‘The Onion’ and Quvenzhane Wallis – and how angry were you?

The Onion is a master satirist of popular culture and politics, and I almost always find its writers sharp, intelligent, and brilliant at skewering the latest newsmakers and their absurdity. That is why I’m so disappointed that someone with The Onion okayed the following Tweet about Oscar-nominated actress, Quvenzhane Wallis:

“Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhane Wallis is kind of a c*nt, right?” (asterisk is mine).

I know, I had to take a deep breath after that one.

So, surprisingly – and to his credit – Onion CEO Steve Hannah offered an apology – a rare thing for The Onion, which has had fake stories published that have angered many.

I think part of Hannah’s apology was prompted from the swift and pissed off reactions to a lot.

But my question is: why would anyone think it’s funny to call a 9-year old a c*nt?

I get what the joke was: the love-fest for Wallis was getting heavy, and the press was falling over itself in praising the talented little girl. To puncture this heavy puffery and celebrity-worship, The Onion attempted at pointed satire and failed. Miserably.

So why? Well, it’s a terrible place to go when involving kids in humor. I mean, I’m not saying child actors are above humor or satire – but there’s a line, and using sexual and gender slurs (as well as racial, in case some other idiot gets any ideas) should be pretty obviously out-of-bounds when dealing with kids.

If The Onion wants to spoof the hype around Wallis, why not go the route of Modern Family and its producers – during the Emmys a few years back, the Emmy producers put together a cute little skit that had its youngest cast member, Audrey Emmons-Anderson (who’s like 5), play a tyrannical monster, terrorizing the other cast members. Making her look like a spoiled, temperamental diva is a great way to play with the image of a perfect, adorable child star.

One cannot ignore that there’s an ugly racial element to this story, as well. Let’s be honest, black women don’t get a whole lotta respect from society – and often they’re sexualized or denigrated with words like c*nt or n*gger. It’s a shame that Wallis has been already subject to this ugly racialized misogyny at such a young age.

I guess my crushing disappointment with The Onion is a bit naive – why would I assume that a publication like The Onion no matter how smart and clever it is, would be immune from the symptomatic racism and sexism that plagues our country – the writers are human, after all.

But wat is also pretty gross is that there are some in the Internet community who are defending the joke – charging those of us on the right side of the debate with being too sensitive or overly “PC.” Sorry, humor and satire is meant to crush sacred cows, smash popular idols, and take on people or institutions of power; a 9-year old is not a person that has a whole lot of autonomy or power; kicking an underdog is wrong.

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Filed under Comedy, commentary, movie

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