'I Say It's Spinach and I Say the Hell With It'

The New Yorker’s cartoon editor, Robert Mankoff, spent some of his time and his snobbery on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC Friday morning.*

Before I say more, I should confess. I might be one of the few people in the world who waits for her New Yorker every week (it comes as late as Friday or Saturday some weeks, so it’s a long wait) and turns through it looking at all of the cartoons before I even check the table of contents. I giggle. Out loud. Sometimes, I even have to close my eyes and shake my head in the throes of a real laugh. Like I do with a David Sedaris story. But I digress.

As everyone would expect, conversation soon turned to the Barry Blitt cartoon depicting Barack Obama in the garb of an Islamic terrorist, fist-jabbing militant Michelle. As usual, Mankoff said those who didn’t find it funny just don’t get it.

I mean, I got it. But it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t meant to be funny. It was meant to make a point, and was going to divide people along whether they felt it was fantastic or wildly inappropriate. People, unsurprisingly, split exactly down the middle. It caused an out-sized firestorm, and prompted David Remnick to make comments to the Philistines who didn’t understand satire: It’s jest, you fools! Ha. Ha. When Lopate brought it up, Mankoff asked if he could talk about his energy policy instead. Ha. Ha.

And then, Mankoff said they once did something called the New Yorker cartoon IQ test. If you don’t get a cartoon, that’s where your intelligence falls off. Get it? But Mankoff had just gotten through saying not all political cartoons are funny, or are meant to be, though he said it really depends on your partisan perspective. Really, why all the snobbery? It’s the same annoying thing the magazine always does when it regretfully finds a need to comment on itself. The cartoons are meant to be provocative, so why make apologies for it? Do they need to always poke fun at the people they think don’t get it? And sometimes the cartoons they try just don’t work.

But I think that’s where the New Yorker is these days, since Tina Brown’s reign, anyway. It’s much less cerebral, and much more topical. More people read it. It is also much more financially viable. So are we just seeing the growing pains that come between old and new? Or do they really just not get it sometimes?

*Leonard Lopate stupid question #1: Do you find politics inherently funny or does a cartoonist need to be very clever in order to make it funny? (Chortle from Mankoff before answer: “Both.”)

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