There is a massive tempest in a teacup at the moment, concerning this week's New Yorker cover. It is obviously satire; is it in poor taste? Is it a brilliant statement about the absurdity of the charges that have been levelled against Barack Obama? Is it astoundingly tone-deaf? Or are Americans just irony-impaired?
It seems to me that the New Yorker is the irony-impaired party here; perhaps their cartoonist's theme song should be Alanis Morissette's "Ironic", filled as it was with descriptions of things that are not ironic at all. The cover is drawn like any old political cartoon; these are, of course, almost always satire, just as the New Yorker's cover claims to be. The message of most political cartoons is clear - it's putting a satirical spin on some situation its subject was in. The message of, say, this one is to satirize the (real) hypocrisy of the US about global pollution. This one is making fun of Jesse Jackson based upon things he's really said and done.
The problem with the New Yorker cover is that there is no clue, either visual or via a caption, to tell the reader "this is a satire of something that isn't real", or "this is a satire about a bunch of false images of the subject." You're expected to take a leap of comprehension that isn't normal for political cartoons, with no cue to do so. If that cartoon were printed on the cover of some sort of Fox News magazine, without caption, the message would be clear: Obama is a Muslim terrorist-loving America-hating weirdo. As it is, coming from the New Yorker, the reader is left with (not particularly funny) ambiguity, and confusion about what the message is supposed to be. Basically, if the whole image were drawn inside a TV screen box with a logo of "Fair and Balanced" or some such, it would have been a lot funnier, much more understandable, and probably not have caused a whisper of outrage.
So the critics of the critics, in a sense, are right. Americans are terrible at irony. It's just that the New Yorker is right up there with them.