Not All Layers of An Onion Are Equally Worth Peeling Back

Let's start with the tweet and get it right out there. Last night, The Onion tweeted this:


That, needless to say, was not a good idea. It was not a good idea for a lot of reasons. The simplistic version is "you don't call a 9 year old a cunt." That's pretty close to my more nuanced version too, but it helps to show your work to get to that conclusion because it is unfair to The Onion – to their intent and real target – to reduce the tweet to "The Onion called an amazing young girl a horrible word."

This is a bit rambling, but you already clicked "more", so strap in. I've got a lot to discuss.

A lot of people said that the joke was racist. My instinct, to be honest, is to disagree. It feels like this same joke could have been made about Tatum O'Neal or Anna Paquin or Dakota Fanning. Of course… it wasn't. It was made about Quvenzhané Wallis, in 2013, and we can't get around that. It has been said that being a straight white guy is the default / novice mode in the video game of life, so while I don't see racial intent in the tweet, I'm not prepared to give my own cultural experience the last word here. A LOT of black women are more than sure that the tweet is racist. It is complicated as hell to say something dirty about a 9 year old black girl and then shrug that the "black" part doesn't matter at all. That is a pretty solid distillation of white privilege right there: to be so sure of the purity of heart of your fellow white folks that you don't for a second consider what it is like to be a person of color witnessing the events unfold. I remain on the fence but I'm damn sure not confident enough to call anyone wrong for thinking the tweet was racist.

I do feel comfortable enough to say that the primary intent wasn't racist. It is pretty clear that the point of the joke wasn't about Wallis at all;* it was, instead, a satire of all of the horrible things routinely said about actresses – particularly, at the 2013 Oscars, Anne Hathaway.** Wallis was a perfect choice for the satire because she is – unless you are a horrible person – it is impossible to have a negative opinion about her. She's amazing. That's not the end of the story, though. Because while the vitriol directed at Hathaway – and the general curdled sexism that represents most of how actresses are talked about – is worthy of satire, the joke still falls flat. However ripe the real target was, the collateral damage was a 9-year-old girl. And the The Onion called her a cunt.

There are some defenses of the joke out there. Matt Kirshen reduces the joke to "calling the least cunty person imaginable, a cunt", which I think sells The Onion – and comedy – short. If that was the entirety of the intent of the joke, it is even less forgivable because there are no stakes. You can forgive him, somewhat, because he is British and in England you can call your mum a cunt at Christmas dinner and it isn't that big a deal. Dave Anthony goes full-throated in defense of the joke, arguing that the media-culture target was worthy, Wallis was the only decoy-target that would make the joke work and the collective anger is defensive lashing out. To me, Anthony is the defensive one. I've seen comics instinctively circle the wagons more than once – and I've been part of the circle myself. We don't like shackles. But … is this really the hill to die on? Perhaps it is silly that a single word is so powerful but you don't get to completely control the culture you are a part of. To think you can is childish. Friend-of-the-Hat Radley Balko spoke for a lot of people when he dismissed the tweet as just a (bad) joke, and not worthy of serious anger. But why? As Goethe said, "Nothing shows a man's character more than what he laughs at." Jokes are culture; culture gone awry is worth getting angry about.***

Choire Sicha probably got it right: it may not be possible to make a satirical joke about a 9 year old that won't blow up in your face. So the joke blew up in The Onion's face. The tweet was deleted (fine) and an apology was in order. And The Onion apologized. And it was a terrible (albeit predictable) apology. Here's the key phrase:

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.

Let's get real: the tweet was entirely consistent with The Onion's commitment to parody and satire. It was not "masquerading" as satire. It was satire that fell flat because the intended target was buried by calling Quvenzhané Wallis a cunt so the humor was entirely lost. It was a significant, and important, failure of writing. To apologize like this is spineless. The Onion should have apologized for the distance between what was intended and what was delivered but stood up for the inherent risks of satire. The Onion should have apologized to Wallis but not for trying to take on a culture more pernicious and odious than the tweet.

It was predictable, though. The Onion isn't a bunch of smartasses in Madison anymore, owned and operated by its founding writers. It is an entertainment company owned by a investors who have no role in content creation. I'm sure the people who run The Onion aren't completely soulless when it comes to the value of comedy as art or satire as valuable political/sociocultural speech – but they have an investment to protect and the market demanded prostration and got it.

The world is better without that tweet in it but it isn't enough to just hit delete.

