At the beginning of this decade, becoming a practicing Buddhist was suddenly a celebrity fad. Tiger Woods, Tina Turner and Richard Gere all strove to sit beneath the Tree of Enlightenment.
Perhaps it was some dim recollection of this trend that provided the creative impetus for the cover of the National Review’s latest issue. The cover image depicts Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, as the Buddha. She’s clothed in an orange robe and is seated in a traditional Buddhist teaching pose. The title of the cover, “The Wise Latina,” plays on one of Sotomayor’s most controversial statements.
Salon contacted Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review and asked him about the idea behind the cover. ”[S]eems kind of self-explanatory,” he said in an e-mail. “She has characterized herself as a wise Latina, so we ran a caricature of her in a pose associated with extraordinary equipose, peace and–yes–wisdom…”
Salon then asked Lowry about the rendering of Sotomayor’s eyes in the caricature. The slanted eyes used in the picture are typical of racist depictions of Asians, but the Buddha is not usually shown with them. (Indeed, in the picture accompanying this post, which appears — given its location on the Wikipedia entry for Gautama Buddha and the deer, mountains and lotus flowers in it — to be the basis for the magazine’s cover, the Buddha’s eyes are not slanted.) In an e-mail, Salon asked Lowry, “Why approve the depiction of her with slanted eyes, given the sensitivity of that stereotype? Was that something you considered before publication? Were you worried about the reaction to it?”
Lowry responded, “[N]ot sure I’m following you. Can you be more specific?”