Breck sent in a link to this post about the controversial New Yorker front cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as Muslim extremists (I found the full-size image here):

As you may guess, there have been some quite negative reactions to this cartoon. The Obama campaign did not particularly like having him portrayed as an American flag-burning Muslim, oddly enough. And apparently this has gotten wide enough press coverage that even my mom had heard about it and was distressed, and my mom doesn’t follow politics too closely.

I’m kind of fascinated by this entire situation. When I went to Oklahoma last month to visit my family, my uncle informed me that Obama is a Muslim with some secret evil motive for wanting to be president that the rest of us can’t even imagine because we aren’t diabolical enough to think of it. When I pointed out that Obama is not a Muslim, my uncle said he used to be, which is the same thing, and that if Obama really loved America he would change his middle name from Hussein. I gave up on the conversation at that point and returned to pulling ticks off the dog, since that was a lot more pleasant.

What I’m saying is, I have first-hand knowledge of the people out there who honestly believe Obama is some type of Muslim extremist with an evil plot for when he gets into office. Fox News reported on the “fist bump” as a possible terrorist gesture. This distrust of Obama is out there. So this cartoon could spark a really interesting discussion of political humor/satire and the boundaries between “appropriate” and “inappropriate.” I assume–and I’m just assuming here–that this cover was supposed to be a commentary on the fact that some people (and Fox News) are convinced Obama has a connection to Muslims and/or terrorists and, as a result, has evil plans for the future of America. But the cover could also simply reinforce those ideas–I really hope my uncle doesn’t suddenly take up reading and pass by a magazine rack in the near future, because this cover will prove to him that he’s been right all along. So what’s the line between social commentary that points out and/or ridicules issues such as these and just reinforcing the misconceptions or stereotypes that you claim to be undermining?

It could also be used for a discussion of how we read things into images based on our own assumptions. I mean, I have no evidence this cover is supposed to be a commentary (however misguided, dumb, or inappropriate it might be) on misconceptions about Obama; I’m just presuming based on what I know about The New Yorker, its liberal slant, and my recent experience with my uncle. If you showed me the exact same image and told me it came from Fox News, I am certain my reaction would be different because of my assumptions about what Fox News would be trying to say with the image. I can check that tendency to make assumptions about the intention of the creators of an image, and I try to, but I think it’s always good to point out to students that we don’t just passively see an image; our own experiences, assumptions, and so on influence how we interpret them. This is part of the reason that, once an image is put out there, the intention of the creator doesn’t necessarily have much to do with how people interpret or use it.

Thanks, Breck!

On an unrelated note: If you’ve noticed my absence from posting the last few days, I can only say that the first 2 seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” turned out to be way more compelling than I was expecting and watching them can be quite the time sucker.