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Crossposted from my Blog "News From The Front".

Yeah, so this was a thing last night. (Via The AP.)

A tweet from The Onion about the 9-year-old star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is drawing criticism for being tasteless, even amid the constant social media satire of the Oscars.

The satirical newspaper called Quvenzhane (kwuh-VEHN’-juh-nay) Wallis an expletive intended to denigrate women. The joke was meant to parody how beloved Quvenzhane is, but many thought the language inappropriate for discussing a child.

The Onion deleted the tweet about an hour after it was posted. Still, that was enough time to create a firestorm online with many saying the remark crossed a line.

Salon.com has preserved the now deleted Tweet here. But in order to discuss the joke and why it didn’t work, I’m going to have to write it out here.
Please don’t get angry.  I’m just the messenger.

Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quenzhane Wallis is kind of a cunt, right? #Oscars2013
Oh! My! God!  That’s so awful!  Why would anyone say that about a nine-year old girl?  What the hell were you thinking Onion?
And that slides us into part one of my little thesis.

Part One: Just What The Hell was The Onion Thinking?
Let’s be perfectly honest.  We, as a society, hate celebrities.
Don’t give me that look, it’s true.
We hate them because they’re better looking, successful, etc.  Mostly we hate them because we are not them.
Mostly, this is undeserved because most celebrities are famous due to years of hard work at their craft. (For the moment, I’m choosing to slide past the celebrities who are famous for appearing on reality shows and turning their lives into performance art.  I’m talking about Actors and Writers and Directors who actually work for a living.) But that doesn’t stop people from ripping on them all the time.  (Seriously, go to any internet discussion board where a young actress is being discussed and invariably, someone with start calling said actress an “Ugly Cow”. The subtext of said name calling being “Why won’t she have sex with me?”.) It’s not a particularly attractive side of human nature. But it exists.
Knowing this, I’ll bet you anything that what was going through the head of whoever was manning The Onion’s Twitter feed at that moment was “Gee. Wouldn’t it be funny if we said something mean about a celebrity who absolutely did not deserve it?” A strong enough premise for a joke.

Part Two: What went wrong?

Clearly, the problem lies in the word “Cunt”. There is no way to morally defend the use of that word on a nine-year old girl.
I can however, kind of defend the word on a technical level.
I saw someone on Twitter, (I forgot your handle, sorry.) say that the joke would have worked better if The Onion had called the child a Diva.
And when I read that, my first thought was “No, it’s too soft of a word phonetically”.
Let me explain.
When I was but a wee baron of a boy, I remember seeing Mel Brooks being interviewed by Tom Synder.  And he was talking about a sketch he had written for the old “Your Show of Shows” in the fifties about a caveman living in Central Park.  And Brooks quoted the following except from it. (Warning, I couldn’t find the clip on YouTube so I’m doing this from memory from about 35 years ago so bear with me.)

How do you live?

I hunt.

What is there to hunt in the park?

Bu-ick!

Brooks went on to explain how the joke only worked with Buick because of the hard K sound at the end of the work.  This is, of course known as the Comedy K.
Now “Cunt” while admitting that it’s a very vulgar word, also has a hard C and T sounds which while not being the actual Comedy K is in that neighborhood.
Also, the fact that it’s such a terrible and vulgar word and that the presumed target is so undeserving, should in theory, give the line an extra transgressive kick. (Accent on the words, “In Theory”)
(Quick sidebar, if you believe that you shouldn’t use vulgar language in comedy, may I respectfully refer you to the careers of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Mel Brooks. Also, more germane to our present conversation, the Prudence/Bob scene in Christopher Durang’s “Beyond Therapy”.)
Except no one notices the context of the joke because, Holy Crap!  You just called a nine-year old girl a horrible name!
The thing that makes the joke work technically is the same thing that kills it.
If this had been the premise of a video piece, then The Onion could have shown all these ridiculous reasons why someone could call her that name. And make the joke not about her but the stupid and vapid people who called her the name in the first place.
But without that extra material, you are left with one sentence that verbally abuses a nine-year old.
Welcome to the wonderful world of comedy writing.
If it were easy, your uncle who tells those bad knock-knock jokes at Thanksgiving would be working on staff at “The Big Bang Theory”.

