I’m layin’ down some real talk today, loyal watchers. I struggled with speaking out about this on my show, because I like keeping my show light, humorous, and sexy. I even went so far as recording this whole script last night, but I ultimately chose not to publish it because I felt it wasn’t the right tone to follow up the smash hit of my Sports Illustrated episode. So today I’m left with a lot of words and emotions. But rather than just trash them entirely, I’ve decided to post them in blog form. I’ve learned something over these past few years: It’s not scandalous to voice your opinion on something and to stand behind something you believe in. I understand the umbrage this post may stir, but I have to speak my mind.
I need to talk about The Onion’s tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis. I’ve seen a lot of heated argument in both short and long form across the entirety of the internet since the tweet was first posted. Criticism started strong and fast. LeVar Burton was one of the most heated from the start – laying into The Onion and publicly unsubscribing, the equivalent to an internet boycott.
Then yesterday, the defenders started in strong. Beginning their argument much like the tweet itself: “I’m kinda afraid to say this but… Here’s a bunch of backpedaling and apologies about why I personally find this tweet funny and here’s why those who don’t are hysterical reactionary drama queens.” What makes this sentiment even more infuriating/insulting, is that despite a larger volume of INCREDIBLY well written criticisms published by major news outlets and respected journals – a small blog post penned by a self described feminist was a relief to closeted defenders. At last they had the proof to vindicate their beliefs. “See? A woman thinks this is funny! IN YOUR FACE ALL YOU NAGGING FEMINAZIS!” It opened the floodgates to defenders of free speech, defenders of trolling, and lovers of off-color jokes everywhere to draw a line in the sand and stand behind The Onion. The problem with this is not with the humor the tweet tries for, but that the act of turning away from discussing the problems people have with it is dismissive of the deeper systemic problem the tweet brushes up against.
After a day’s worth of reading, the defense of the tweet goes in one of two directions.
The first: “This is the Onion, and clearly a work of satire. The writer’s true target was the cynical and negative celebrity media.” The problem with this defense is that for it to work, Quvenzhané MUST be objectified. She’s a name with a list of attributes – 9 years old, girl, black, innocent and nothing more, because the real zinger is going toward a nebulous and undefined target. A nameless and therefore unashamed target. If this had been a tweak of a post made earlier by Perez Hilton, or another celebrity blogger who’s known for insulting remarks – then maybe there’s some comedy there. But there was no framing device. Just the shield of the Onion, and their body of work. A body of work that people constantly mistake for real news or lament that they wish real news lines WERE onion headlines. So to defend the tweet under the assumption that everyone knows what the Onion is and understands their satire is like assuming that everyone knows the names of every G.I.Joe. Outside of a very slim margin of people, no one is going to know the names of the Joes, let alone what G.I.Joe is at all.
You can’t defend a point because of your belief that something is common knowledge. That’s shortsighted and a fault of privilege.
The second defense of the tweet is based on both the freedom to say what you please coupled with the dismissal of those who failed to find the humor in the joke. For this to work, people dragged out their dictionaries, and banged on what humor is and how jokes are formed. Explaining that the simple juxtaposition of calling an innocent, young, and bright actress a cunt is hilarious because WHO WOULD SAY SUCH A THING?! The problem with that logic is that people ARE tweeting this kind of crap all the time, without it being designed as a joke. You only have to look back to the casting of Amandla Stenberg as Rue in the Hunger Games. Jezebel even collected the HUGE outpouring of insulting racist remarks made out of hatred and disgust at the idea of her casting. Insults like the Onion’s tweet tried to frame, are the background feedback of the internet. You can’t assume that people will get the joke because “things like that just aren’t said”.
Because they are said.
All the time.
At a defining volume.
When you’re swimming in privilege, it’s easy to float past those with none. No one is calling anyone who laughed at the joke a bad person, people are calling out the writer – THE SINGULAR WRITER – from the Onion’s staff who threw a shitty joke at an easy target with no defense. Defending this joke based on context is far easier to do when you personally have never had to deal with any long-form discrimination. Knowing the context of insulting a young black actress who had achieved a nomination that some actors never even get the chance to achieve through the venue of a far reaching social network is what I’m calling attention to. Joke or not, satire or not, it’s dismissive of her personal struggles and only reinforces the views held by far too many in places of power.
This is a Three’s Company setup. Mr Farley is the Nation, walking in on Jack Tripper forcibly stripping a woman bare. Sure, it’d be great to live in that hyper-real world and laugh it off through complex explanations of context, but this is the real world – and both Mr Farley AND that woman would be calling the cops, even if Jack’s secret family recipes were accidentally in her bra for some reason.
I have no problems with saying publicly that the joke was terrible and lazy. It’s not a career ender for the writer, and it shouldn’t be. People can make mistakes – but I’m glad that people stood up and called them out for it. This writer should be held accountable for their joke, learn from it, and move on.
Also, defending the joke by saying “DUH IT’S THE ONION, MORON. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, STUPID? DO YOU HATE JOKES? Y U NO LIKE FREE SPEECH?!” only shows that you have no understanding of the plight of the marginalized.
You don’t kick a cripple down a flight of stairs and applaud when they ask for a hand up.
So in summation, if you defended The Onion’s tweet, then you are wrong. If you are unwilling to acknowledge those whose beliefs about the tweet differ from yours – then you are wrong. Friends, family members, and complete strangers alike – you are wrong. If you defended this tweet you are not stupid, or racist, or a hateful villain – but you are wrong. If you liked or laughed at this tweet, I do not hate you – but you are wrong. There’s nothing damning about being wrong, just accept it and move forward. The longer you fail to, the more arrested you are in your beliefs, the worse you’ll look.
Don’t be butthurt over this, just move on.
There’s a bitter irony in the fact that this all happened on the one year anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin.
The kind I don’t find funny.