* See also, the shit that Seth MacFarlane is taking for 'sexualizing a child' because he used her name in a joke about how Clooney dates very young women. It was a Clooney joke. It needed someone who is currently too young, will someday be old enough and, at a too-young age will be too old again. There was nobody in the room in between the ages of Wallis and the too-old-for-the-joke Jennifer Lawrence. And scene. The big difference between this joke and The Onion's? "Cunt". It matters.

** I was going to include a link to a twitter search connecting "Anne Hathaway" and "cunt" but by now that search result is mostly people pointing out the same thing I am and queering the results. Know that last night, people were calling Ms. Hathaway a cunt earnestly and frequently. Maryann Johnson covers that aspect pretty well, while coming to a somewhat different conclusion than I do.

*** Of course, regarding Radley Balko and race, this is very worthwhile. Probably the issues he is dealing with ARE bigger than the ones I am complaining about.

Last 5 posts by Charles


  1. says

    I don't know what The Onion's intent was.

    A few points:

    1. The Onion might have meant "we're showing how casual misogyny is tolerated by applying it to an unlikely target." Or they might have just meant "we're making an easy joke by applying a comment to a child that you wouldn't expect to be applied to a child." Or they might have meant merely "hey look I'm a shock jock." The Onion's quality is inconsistent; it has done things falling into each of these categories.

    2. Any institution that hires Jack Stuef to write comedy is not entitled to the benefit of the doubt in interpreting how sophisticated the joke was.

    3. I'm not sure what it means to be "possible" to make a joke. You make a joke. In modern America, you're generally protected from being sued or jailed for it. You then face the social consequences of the joke. Some people make jokes, or analogies, or parables, or rhetorical devices, that really piss some people off and that only some people "get" or appreciate. There's no right to have your joke appreciated. There's no right to freedom from social consequence.

    4. In the scheme of what annoys me most about this incident, I would rank it in this order: (a) people complaining "baaaaah teh political correctness you can't make a joke in modern America without being persecuted", then (b) a rough tie between the joke, which didn't work for me and came off as lazy and banal, and reactions to the joke, some of which came off as overly excitable.

    5. A joke can both incorporate and make fun of a bad thing. For instance: Seth's Adele joke both (1) relied on Adele being "fat", and (2) attacked the repulsive Rex Reed for a vile review attacking the awesome Melissa McCarthy for her weight. The problem is that good part of the joke — that Rex Reed is a douche — only works at the expense of calling Adele fat. Attacking bad things by whistling-past-the-graveyard jokes is hard.

  2. says

    Personally, I thought it was entirely consistent with the Onion humor style, but it fell short. It stunk as a joke.

    It's entirely clear to me that the INTENDED humor was one of deflating media hype, and of parodying the jaded hipster aesthetic. It wouldn't have worked on any "target" who was even slightly less than aetherially nice and pretty, because the audience might perceive some reason that person X or Y or Z was properly described with a c-bomb…for the joke to function as intended, it had to be aimed at someone utterly pristine.

    That said, yes, it fell flat, and yes, the Onion was right to apologize. The apology was a smart reputation management / business model move.

    The apology was not, I am sure, remotely an actual expression of contrition – the humor paper's business model is that it engages in this sort of thing all the time, just picking more PC targets.

    I hope everyone at the Onion has learned their lesson: insulting famous, rich young girls from liberal families is entirely unacceptable, and only children from poor white Appalachian trash families are legitimate targets for mockery.

  3. says

    It's entirely clear to me that the INTENDED humor was one of deflating media hype, and of parodying the jaded hipster aesthetic.

    Of course, when The Onion parodies the jaded hipster aesthetic, it's like when I make contrition to God for being short-tempered and mean and snide — I'm apologizing for something I know full well I'll be doing again inside the hour.

  4. C. S. P. Schofield says

    OK, first off, I had a bad night and my brain is operating on the level of moldy oatmeal. With that understood, I still want to say that my visceral reaction was "Wait a minute. All this ruction over what a known source of deliberate outrage had to say about an ACTRESS?"

    Let's say that the statement is clearly unfair, ostentatiously racist. and everything vile. Why. Do. We. Care? What SHOULD we care? It's like getting worked up over the Enquirer stories about – oh, god, I can't even think of a name – Paris Hilton.

    Now, if they were talking about somebody who was famous for developing a cure for cancer, or for rescuing orphaned children in Nigeria, or something similarly substantive, that would be different. She's. An. Actress. No statement that does not involve analysis of her acting means a goddamned thing.

