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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Irony and context

As you would expect, a cartoonist, Tom Toles in the Washington Post, captures the context debate. (H/T: Kathleen Bergin at The Faculty Lounge):


This reflects an additional about what about the importance of context. It is not just cartoon v. factual reportage. It also is the place in which a comment or image appears. Yes, there is a difference between The New Yorker and American Racist Monthly, just as there is a difference between The Daily Show and Bill O'Reilly and The New York Times or Wall Street Journal. All these sources and contexts together are important to a rich, complete public dialogue. And I believe that the sophisticated and unsophisticated alike can tell the difference. And the ones who do not--such as G. Gordon Liddy--probably are being willfully disingenuous.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 17, 2008 at 08:04 AM in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Law and Politics | Permalink


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Posted by: Bart | Jul 17, 2008 11:31:39 AM

I wish I had as much faith in the unsophisticated (and even some I would call sophisticated) as you.

I think the cover perpetuates a myth and can and will be used to reinforce that myth in the minds of perhaps millions of Americans thereby making it more difficult for Obama to make inroads with those millions (thus the offense). Whether there was even a possibility of making significant inroads prior to publication of this image I do not know. But certainly this has been used (see Liddy) and will be used to reinforce the perceptions of millions of voters and make it more difficult. So as far as it is misused, even if disingenuously, context makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.

Moreover, I live and grew up in the deep south and know hundreds of people personally and perhaps thousands through a degree or two of separation who have never heard of the New Yorker. When they see the image they will have no context in which to place it other than the context of their personal system of beliefs. I would not even go so far as to say that these people are all unsophisticated (I refuse to require knowledge of the New Yorker as a prerequisite to sophistication) but they do live within a community that may from time to time permit differing viewpoints (at least for those who can risk ostricization or retaliation) but that also has a strong sense of itself which in some ways inclines the community to be susceptible to suggestions that might be associated with the non-New Yorker magazine cover in the image depicted in your post.

So does context matter? In this case it only matters to those that have a certain baseline of knowledge that permits them to understand the context in which it has been placed.

Posted by: Jim Green | Jul 17, 2008 8:29:20 AM

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