The sad fact is that writing comedy is like juggling dynamite. Occasionally, you’re going to drop a stick and it’s going to blow up in your face.
The Onion works at the bleeding edge of comedy and goes more often into places, other comic websites dare not step.  (For Pete’s sakes, they did a video piece last night on Kathryn Bigelow wearing to the Oscars the Blood soaked rags Osama Bin Laden were killed in!) But they are fallible and occasionally fuck up.  They have deleted the tweet in question and I am certain that an apology is forthcoming.
And I get why a solid chunk of the internet is in an uproar, the last couple of years have been soaked with rampant misogyny. Hell, we have a GOP right-wing that acts like it’s been bitten by a radioactive August Strindberg. The jackass antics of Rush Limbaugh alone should have been enough to make The Onion nervous about breaking out the C word.  And unlike Limbaugh, they know how comedy works.
I am saying that if The Onion does apologize, we shouldn’t hold a grudge.  Comedy, as Steve Martin once said, is not pretty.  And it’s not like they have a history of being he-man woman haters.  (As opposed to the aforementioned Rush.)
But seriously, Onion?  You guys do need to apologize.
For pete’s sakes, you called a nine year old girl a cunt!
T’ain’t funny, McGee!

(Edit: The apology came.)

5:03 PM PT: CORRECTION: I got the spelling of the young actress name wrong. It's Quvenzhane. Not Quenvzhane. Sorry.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (6+ / 0-)

    "The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and Stupidity" Harlan Ellison

    by TheRagingCelt on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 04:36:41 PM PST

  •  Nope, they wouldn't have said that about (5+ / 0-)

    Any little white girl actress, PERIOD.

    Yeah I hate celebrities but not the children.

    Very bad ONION, very very very bad.

  •  This tweet was from a lower-level staffer (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TheRagingCelt, Cali Scribe

    or two assigned to Twitter Oscar duty.  Big time fail on that employee's part.

    The Onion has, this morning, issued a very good, sincere apology to the community, and the child (I hope the owner of Onion telephoned the mother personally, 'cause the child doesn't need to know about this)  

    I think there is a group of people nowadays, younger than 30 or so, that don't know the power of that word (similiar to common usage of the N word in popular culture, and the shock on the part of some young people that the N word could be found offensive).  

    That's an ignorance thing.

    Now, I hope that tweeting staffer is educated on how to treat women.  Especially young, black women (as I never saw such crap about whites, but hey, twitter)

    Yeah, I saw the tweet when it occurred, and yeah, I was outraged at sexualizing a child, then insulting her, and tweeted to the Onion as such.  They took down the tweet within an hour, and twitter stream went quiet. Which was right thing to do.

    "Privatize to Profitize" explains every single Republican economic, social and governing philosophy. Take every taxpayer dollar from defense, education, health care, public lands, retirement - privatize it, and profit from it.

    by mumtaznepal on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 04:46:52 PM PST

    •  Yeah, I saw the apology ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mumtaznepal

      And posted the link in the last paragraph of the piece.
      The bear of it is that in the Video piece they included a crack about Anne Hathaway's "Big Dumb Fucking Smile" which is kind of the same joke but better executed.

      "The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and Stupidity" Harlan Ellison

      by TheRagingCelt on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 04:50:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  That C-word should never be used (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TheRagingCelt, a2nite

        towards any woman, no matter what age -- to me it's the same as the "N-word" for black people.

        There were other jokes they could have used, that would have been more appropriate but still funny; a couple I saw on Twitter:

        Oscar scandal: Wallis' Barbie wearing same dress as Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence furious!
        Wallis totally refused to share her toys with Daniel-Day Lewis backstage before the ceremony.
        I sometimes feel like there's been a war on civility -- and civility is losing.

        There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- goddammit, you've got to be kind. -- Kurt Vonnegut

        by Cali Scribe on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 09:45:54 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I always get nervous... (0+ / 0-)

          ...When people say you shouldn't use certain words in comedy.
          Because in the right hands and in the right context, any word can work.
          And I would question bring civility into it because by it's very nature, comedy is anti-civility.  It's breaking apart polite society to get at a larger truth.
          And as far as bringing in the N-Word into this, I would suggest going to YouTube and typing in Lenny Bruce and The N word.
          Seriously, St. Lenny of Bruce was not just the only white stand up (To my knowledge.) to successfully use the N word. He may have been the one to truly understand how to counter the word's power.

