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."

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.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.