The Onion Fucks Up

The night before last, at the Academy Awards, the movie Argo took home the award for best picture. While director and producer Ben Affleck was speaking on the stage, thanking the academy and everyone involved in the production of the movie, the satirical newspaper The Onion crossed a line, with regard to the 9-year-old star (and Best Actress nominee) of the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild, with the following tweet:

(I’m using an image of the tweet because it has since been deleted, but this is the internet and nothing is ever truly invisible…)

The Onion is known for its satire, often hard-edged and at times offensive to the people or groups whom they lampoon. That much is a given.

And there’s no question about it: this was offensive. And wrong. And, to be frank, not funny. (Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild, nor do I know anything about Quvenzhané Wallis, other than the fact that she’s the youngest nominee for best actress in the history of the Academy Awards. So maybe there could be something here that I missed, but I sincerely doubt it…)

So the fundamental question is whether or not, even in a tongue-in-cheek sense, there are times when calling 9-year old girl a “cunt” is right. And I admit it: I can’t think of one.

This coming from a guy who believes that there is no such thing as a topic that’s so taboo, so off-limits, that we can’t make fun of it. Yes, attempts at humor with some topics can make you more enemies than friends, but I strongly support the right to make these kinds of jokes.

So the Onion did the right thing, the noble thing, the admirable thing, and apologized. As far as I can tell, the apology is sincere, although the line about “taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible” raises more questions than it answers.

The one big question that bears asking, is whether or not this was merely a lapse in judgment on the part of an indeterminate number of staffers at the Onion, or if something far more systemic was at play here. Hell, I don’t even know how much time elapsed between when the concept was first considered, and when it got posted. Or was this a natural consequence of a work culture that tries to be biting, hard-hitting, in-your-face, and, well, crude? That question will likely never be answered.

And, I’d like to reiterate that the Onion did the right thing by apologizing. One other question that does come up — and we won’t know this for quite some time — is whether this is going to have a lasting impact on the quality of the satire we see coming out of that website. The last thing we want is for a bigger named celebrity (in the realms of either entertainment or politics) demanding an apology because of the way The Onion lambasted them.

If it means anything, I’m hopeful at least about the quality of the satire, as evidenced by today’s satirical take on a big news item from yesterday: U.K. Cardinal Resigns in Wake of — Get This — Sex Abuse Allegations .