It's not always about being funny.

In defense of The Onion

The Onion tweets about The Oscars

Humor is subjective.

Do you know why I think that tweet is hilarious? Because absolutely nobody at all – not a single soul in the entire universe – is thinking or saying that the adorable, precious, 9-year old Quvenzhané Wallis is anything other than innocent, delightful, and a beautiful child. And that universal fact is subverted by applying the same characteristics of a bitter, unhappy nominee, and then cemented by using the only word in the English language left that has any shock value whatsoever.

The tweet by The Onion made me laugh, because it was shocking, funny, and ran counter to every single cultural  and social more out there. That’s what humor should do. It should cross lines. It should make people uncomfortable, and it should turn things on their sides.

By laughing at this, am I supporting, implying, thinking, or considering that the subject of the tweet is a cunt? No, and to say otherwise is to absolutely ignore the entire point of humor. Laughing at this tweet recognizes it for being hysterically funny BECAUSE it’s absurd. It’s not only unlikely, it’s impossible. And that’s why it’s funny.

But, humor is subjective. And we live in a society where many people have decided that if it’s not funny to them, it’s hateful and offensive and must be censored and stricken. That’s unfortunate. If you didn’t laugh, just move on. That’s it.

By legitimizing the complaints, sources of humor like The Onion (and Daniel Tosh) give weight to a voice that doesn’t deserve that power. It’s the humorists who push that envelope, who give censors heart attacks, who cross lines and who make enemies just to make people think about what they’re saying and what they’re thinking. Once we start down the slope of determining on a public scale what’s allowed to be funny and what’s not, we quiet one of the most important voices for any generation to progress and change.

Originally, this post was going to also defend Seth MacFarlane as the host of The Oscars, but it’s the same argument. Humor is subjective. Did anything that he say make me laugh? Not really, but I also wasn’t offended. His humor was immature and trite, but it wasn’t hateful. Calling someone misogynistic every time he (or she) makes a joke about a woman’s appearance or about nudity or sexuality is a waste of the word. It takes power away from identifying the true misogynists out there – the people who truly hate women and want them to return to a submissive state of life. Those are the people to watch out for, but they’re not that one gay guy who sang a song about seeing boobs when he hosted the Oscars.

(And, just as an aside, if you think that Amy Poehler or Tina Fey wouldn’t have made a joke about the age at which Quvenzhané Wallis would be old enough for George Clooney to date, you’re experiencing a big bout of wishful thinking. Female comedians are just as edgy, just as boundary-crossing, and just as vicious when it comes to humor, and if you ever want to point the finger of misogyny at someone, check out Whitney Cumming’s old stand-up. )

Humor never deserves to be censored, yet that’s what happens when the loudest voices become a chorus of protest. People will argue that it’s jokes like the one above that set our society back, and I will argue that it’s people who protest jokes like that who are setting us back. If you want to stifle creativity and originality, continue to call for the heads of those who express their freedom of speech. Hell, let’s just burn them at the stake while we’re at it.

For two very good opposing points of view on this topic, check out Kristen‘s and Deb‘s posts. I disagree with them but respect their opinions completely.

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26 Replies to “In defense of The Onion”

  1. Roo Ciambriello / NiceGirlNotes

    Hm, I politely disagree. I think you can be funny without doing so at the expense of a nine year old’s feelings. And I think you can be funny without being crass and shocking.

    I didn’t watch the Oscars, and I wasn’t on Twitter last night, so I’m not really privy to whatever the heck Seth MacFarlane was doing and feel sort of irrelevant even commenting. 😛

    Thanks for helping us see the other side of the coin!

  2. kimt205

    And I politely completely agree. Sure, I really am not a huge fan of anyone being called a cunt, and saying it towards a kid is kind of risque. If I had to guess, the whole controversy took up steam with many people who make it a hobby of being offended on another’s behalf, even garnering The Onion more followers than less. And since her parents run her Twitter account and most media requests, they more than likely could have made sure she didn’t even know about it.

    Seth Mcfarlane is not that funny to me (subjective!), but I loved the boobs segment. Like I said on Twitter, don’t put them out there if you don’t want them discussed, common sense.

    My favorite commentary on the whole thing was a comment from an Onion FB status, this ;


    I thought that was pretty funny.

    As are you.

  3. beearl

    I don’t think Seth MacFarlane is funny. Never have. Last night did nothing to change that. But it also didn’t offend me…well, for the most part. Including multiple instances of rape scenes in the “We saw your boobs” number was a bad idea. For me, that crossed the line from unfunny to offensive. But it’s Seth MacFarlane. His “comedy” has been exactly this for exactly forever. And he’s made millions upon millions with it. If they didn’t want adolescent humor at the Oscars, then they should have picked someone else as host.

  4. beearl

    Oh, this was about The Onion. Nah…I thought it was funny. For exactly the reasons you outlined. And I know some people hate that word, but I love it. Sorry. I wish I was British so I could use it more often. 🙂

  5. mandy

    I thought it was funny for the exact reasons you mentioned. The thing that made me really angry was the people screaming “sexism” and “racism”, which as you said, is an extremely regressive attitude.

  6. mamikaze

    I wish The Onion had chosen a different word. I get that it was supposed to be in jest but cunt is harsh. As for misogyny in general, we’ve come to a point that most things a male says in reference to a female is labeled sexist. I consider myself a modern feminist and roll my eyes at the women who want to be treated as equals but can’t roll with the punches in a comedy routine. The Boobs song was hilarious and taken in context with the Shatner skit, is true to McFarlane’s style. The man has made a living from making fun of society in poor taste, people! Considering the difference in Family Guy’s audience and the Oscar audience, it was a given that there would be a clash. I missed everything between 50 years of Bond and the best actor award. I love satire. Maybe one day we can all laugh at our collective absurdity together.