    Tangental thought; what do y'all think of the proposition that Racism is a worldview that is only embraced by people sophisticated enough to have progressed beyond tribalism?

  5. says

    I expressed what I thought was the real problem with the joke with my reaction on Twitter: "Too soon!"

    Perhaps I need to take a refresher course in Women's Studies but I don't see why that word is any more awful than calling a dude a prick.

  6. says

    @John Kindley :

    > I expressed what I thought was the real problem with the joke with my reaction on Twitter: "Too soon!"

    1) that's TERRRIBLE
    2) LLLLLOL

  7. a leap at the wheel says

    "I hope everyone at the Onion has learned their lesson: insulting famous, rich young girls from liberal families is entirely unacceptable, and only children from poor white Appalachian trash families are legitimate targets for mockery."

    See, now that's funny.

  8. Josh C says

    The joke was tasteless and unfunny.

    The apology laid it on a bit thick, but seemed appropriate and sufficient.

    Anyone calling for fainting couches over what is fundamentally nothing more than a faux pas need to grow up.

  9. says

    Also, Popehat's posts cannot be taken as legal or social advice. Popehat and its authors assume no liability, legal or moral, for the consequences of you saying See You Next Tuesday to your mother, or any other female relative, in whatever country, at whatever event.

  10. Charlotte says

    I think sometimes the Onion just goes a little bit too far — but then everyone has their own version of 'too far', and saying sorry should be just that: 'sorry'. We all understand that it was a joke gone wrong, and explaining (incorrectly) why a joke has gone wrong when you write satire isn't really writing to your demographic.

    I would also like to point out that not all British people are neccessarily English, and those of us that are English don't use that word in any conversation (unless we're extremely angry/rude), let alone polite.

  11. says

    I never even remotely considered racism when I read the tweet, but I'm a suburbanite white guy from middle america. I only read it as calling someone a cunt who would be the least likely target for such an attack, simply because she's an actress and america loves to spew bile about our actresses as catty bitches.

    Their apology stunk because it should have said, look, our joke fell flat and as a result people read it more literally – we called an unbesmirchable small child a cunt. If you regularly read the Onion, crude and/or offensive is often par for the course.

  12. Korenwolf says

    "because he is British and in England you can call your mum a cunt at Christmas dinner and it isn't that big a deal"

    I suspect you might need to check in with the 95%+ of the population of England on the accuracy of that particular claim. Certainly I know of no-one where that's true.

  13. says

    The Onion should have apologized for the distance between what was intended and what was delivered but stood up for the inherent risks of satire.

    Let's face facts. If The Onion had done that, folks'd be slamming them left and right for self-justification.

    When you've exploited an innocent, bystanding kid — even for the noble cause of satire — it's better to keep it simple, apologize, shut up, and sit down, at least with regard to that incident.

    Taking a stand, etc., for satire can then happen alongside, after, and out of relation to the botched effort, and may enjoy greater prospects of relevance, efficacy, or whatever teleological cause we have in view.

  14. says

    Reviewing the comments I find myself most surprised that people are treating the Christmas dinner line as ethnography.

    Ken: re: (1) You are amazingly uncharitable about intent; (2) I'm begging you to get over Jack Steuf – this joke crossed the exact same line that his Trig joke did, though less egregiously. The target of the joke was not the actual victim of the joke; (3) …possible to make a successful joke – don't get pedantic on me; (4) yes; (5) a million times yes. I can't stand "[GOP figure] is a closet case" jokes because they rely on identifying and shaming arguably-gay mannerisms. It is a shadow homophobia that the joker doesn't realize s/he is engaging in. Also, the target wasn't jaded hipsters, it was the TMZish celebrity-teardown culture.

    Clark: Re: the last paragraph – Good punchline, overwrought setup.

    CSP: We don't care because she is an actress; we should care because she is a child. I'm sorry that she hasn't invented anything important yet.

    John Kindley: You should take a women's studies course. Or read a book. Gendered insults are historically different. Take the time to learn why.

  15. C. S. P. Schofield says


    OK, she gets SOME points for being a child. And I suppose not all child actresses have turned into slow train wrecks; Shirley Temple Black grew up to be a decent person, which when you look at her childhood is nothing less than astonishing. But becoming an actor really does amount to painting a large target on your back. And if you make your child an actor, then you are painting a target on THEIR back. Yes, such children should be given a break, but they aren't, and it has nothing to do with race and everything to do with "Hey, look at the performing bear!".

