Blitt Storm

Blitt Storm

When the controversy erupted over The New Yorker's now-infamous cover "The Politics of Fear" last week (showing a fear-monger's vision of a post-inaugural Barack and Michelle Obama in the Oval Office), perhaps your first thoughts were not of the effect on the campaign, but of cover artist and colleague Barry Blitt, a brilliantly nuanced illustrator/writer who was suddenly thrust into the limelight, and skewered by many as some ham-handed Obama basher.

Though his name was mentioned in every account, almost no one in the press thought to talk to him directly. But one outlet, the Huffington Post, e-mailed him right away. Their item offers his motive in creating the cover, and then he's asked if "in retrospect, given the outcry" he regrets making the piece. He replies in typical Barry style: "Retrospect? Outcry? The magazine just came out ten minutes ago, at least give me a few days to decide whether to regret it or not." HuffPo also, to their credit, was among the few to add some examples of Barry's past (near-equally) provocative NYer covers, including his outrageous 2-for-1 lampoon of Iranian president Ahmadinejad and Senator Larry Craig. The magazine has mounted a "Greatest Blitts" gallery of its own.

Two more interesting commentaries: Paula Scher on Design Observer thinks it's improper art direction, that the image needed to go further, be a photograph (though that would have made it more of a poster for those on the fringe who actually believe in the sentiments conveyed); meanwhile Lee Siegel in The New York Times thinks the image completely missed its intended target. He points to the lack of conceptual framing or comment with an outrageous example from another era: "The problem is that the cartoon accurately portrays a ridiculous real-life caricature that exists as literal fact in the minds of some people, and it portrays it in terms that are absolutely true to that caricature. An analogous instance would have been a cartoon without commentary appearing in a liberal Northern newspaper in the 1920s -- a time when Southern violence against blacks was unabated -- that showed a black man raping a white woman while eating a watermelon...The adherents of that image would have gone unsatirized and untouched."

Also of note was an attempt to imagine a corresponding McCain cover, by cartoonist David Horsey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The equivalency is debatable (hard to see Dick Cheney, a man McCain HAS supported, as a viable counterpart to Osama Bin Laden), but we'll leave that discussion for your sure-to-be-lively responses. (Post your thoughts, using the "add comments" link below.)

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