So last night on Charlie Rose - David Remnick (ed. of The New Yorker) and David Simon (creator of the Wire).
First of all, this whole cartoon cover business, briefly. You know, as a subscriber, I would not have thought twice about that cover ... maybe given it the faintest of chuckles (they still haven't sent it to me yet, btw). But the popmedia uproar raises tougher questions than it asks. A thought experiment courtesy of CNN's Campbell Brown:
Editor of the conservative Weekly Standard: We should put [blah blah blah, something about Madonna and A-Rod] on the cover.
CAMPBELL BROWN: You should put the New Yorker cover on the cover.
I don't watch Anderson Cooper 360 (or the Situation Room or whatever pundit-infested show that is set-designed to look like it takes place IN the internet) expecting to get my mind blown, but there it is. "You should put the New Yorker cover on the cover." And that's what this is really about. Context - the promiscuity and malleability of images let loose. Circulating. Questions of intent, mediation, and reception that are particularly volatile with satire.
I tend to think that suggesting the cover is tasteless and offensive (per the Obama campaign itself) is tantamount to someone quoting this very sentence you are reading in this way: "the cover is tasteless and offensive." (We brings it metatextually, son, what?)
It's the duck AND the rabbit, of course. The beautiful young woman AND the old maid.
The saddest thing, ultimately, about watching people talk about this is the sinking feeling that NONE OF THEM (Blitzer, Bennett, Carville, Obama) are saying anything they really think about it, but rather just positioning themselves with regard to their individual (or party) ends. Even Remnick on Rose was very political about the thing, saying first that what angers him most is the suggestion that "I get it, but these people OUT THERE won't get it" and then going on to make what seemed to be arguements that hinged on that very same point in earnest for much of the remainder of the interview.
As for David Simon - our cantankerous, cynical, arrogant hero - well, he's got this new series on HBO about the Iraq war called "Generation Kill." So he's on Rose preaching about the virtues of verisimilitude in much the same way he spoke about the Wire. But I don't really want to talk too much about Generation Kill. I really want to talk about an interview I heard on the podcast The Sound of Young America with Wire actors Wendell Pierce (Bunk) and Andre Royo (Bubbles). In the interview, Jesse Thorn brought up a quote from Charles S. Dutton in a New York Times Article entitled "Who Gets To Tell a Black Story" about the making of the HBO miniseries "The Corner" that preceded The Wire and is, like the Wire, about life in inner city Baltimore. You might remember Dutton from his starring role as "Roc" on Fox in the early nineties. Dutton is from Baltimore and honed his acting craft during a decade-long prison stint. He worked as a director on The Corner. He and Simon has a rocky relationship:
'I know that David Simon can visit and sit with as many black folks in this city as he wants to,'' Mr. Dutton said one day in late September, standing on a crumbling stretch of sidewalk in the rain. ''They can pay the families to get the stories. They can listen and walk around with dope fiends. They can write about murders, and they still won't know a damn thing about black people. Not this, you know. Not this. I know the pulse of this. I know what people think the minute they walk out them doors. I know what mothers feel when their sons and daughters walk out of the house to go to school. I know what it feels like to kill somebody. I know what it feels like to get shot. I know what it feels like that people be looking to kill me. I don't have to show up as a crime journalist after the fact.''
In the interview, Wendell Pierce, who is as smooth as the detective he plays on the Wire, handled the question of writing and race with aplomb, saying that people need to preserve their ability to be offended so as to keep the debate moving. This is something I've thought about, we've talked about. It's a bucket of syrup for sure. And it certainly does matter who is writing the stories. But one thing I do know is that Simon writes exceptionally sophisticated and human stories and the good has got to outweigh the bad when narrative makes connections across race like that.