation of the term "Terrorist Fist Bump" into the popular culture, or at least the subset of popular culture that I move in.

    In my mind using the phrase "Terrorist Fist Bump" in conjunction with that common gesture is akin to what happens in some corners of the internet where it is impossible to mention Bill O'Reilly's name without mentioning the word "falafel" and/or he word "loofah". It is an inside joke, but also more than that.

    For liberals long flummoxed by the continued success of Fox News's approach to journalistic enterprise, the use of these phrases in mixed company is a sly nod to the like-minded, as well as an invitation to the uninitiated to ask you about the source, giving you a way to spread the news of these glaring examples of ugliness, and ensure that they forever live on in infamy.

  26. Rob Gunningham said,

    August 1, 2008 @ 5:43 am

    I don't really like the drawing, I think I could have done it much better.

  27. Dave S said,

    August 1, 2008 @ 12:45 pm

    In my neck of the woods in South-West London, the 'fist jab' sometimes goes by the more positive name of 'respect knuckles'. You might use it if your pal makes a tricky shot in a game of pool, for instance.

  28. Paul Wilkins said,

    August 1, 2008 @ 6:33 pm

    I'm in the chorus of applause for the cover. Any misunderstanding is contrived and the misunderstanders are a funny (like: "I know, everybuddy funny, now you funny, too" type of funny) lot of unwitting self-satirizers.

    I think the cover elicited a societal reaction which resembled an episode of the Simpsons.

  29. Rob Gunningham said,

    August 2, 2008 @ 4:47 am

    Paul Wilkins: Any misunderstanding is contrived

    Exactly. Very well put. I will be taking this line from now on in similar arguments.

  30. Tarlach said,

    August 2, 2008 @ 4:59 am

    Satire is only "dangerous" when you assume people are stupid. Fake obtuseness isn't stupidity, it just looks like it. But saying that you're soooo burdend by having to explain New Yorker covers to the many rubes out here so therefore, satire is dangerous, isn't stupid either, but it isn't smart either. It's just low-brow elitism.

  31. baylink said,

    August 2, 2008 @ 10:15 am

    For what it's worth, I (who am white) have been dapping cow-orkers of both colors since the news took this topic, and making 'terrorist fist jab' jokes, and no one, of either color, has a) been offended or b) failed to get the joke.

  32. doviende said,

    August 2, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

    I immediately interpreted the garb of Michelle as a reference to Assata Shakur, a member of the black panther party and the black liberation army, who currently has political asylum in Cuba. She's been labeled a "domestic terrorist", so i would say that she's there to play off the "international terrorist" image given to Barack.

  33. Ginger Yellow said,

    August 4, 2008 @ 6:37 am

    What K said, more or less. I don't think the cover worked very well (except for publicity purposes), but mainly because it didn't fit with the accompanying article. But the fist jab is vital to the point of the image. It's about how ridiculous the right wing paranoia/fearmongering about the Obamas is, and the "terrorist fist jab" comment was easily the most absurd and transparent smear yet. The Fox pundit managed to take an entirely ordinary, innocuous and ubiquitous gesture and pretended it was a) alien and b) scary.

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