Last night was Oscar night and everything was going along as I had planned. Seth MacFarlane proved what can go wrong in American entertainment when the nerds dominate and are given full alternative, punchlines-optional (Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy provided the worst humor moment I can remember in Oscar History), Star Trek co-hosting free reign. It was not a disaster in hosting, but I did cringe when he told a Lincoln joke that was so lame and so designed to just get to a trite “too soon” quip (see this for my official rules). As far as the Awards go I had predicted most of the awards correctly including Ang Lee and Argo wins, but did fail to get best animated feature correct (Brave sort of sucked, Wreck It Ralph was robbed). And just as I was retiring for the night I saw some tweets about a controversial tweet by the satirical newspaper The Onion. So I looked it up and here is what they tweeted:
“Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a cunt, right? #Oscars2013”
It was the hardest I laughed all night.
The Onion has taken it down, but has not issued an apology yet. And they should not. The Onion is a hilarious, envelope pushing product, but sadly they upset part of the liberal fans, who delight in bashing and mocking everything from sports to religion and everything celebrity. But why did this one hurt so much? Because they used the word cunt? Please. The Onion is always irreverent. And if the story came out 9 months from now, but instead of referring to Wallis, it said “Kim and Kanye give birth to 7 lb 6 oz cunt” do you really think the outrage would be the same? I doubt it because their child, despite being an innocent child, will never have the sympathy or affection of the general public. In fact, just this week I saw hundreds of tweets about Kim and Kanye’s unborn child that were “horrible.” This is of course because people are treating the unborn girl as a celebrity already. But Wallis is more darling to the liberal crowd that The Onion courts and Wallis makes that crowd feel good about themselves. She is a tiny black child playing a poor black child in a movie that became a little-engine-that-could to Hollywood. The movie was not even that great, but it had the kind of story and star that can make people feel good about themselves. Not because the movie is super feel good, but because by watching it and cheering for a tiny black child, Hollywood and the liberal readers of The Onion can feel good about themselves for cheering for her and the movie.
It is too bad that The Onion deleted it, but I really hope they do not apologize. The joke had nothing to do with the kid. It is clearly meant as a mockery of the cattiness of Hollywood culture and the fact that she is nine years old is the source of 90% of the humor. Unlike, say Don Imus’ infamous comments referring to the Rutgers Women’s basketball team as “nappy headed hoes””( a rude joke that I don’t think he should have been punished for either), this joke is even more obviously a joke because of the age of Wallis.
I consider myself left of center, but probably center to center-right as far as the comedy community is concerned, but stories like this annoy me. It feels like partially fake-outrage because of the arbitrary lines some in the general public and in comedy are willing to draw. This is not about preserving Wallis’ integrity, but about preserving the feel good moment for those that enjoyed patting themselves on the back for having a tiny black girl nominated for best actress. I am sure you are not conscious of it if you are reading this and disagree (and maybe some of you do feel genuine outrage), but once again, if this were about Will Smith’s kid, would you be as horrified?
I understand that Wallis is a tiny and adorable child and that referring to the girl as any bad name is cruel and crude, but it does not mean that it is not funny, and in this context clearly is not about delivering an actual insult to or about the young actress. But the new battlefront in comedy appears to be protecting non-conventional celebrities from the glare and satire that comes with celebrity. Folks like Lena Dunham, Adele and now Wallis are deemed untouchable by people within and outside of comedy. Any joke about them (or in Wallis’ case, mentioning them) is deemed some sort of cruel, below the belt attempt at humor because they give good feelings to their fans about themselves. Rooting for Dunham or Wallis gives the fan self-worth, so a joke about these women or others like them becomes an attack on the fan who in defending the celebrity is really guarding the good feelings they feel for themselves.
So hopefully The Onion does not apologize for doing what they do, but if they do I hope all these outraged folks remember this when they start an onslaught of jokes and Kim and Kanye’s baby later this year.