Update: The Onion apologized on Monday. See below …
You’ve seen the tweet, or at least heard about it. You’ve witnessed the online outrage. You may even be part of those picking up pitchforks and torches against The Onion. But don’t. It’s okay. It’s gonna be fine.
Defending this joke is so difficult that The Onion, which always — ALWAYS — plants the flag and lets it fly without fear of judgment, decided to delete the tweet. Either the tweet writer saw the initial responses and yanked it, The Onion’s higher-ups are seriously worried about comedic and financial blowback for the first time ever, or someone more important than the tweet writer just didn’t think it was funny enough to stand behind.
People are fired up, and for good reason. Call a 9-year-old girl a “cunt,” you’re going to piss people off. Wendell Pierce, for example, star of The Wire and Treme, among other shows, tweeted: “Identify the writer. Let him defend that abhorrent verbal attack of a child. You call it humor I call it horrendous.”
The Onion doesn’t need “defenders,” and surely they can do a better job than anyone else. But look at this indecency another way — this is a classic omelet/breaking some eggs situation. You can’t get Onion-caliber humor on the regular without calling a few nine-year-old girls the C-word along the way.
Nobody should have to explain the machinations of a bad joke. But clearly The Onion wasn’t picking on Quvenzhané Wallis. The absurdity is the joke. And because only The Onion can get away with the jokes they usually do in this EVERYTHING IS OFFENSIVE ALL THE TIME society, it allows other people to continue to try to expand the bounds of comedy.
In other words, to paraphrase the admittedly villainous Col. Nathan R. Jessep, “They should have neither the time nor the inclination to explain themselves to a society who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very comedy The Onion provides, then questions the manner in which they provide it! They’d rather you just said thank you and went on your way.”
Besides, The Onion has stood by far worse. This tweet still stands:
BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.
— The Onion (@TheOnion) September 29, 2011
Yeah, the joke missed its mark. Yeah, it used a taboo word. Yeah, it invoked an innocent child. But it was just a joke, and it wasn’t even about Ms. Wallis. They *should* publicly apologize for it, as warranted.
Ultimately, we want The Onion on that wall. We need The Onion on that wall.
UPDATE: The Onion apologized just before noon on Monday:
On behalf of The Onion, I offer my personal apology to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the tweet that was circulated last night during the Oscars. It was crude and offensive—not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, however biting.
No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.
The tweet was taken down within an hour of publication. We have instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again.
In addition, we are taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible.
Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry.