By Harvey Silverglate,
My wife and I wish to commend the
staff of The New Yorker. They have
finally realized that the level of political rhetoric in this country has
fallen so low that the only appropriate response is satire. There is no way
that I could have possibly responded to my critics and detractors as
effectively as has the artist who drew that cover. It demonstrates once again
that a picture is worth more than a thousand words.
I’ve been unable to convince the
nation that I am not a Muslim, for one thing. Now, mind you, I would not feel ashamed
if I were a Muslim. It would be a sad day in America if citizens have to be
ashamed of their religious beliefs and affiliations. But my hidden critics and
enemies are seeking to ‘tar’ me with the brush of being a Muslim. And somehow
that rumor takes on a life of its own. I hesitate to even deny it, because one
should be proud to be a Muslim in America, much as Catholics are
proud, Protestants are proud, Jews are proud, Buddhists are proud,
Scientologists are proud – but you get the point. However, facts and truth seem
not to matter in the realm of the Political Attack Machine, or perhaps I should
call it the Hate Machine.
And this Hate Machine spares not
even my better half. Vile whispers have cast Michelle as a modern-day 1960s
black radical, carrying with her the racial hatred that any sensible person
would have long ago rejected. Will my
children be the next objects of these attack dogs? We can only hold our breath
and wait and see.
So when unreality begins to take
over reality, and truth and facts cease to matter, our only effective remaining
weapons are satire and parody. My wife would never carry an AK-47 assault
rifle, just as she would never carry the racial hostility so readily placed
upon her shoulders. I would never burn an American flag (although I believe
that such burning is and should continue to be constitutionally protected by
our First Amendment), but a lack of lapel pins signals, to some, a “lack of
patriotism.” Sadly, such is the reality of our political culture in 2008. Far
from advancing racist ideology, The New Yorker has well served the
national dialogue by, at long last, exposing the ludicrous – and evil –
underbelly of the Hate Machine.
If you want to understand the
importance of parody and satire in the life of a free nation, you cannot do
better than to sit down and read the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1987 opinion in
the historic case of Hustler v. Falwell,
found at 485 U.S. 46.
It was written, interestingly, by the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, not
always a friend to freedom. But in the realm of protection of satire and parody
as an essential method by which social and political evils may be effectively exposed
and criticized, the justices were unanimous in joining the Rehnquist opinion. In
that case, the justices ruled that the First Amendment protected Hustler Magazine’s vicious parody directed
at the now-deceased Reverend Jerry Falwell. Hustler
publisher Larry Flynt suggested that the good reverend experienced his first
sexual encounter in a drunken orgy with his mother in an outhouse. Not only was
this vicious satire deemed constitutionally protected, but the court went on to
review the importance of satire and parody in the American political discourse
from the very earliest days of the founding of the Republic. Many of the
satires and parodies that helped advance American political life were as or
more biting even than The New Yorker’s
well-crafted assault on my and my wife’s cowardly whispering critics who spread
anonymous rumors rather than announce their lies openly.
Long live satire! Long live parody!
Long live truth! May God bless you all, and our beloved United States of
America which, I have the duty to advise you, is in some trouble if The New Yorker suffers for telling the
truth with such moral clarity and, even more importantly, good humor.
And, oh yes, one more thing: Please
remember to vote!