In July of 2008, the New Yorker’s cover depicted Barack Obama dressed in traditional Muslim garb ‘fist bumping’ his wife Michelle, who was dressed in traditional black-militant attire. In the background was a painting of Osama Bin Laden as well as an American flag burning in the fireplace. In the tradition of New Yorker magazine, the cover was meant to be a socially scathing satire that would create buzz. But, because of the visual symbolism and the lack of text in the cartoon, it was subject to many differing readings and evaluations—including calls for boycotts and firings—especially among partisan pundits. This study examines how the audience, rather than media professionals, read the Obama cover. The study examines how a group immersed in media and politics perceived the intended meaning, the effect that the magazine cover had on the campaign as well as the value of the political cartoon. The study uses Q methodology to extract readings of the media text. The first factor saw the cartoon through the partisan filter, reading it as offensive and pushing the boundaries of free speech. The second factor read the cartoon through a libertarian filter, reading the cartoon as necessary for debate and free speech. The final factor read the cartoon more literally, perceiving it as necessary in order to question the candidate and media bias.

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Operant Subjectivity

Jason Zenor. (2012). Politics of Fear? Reception Analysis of the New Yorker Obama Cover’s Meaning, Effect and Editorial Decision. Operant Subjectivity, 36(1), 25–46. doi:10.15133/j.os.2012.002