Last night, after the Oscar telecast, a kerfuffle blew up, mostly on Twitter, about a vile, reprehensible tweet from, The Onion, the 25-year-old, amazing, hilarious, and satirical publication that we all quote, tweet, or share on our Facebook walls at least five times a year. They were clearly trying to be funny, and likely parodying Seth MacFarlane’s sense of humor in last night’s Oscar show, full of (mostly lame) jokes exploiting gender, race, and sexual orientation stereotypes.
Most reasonable people can believe that the tweet was in sh*tty taste, not necessarily for using the C-word (which I loathe), but because it was directed at an adorable nine-year-old girl coming off of probably the most exciting night of her life (the use of the word itself is unacceptable in most instances, but The Onion has managed to use the N-word to good effect when ridiculing racists).
Reasonable minds may disagree on whether the use of either the C-word or the N-word is appropriate in any context, but given The Onion’s history of skewering racists, homophobes, and far right-wing conservatives, I’m willing to allow for some comedic leeway in order to achieve those same goals. Using it against a cute, Oscar nominated girl, however, I’m not so willing to allow for a benefit of the doubt.
Many on Twitter agreed. In fact, around 1:30 a.m. EST, Twitter went into meltdown mode. It turned into a cable news channel. The Wire’s Wendell Pierce led the charge against The Onion.
The Onion quickly deleted the tweet, but made no apology nor did it address the tweet (as of this posting). Meanwhile, a lot of folks continue to pile on The Onion, while on the other side, many defended The Onion’s use of the word in the context of satire. Unfortunately, many of those people — in trying to provide their defense — made it worse. I’m sorry, but there’s never really a situation in which you sound reasonable when you’re defending someone’s use of the C-word directed at a nine year old, no matter the context, and you’re not helping yourself when you throw up First Amendment arguments because THE FIRST AMENDMENT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.
It was a sh*tty, inexcusable tweet.
But, it was probably one guy running the Twitter feed for The Onion who had nobody looking over his shoulder or ensuring that all of his tweets met a certain threshold for good taste. It was late. He’d probably been tweeting all night. He may have had too much to drink. He tweeted something reprehensible. He should probably be held accountable for it. But let’s not throw the entire publication and their 25-year history out because of one guy’s stupid, misguided mistake (and by deleting the tweet, he at least acknowledged it was a mistake). He was trying to be funny. He failed, although chances are, on most days, whoever the writer is, he’s probably funnier, more perceptive, and smarter than most of us. I mean, he writes for The Onion, after all (the 516 Retweets and 411 Favorites, well, that’s a little less excusable).
I think calling the one guy out, shaming him, and berating him on social media, and in countless online and print publications is sufficient. Pierce is right to demand the The Onion identity the writer, so at least we can direct our umbrage at the appropriate person. I don’t think it’s necessary that we marshall a public protest, burn The Onion in effigy, and then hold everyone that writes for The Onion and The AV Club accountable for the actions of one writer who made made one tweet in terrible taste. Ninety-eight percent of the people who work for The Onion never would’ve made the joke, and ninety-percent of them believe it was in bad taste, but it hardly seems appropriate to ask them to quit their jobs in protest because of one guy’s stupidity. That’s just dumb. Don’t be dumb.
Anyway, I’m sure it will all blow over by later today when The Onion comes up with the perfect headline that allows them to both admit their guilt and mock those on both side of the C-word debate. But most importantly, we shouldn’t let a dumb tweet overshadow Quvenzhane Wallis’s brilliant work on Beasts of the Southern Wild and her well-deserved Oscar nomination.
Update: The Onion has apologized. Can we go back to loving the publication again?