I thought the onion's joke was hilarious. The joke:
"Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhan Wallis is kind of a cunt, right?"
For those (like me) that maybe didn't actually watch the Oscars: Quvenzhan Wallis is a 9-year old actress up for an award at the ceremony. A few of the hypothetical reasons proposed that this joke was horrible and should have immediately been deleted, and my response to them:
- The word "cunt" is horrible and offensive and should never be used ever.
Yeah ... no.
- Still, it was kinda funny, but they should have chosen a less inflammatory word, like "bitch".
What? Frankly, bitch is just as horrible a word in a colloquial context. The inflammatory, derogatory gendered nature of the word is specifically what made the joke so funny.
- I don't get it. Why are they calling a 9-year old a cunt?
Because calling a 9 year old girl a cunt is a horrible, horrible thing to do -- similar to all the horrible, horrible things floated in the name of snarky Oscars commentary. Often, these things center around highly contentious and offensive gender notions/roles. Get it? This is not horribly complicated humor.
- I still don't get it -- I find it easier to be obtuse and pretend I've never read The Onion and I don't really get how humor works, because I really love Being Offended.
Er .. okay.
- Okay, fine, you're right. The onion is pretty hilarious and often risque. But still, no one should ever objectify a 9 year old in that way, no matter what their intent. If anyone called my little girl a cunt, I'd kidneypunch them.
If we're going to go down the "protect the virgin ears of an oh so innocent child" route, might I remind you that this is a 9 year old actress that was in a movie that spent the evening at the Oscars -- a gathering of arguably some of the worst people in the world. I find it hard to believe that being called a cunt on the internet is really the most damaging aspect of her experience for her, assuming she would have heard about it at all. It's not like the Onion sent a correspondent on to the red carpet to call a little girl a cunt to her face. But she will hear about it, now, undoubtedly -- thanks to the indignant claims of offense and raucous calls for censure. It's headline news, now. (Nice work, indignant public!)
So yes, she probably has heard about it. What horrible things exactly are we imagining have happened as a result? A brief explanation by her parents that it was a joke poking fun at institutional sexism and the vacuity of celebrity viciousness in general? A more in-depth conversation about the power of the word "cunt" and how its colloquial usage is pernicious and should be avoided, and how the Onion turned that on its head to make a rather biting point? A quick lesson that the Onion is, in fact, hilarious? Are we really claiming exasperated offense at this idea because we are so cynical so as to assume that she's so stupid she won't understand any of this? Or that her parents are too stupid to explain it to her?
- Okay, yeah, but ... the word "cunt" is horrible and should never be used ever.
It seems to me that any reasonably intelligent adult (I realize this rules out a lot of the American population, but stay with me here, dear reader) can discern the difference between using a slur in a casual way that promulgates a negative stereotype (which I have talked about at length) and using it in a specific way to make a point, or a joke. Given that, the crux of the Onion's supposedly horrible offense was making the joke in a context where this 9 year old girl might hear about it (and ignoring for the moment the relative initial implausibility of this), let's examine this for what it is: the rough equivalent of grown adults making a joke to eachother using a word in a context that a 9 year old might not understand, and a 9 year old in the next room maybe overhearing it. Do you: a) pull the kid aside, explain to them that "cunt" is a horrible word and that mommy was making a joke, or b) freak the fuck out and accuse the person telling the joke of being a horrible misogynist bully, even though you know they're not and that you're being willfully obtuse so you can be a big jerk?