The main problem with the New Yorker cover -- if it's a problem at all -- is that its humor is intended for a relatively insular, like-minded readership: subscribers to the New Yorker, a presumably urbane audience with strong Obama tendencies. No matter what the New Yorker says about holding up a mirror to prejudice, the cartoon certainly didn't do that. It was more like a spyglass.
The cover, like so many self-deprecating, wryly funny, overly self-referential New Yorker covers before it, is just another prism through which New Yorker readers confirm something that is true and easily caricatured at the same time: They are an elite, a minority, and while they might be more educated or sophisticated or adept at the play of humor, they will always be outvoted by Texas. And Kansas. And the rest of the states beyond reach of the A train. The cover says as much about the political influence of Manhattan as it does about the prejudice of the rubesoisie.
The cover's artist also made the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wide stance cover last fall. My Columbia friends and I thought the cover was hysterical; understanding its humor required: knowing that Ahmadinejad gave a speech at Columbia, an awareness that the speech mentioned the Iranian president's belief that homosexuality does not exist, the fact that reaction to that remark in Columbia circles was often amusement, and a familiarity with the Larry Craig gay bathroom sex scandal. Insular indeed.
And while I can't speak for my friends, I appreciated the cover even more knowing that most people in the world would have no way to understand the multi-layered joke that I got by virtue of where I lived and who my friends are.