  7. Birdman

    I didn’t watch them, and I didn’t know that there was a 9 year old involved, but it made the tweet a lot more funny. At least that makes it an absurd joke, instead of what I thought it was, which was someone who was acting cunty being called a cunt. That’s not nearly as funny.

    I do think that the other side has an argument though. With public access to everything these days, and people generally being assholes, you know that people are going to start saying that to her, and that’s not cool. A nine year old shouldn’t have to even wonder what that means.

    Just my two cents. (Our dollar is a bit higher now.)

  8. jillsmo

    “Calling someone misogynistic every time he (or she) makes a joke about a woman’s appearance or about nudity or sexuality is a waste of the word. It takes power away from identifying the true misogynists out there – the people who truly hate women and want them to return to a submissive state of life. Those are the people to watch out for, but they’re not that one gay guy who sang a song about seeing boobs when he hosted the Oscars.”

    YES! THAT!! And I’m a feminist.

  9. LeSombre

    The Onion is like a Ogre. It has layers.

    The polite Canadian part of me doesn’t 100% agree with the use of that word, but then again, that part of me is roughly 0.0001% of what I really am. So that makes me 0.00000001% offended, I think.

    Anyways, I just wanted to say: Well said my friend.

    Also, math is hard, yo.

  10. Patrick Smith (@Patrixmyth)

    You make a persuasive argument about this being misunderstood. I would hope that’s what happened. I can tell you, though, that there are too many people who really did feel she spoke ‘out of her place’ by correcting pronunciation of her name, and are just itching to break out old jokes about black names. There is a lot pent-up racism that comes out in odd places these days. Maybe that tweet was making fun of them, but in that short a context, it really was poor judgment and the Onion editor was right to nip it in the bulb. (Get it, Onion… bulb!)

    As for the wholly separate Seth McFarlane reaction, well, he’s always been an asshole. bless him.

  11. Karen Sugarpants

    I don’t think calling a kid that word is cool AT ALL, and I would not do it myself. And if someone called my kid that, I’d absolutely be upset.
    However, free speech and my own ambivalence on the subject makes it tolerable. And I have kids and a cunt. So shouldn’t I be doubly offended?
    Listen, people get their shit in wads all the time on the internet. Just two weeks ago, I myself got very uppity and bitchy about something that in the grand scheme of things, was pretty fuckin’ stupid. I still stand by what I said then, but looking back, it wasn’t worth any kind of fight.
    Lastly, I wanna say I saw the kid the question on an interview show, and I thought she was an obnoxious little twat who needed to be checked on her PR. Meh. That’s her mom’s problem. America does not need to stand up for her just because some nerds in an office somewhere tweeted that she’s a cunt. <— there's a sentence I never thought I'd type.
    Let's truly not make it bigger than what it is.

  12. Melissa Chapman (@MelissaSChapman)

    I HATED his jokes about jews– who the hell is he to OUT us and our SECRET society?! I am a REALLY big fan of Family guy- since FOREVER- and so to say that i HATED his comments, behavior and crassness- while it is true- that is who he is- that is his humor love it or leave it. I think he is an equal opportunity offender and like another commenter pointed out he’s ALWAYS been an asshole– 😉

  13. TB at BlueCollarWorkman

    It’s too bad that you had to even do a post like this. Because, yeah man, humor is humor. Don’t like it? Then move on, no big freaking deal. But people make it a big deal. They say things like: “That kid isn’t a cunt! And it’s jokes like that, which really aren’t jokes at all but are indicators of the subtle undermining of women’s liberation in our country, that make men think it’s okay to call women hateful names!” That’s what people say. And peopel are idiots. Humor is humor. Of course the tweeter didn’t mean it, that’s what makes it funny! And if the tweeter HAD meant it, well that just makes it all the more funny to the rest of us because then the tweeter is an idiot! Funny either way! I try to just close my ears though when people get a bee up their a$s about everything, it sucks the fun outta life. And life is too serious anyway.

  14. Megan

    I hate when I come into an argument in the middle. I’m not a fan of that word and have zero context for the Onion quote (until I came here and read Karen’s comment – now I get it), but I can’t muster my sense of moral outrage for this.

    Any time I watch something by Seth I find myself laughing while saying “that’s awful.” Things can be funny and awful at the same time.

  15. Becky

    The Constitution grants us certain rights, and among those rights is the Freedom of Speech. I have read the Constitution, I have studied it with my daughter this year for her Constitution text required in MO. I have yet to find where it says we have the right to not be offended.
    Also, I’m offended does not equal it is offensive,
    I can see why they are offended, because I hate the word CUNT. But again, freedom of speech and all that.
    Wear what ya dig people. Everyone has a freak flag, some are just more colorful.

  16. Becky

    Ok. let’s try this again.
    I have read the Constitution, several times. I have studied it with my daughter this year for her Constitution text that is required by MO for all high school students to pass in order to graduate. I have seen the right to free speech. But nowhere have I found the right to not be offended. Just because you’re offended, does not mean it’s offensive.
    Also, if you are offended, don’t read it, don’t watch it, don’t wear it, don’t listen to it. See we also have free will, and this thing called choice.
    I agree, everyone has a freak flag somewhere. Some are just bigger, bolder, and more colorful.
    And I’m offended that they are offended, There.

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