Identity theft

This week’s New Yorker magazine cover, called ‘The Politics of Fear,’ with a triumphant Barack and Michelle Obama standing in the Oval Office dressed up in and surrounded by the accoutrements of extreme right-wing fear and terrorism is, to put it mildly, tasteless.

I choose to put it mildly because its irony is so extreme that it is hard for me to moderate my reaction to it. In my opinion it goes so far that it turns around on itself and attacks its own tail.

There was a time when the New Yorker was, for me, unassailable. With its unique format, its superb fiction, poetry, cartoons, and reviews (think Pauline Kael), its elegant typography and meticulous editing, it was all of a piece – including its ads, which resided side by side with content in understated compatibility.

Then it was swallowed up by S.I. Newhouse and Conde Nast Publications and began its gradual and inevitable physical transformation into a clone of every other popular magazine, initially in its ads, and eventually in the overall look and feel. Editor Tina Brown completed the demolition during her tenure in the 90s, which is when I left it behind.

What it seemed to me to retain, when I returned to it infrequently, were the sublime and utterly unique humor of its cover art, its witty and on-the-nose cartoons, its excellent (though not as plentiful) fiction, and its intelligent and principled editorial choices. Which is why I decided to welcome it into my home again.

Now I wonder what part of its anatomy will be sacrificed next to some under-considered mandate to vanquish with shock and awe. Times change. Magazines change with the times. And the New Yorker – this icon of taste, humor, and irony – is yet another victim of identity theft.

3 thoughts on “Identity theft

  1. I agree, Toni. I think the cover was a failure. I was going to say a colossal failure, but it failed to be that good a failure. The New Yorker editors may say whatever they want to about what the cover was SUPPOSED TO mean/do/say, but it just didn’t work.
    I haven’t seen the New Yorker in years and years, so I’m interested to hear that you think the cartoons are good. I started becoming disappointed in them after Tina Brown came in. I remember reacting more often with a “Huh?” than a “Ha!” and that’s when I gave up.


  2. I agree that the cover was heavy handed, passing irony into ridicule. However, I’m also pretty fed-up with the outrage of those who took it literally, and with the current mood of the country that makes any conversation about race and religion impossible. Everything that can be taken as insult will be responded to with outrage and indignation, reducing everyone to silence. I’ve never been in love with the New Yorker, which has always, to my mind, been far too in love with itself, but I won’t join the ranks of the hysterics either.


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