Another scientist talking about art, this time satire


Psychologist Mahzarin R. Banaji, in the Chronicle Review, takes issue with The New Yorker’s recent cover depicting Barack Obama in Muslim garb fist-pumping his wife Michelle who is dressed as a terrorist. The flag burns in the fireplace of the Oval Office while a portrait of Osama bin Laden looks on. Banaji says the cover’s intended satire is a failure on the part of the magazine’s editors to recognize what actually happens in the human brain when it interact with such images.

From the Chronicle Review: If he [cartoonist Barry Blitt] were cognizant of the facts about how the mind works, the simple associations that typify the brain’s ordinary connection-making, he might have thought differently before he sketched the first flame in that fireplace. If he had paid attention to a few of the dozens of experiments available — even in the popular media — that describe how the mind learns and believes, he and his boss wouldn’t have responded as they did to the questions posed to them the day after the cover appeared. I am, as are most others in my social class, an emphatic defender of the arts as a primary vehicle to irritate, aggravate, and offend. I have been trained to step back and rethink my reaction to that which jolts and nauseates me. I know that, in such moments especially, I must look within for a possible inability to transcend ingrained values. For that reason, and because we who read The Chronicle are likely to be among the staunchest supporters of the First Amendment, we must, of course, defend the right of The New Yorker to print the image it did. What we need not defend is the absurd naïveté about the basic facts of information transmission that accompanied the reasoning behind the drawing.

July 31, 2008 7:03 AM | | Comments (1)



I think the New Yorker committed a rare error in underestimating the response reflex of many readers. In my 90 years of life I have been repeatedly amazed and disappointed at the failure of many people to recognize satire. Whether PhDs or high school dropouts, some bright people just don't get it when shown a cartoon or a "take off." Satire flies right past them. My mother was like that, brilliant, widely read, rich in common sense. But show her a cartoon or a comic strip and she'd shake her head and ask, "What am I supposed to laugh at?" If the images of the Obamas had been more cartoonish, more readers (or just glancers) would have "gotten it."

Leave a comment

Recent Comments


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by FlyOver published on July 31, 2008 7:03 AM.

We have scientists on the arts, but where are the artists on science? was the previous entry in this blog.

The rise of 'biotech art' is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
State of the Art
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
The Unanswered Question
Joe Horowitz on music

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.