          "The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and Stupidity" Harlan Ellison

          by TheRagingCelt on Tue Feb 26, 2013 at 05:05:17 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Now *There's* An Apology (10+ / 0-)

    No waffling, no defense. Straight on "The folks who did this are being punished, because you didn't deserve this, you are wonderful and WE ARE SORRY."

    (Good thing too, because otherwise I'd have been crushed at having to give up The Onion, which is a far better source for commentary on the news of the day than most. Because the word is not acceptable when used as an identity label for a person, ever--and beyond the pale when directed at a child.

  •  PS Diarist, you have her name spelled wrong (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TheRagingCelt, Avila

    in the title (I know not intentionally!) Might want to change that.

    "Privatize to Profitize" explains every single Republican economic, social and governing philosophy. Take every taxpayer dollar from defense, education, health care, public lands, retirement - privatize it, and profit from it.

    by mumtaznepal on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 04:56:54 PM PST

  •  "bairn" (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tapestry, TheRagingCelt, raincrow

    (Scotland, and parts of Northern England) A child or baby. -Wiktionary

    There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who fit into one of two mutually exclusive categories, and those who don't.

    by zhimbo on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 05:13:15 PM PST

  •  I thought I was a bad person for laughing (5+ / 0-)

    but at least my wife laughed at it, too.

    But, yeah "The thing that makes the joke work technically is the same thing that kills it" is spot on.

    There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who fit into one of two mutually exclusive categories, and those who don't.

    by zhimbo on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 05:15:24 PM PST

  •  Had my say in the other diary on the subject (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TheRagingCelt, cardinal, zhimbo, Dbug, raincrow
    It's a play on the kind of remark that is made all too often about celebs. Applying it to a little girl is jarring, and shows how puerile such comments are applied to anybody. At the same time, using an actual little girl to make that point was highly inappropriate. Personally I don't care for that c*** word applied to anybody, but as a thought experiment, what might be the perception of such an attempt at satire directed to a 'not real' girl. Dora the Explorer or some such.
    http://www.dailykos.com/...

    "No one life is more important than another. No one voice is more valid than another. Each life is a treasure. Each voice deserves to be heard." Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse & Onomastic

    by Catte Nappe on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 05:25:25 PM PST

    •  I think it was a failed joke, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TheRagingCelt

      Offensive and inappropriate. However…

      There was a point in the broadcast where the camera focused on Quvenshane sitting in the audience and she flexed her muscles, like a body builder – which is a thing kids sometimes do to show they’re strong. Like saying, “I’m the champion!” I thought it was incredibly cute. She’s only nine, so she’s allowed.

      But if an adult made a similar gesture – say Ben Affleck or Jack Nicholson or whoever – people might say, “What a jerk!” (In fact, when Sally Field said, “You really like me” or when Roberto Benigni jumped over the chairs, people made jokes about them). The adult movie stars are expected to exhibit a modicum of humility – that’s why they thank their agents and spouses and everyone else down to people making sandwiches on the craft truck.

      I think the joke was taking something an innocent girl did and treating her as if she were an adult – applying adult standards of behavior to a child. “What an egotistical jerk” would have been a better choice than “What a cunt.” But I can see where the idea of the joke originated. (Plus, jerk has the K sound and it's not misogynistic.)

      --

      Personally, I thought the best joke of the night went something like this: “…but I think the actor who did the best job of getting into Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth. (Audience groans.) What? Too soon?” McFarlane did a joke he knew would get a groan, then he threw in a saver.

      “If you misspell some words, it’s not plagiarism.” – Some Writer

      by Dbug on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 08:11:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Eh, I think the out of the blue shock and wrong (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TheRagingCelt

    of it worked. I don't care enough to fight for it, though.

  •  I agree completely. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TheRagingCelt

    I think folks took the tweet at face value, and the outrage would have been completely warranted.  

    Comedy is tough.  

    If they didn't use Ms. Wallis, they would have had to find somebody else completely likable and beyond insult to go for the same effect.  I'd guess Meryl Streep would have been a possibility as she seems beloved and respected by all - so

    Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Meryl Streep is kind of a cunt, right? #Oscars2013
    Or to go the more innocent/unassuming target maybe the old actress from the movie Amour
    Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Emmanuelle Rivas kind of a cunt, right? #Oscars2013
    Both would have been much better targets.

    As to why I think some folks took the tweet at face value - because Ms. Wallis would strike the flexing muscle pose seemingly everytime she was on camera and I think folks thought the Onion was attacking her for how she was acting and not using her as the, as you put it, "celebrity who absolutely did not deserve it" in a larger joke.  

    The joke missed spectacularly and the CEO had to do his best to try and clean up the resulting mess.  

    If you're not talking about what billionaire hedgefund bankster Peter G. Peterson is up to you're having the wrong conversations.

    by Jacoby Jonze on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 05:34:50 PM PST

  •  Good analysis. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TheRagingCelt, zhimbo

    The apology came quite quickly -- IIRC, it was in my Facebook feed while the Oscars were still going.

    As we say in my workplace, everyone's allowed one major fuck-up. I've loved The Onion since before it was even online, and one offensive joke doesn't replace 15+ years of consistently brilliant social and political commentary.

    Grew a mustache and a mullet / Got a job at Chick-Fil-A

    by cardinal on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 05:39:08 PM PST

  •  She gets the last laugh -- as Annie (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TheRagingCelt, a2nite

    Saw a news item last night that she has been cast as Annie in the new movie version -- quite a contrast from the usual freckle-faced redhead. So the Onion can say whatever; she will just walk right past them and be fine.  

  •  It s a word that insults women (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cali Scribe, a2nite

    in a degrading and rather violent way.  Once you establish that someone is no more than a hated  type genitalia, you can wreak just about any kind of violence on her.

    Ii dont care how old the woman is, it's an offensive word.

    If you want to say she's full of herself, she's a showoff, go ahead.  The sexual reference is un necessary, unless you are showing how very un acceptable it is for a woman or girl to act out the type of bravado and self involvement that is commonly considered the birthright of men.

    What is it tonight, every man on DK is showing his inner mysogynist?

    •  I never said she was full of her self. (0+ / 0-)

      And I'm not defending the word or the way it was used in the context of the tweet. I was explaining why the joke got the reaction that it got.  It didn't work and I explained why it didn't work.

      "The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and Stupidity" Harlan Ellison

      by TheRagingCelt on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 07:46:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm sorry but this diary and most of these (0+ / 0-)

    comments trivialize a very racist, sexist and abusive act. What is it about white people that they want to excuse this kind of thing? There is no excuse for this period. None.

    •  Uh, what was it I said at the end? (0+ / 0-)

      "But seriously, Onion?  You guys do need to apologize.
      For pete’s sakes, you called a nine year old girl a c**t!
      T’ain’t funny, McGee!"

      I was not excusing it.
      And I'm not trying to trivialize it but to look at the reasoning behind why the comment was made why it failed to have the desired effect.

      Because sometimes a clinical outlook can yield greater results then just screaming boo.

      "The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and Stupidity" Harlan Ellison

      by TheRagingCelt on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 08:54:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm actually happy to hear it wasn't racist, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TheRagingCelt

    since I feel that was what I was to believe.  Why won't people just say what she was called?

    "To recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course, is the most repugnant option in government." Historian Barbara Tuchman

    by Publius2008 on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 09:02:47 PM PST

  •  But WHY involve Quvenzhane in that? (3+ / 0-)

    Why out of the target rich environment of the Oscars was it necessary to pick out the newcomer who was not a truly a part of that world, someone who doesn't even participate in online culture, the one person in that crowd who was just excited to stay up past her bedtime?  If you wanted to say something about Anne Hathaway, then say it about her. Or someone else in that world like Jennifer Lawrence who can at least understand the joke.

    The reason for much of the outrage is not about the joke, but about the target. What I suspect is that it was easy to simply think of Quvenzhane as a symbol and not a person. It was easy to access her as a object to use in a joke to make a point about celebrities to snarky hipsters who could appreciate that kind of satirical flourish. No one was talking TO Quvenzhane, they were using her to talk to each other.

    The reason black women like myself shake with rage and frustration over this issue is not because we can't see the satire, it's because we feel like no one sees the girl. She shouldn't be used as a prop in jokes that she can't understand and are not even about her. At minimum its rude. But more, I see it as a way to discount and diminish her. She's invisible except as a way to embarrass Clooney or make a point about Anne Hathaway.

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