    Yes, the amount of vitriol that gets sprayed at actresses is amazing. No, it isn't going to stop any time soon. Let's face it, the world isn't going to leave Mary-Kate and Ashley alone until they get depurate enough to do a porn shoot, and probably not then.

    I still say that this is a "Whoa, you mean water is WET?!?!?" story.

  16. Bren says

    That joke was a miss. But the first issue of the Onion I ever picked up 15 years ago contained the notorious "Zookeeper Raped by Bear" article. So they've been writing deliberately disgusting articles criticizing the heartlessness of the culture for a while now. If you're on the Onion's twitter feed, you should know what you're in for…

  17. says


    > The target of the joke was not the actual victim of the joke

    PERFECT summation.

    > Also, the target wasn't jaded hipsters, it was the TMZish celebrity-teardown culture.

    I suppose if we need to tease these two things apart, then yes, but they're the natural complements of each other.

  18. rileyrebel129 says

    Funny you mention Dakota Fanning. Kathy Griffin DID do the exact same joke some years back, using her as the punchline. And got smacked around for it.

    If the Onion wants to apologize, it should be for recycling someone else's gag….

  19. Grifter says

    I see the joke, as Ken said it seems lazy and banal, but it is in keeping with pointing out something about our culture in a way that doesn't usually get noticed as much as it should.

    Would this have been less of a problem if they had used "bitch" instead?

  20. Burk says

    "But becoming an actor really does amount to painting a large target on your back. And if you make your child an actor, then you are painting a target on THEIR back."


    Let's be clear about who's painting on whom: becoming an actor doesn't amount to painting a target on your back any more than wearing a short skirt amounts to painting a large "rape me" sign on your back.

  21. princessartemis says

    I only heard about it when I saw someone comment that because she was more 'colorful' than me, that it was racist, and to remember this doesn't happen to white kids (specifically Dekota Fanning). No. No, I assure you white girls do get called that alllll the time; white girls are used as targets in poorly considered satire as well. I can nearly assure you Dekota Fanning has been called that; given what I just saw on a curious search, she has been called some pretty horrid and extremely sexual things; I didn't have the stomach to search through the vitriol to find that specific word.

    I'm not going to say there was nothing racist about calling a dark skinned 9 year old a cunt, just that…well, if there is, it's secondary to the misogyny and suggesting that it's something light skinned women and girls don't have to put up with is unalloyed bullshit.

  22. Burk says


    No, not at all – and I apologize if that's what came across.

    "Painting a large target on your back" is victim-blaming, and short skirts were the first analogy that came to mind.

  23. Appi says

    Nothing wrong with the joke, their only mistake is using the Oscars hashtag, which caused the tweet to spread outside its target audience, in the feeds of many people who don't understand/appreciate the Onion's kind of humor.

  24. says

    @Appi :

    > Nothing wrong with the joke, their only mistake is using the Oscars hashtag, which caused the tweet to spread outside its target audience, in the feeds of many people who don't understand/appreciate the Onion's kind of humor.

    Yeah, hashtags can be rough that way.

  25. Dictatortot says

    We're getting worked up over a simple typo: the Onion Tweeter accidentally wrote "that," when he meant to type "a person who takes gigantic, vicarious umbrage over a half-baked troll joke at the expense of." God knows, there's nothing controversial or false about the intended tweet.

  26. says

    The Onion made a crude, tasteless joke. In other news: the sun rises in the east. Water is wet. Spammers are lying bags of douche.

    I don't know for a fact why women tend to get all bothered when a female is referred to by a crude term for female genitalia, but I suspect it has something to do with the historical objectification of women by men (and the justification for doing some pretty awful sh1t to them, based on this de-humanization.) The fact that this particular female was 9 years old made it even worse for a lot of people, while the fact that she was of dark complexion made it even worse for some people.

    I tend to fall into the first category. When I read about this at first, I thought "wow, The Onion sure stepped in it this time." Of course, what I was lacking was the context (I don't tend to dwell on social media where people are called such things), once that was provided I can certainly see (and appreciate) where The Onion was going. That being said, they *still* stepped in it: one of the dangers of satire is that people with get offended (and if they don't, was it good satire in the first place?) – but satire only works when those who are offended = those whose oxen are gored by your rapier wit. When you call a 9-yr old a derogatory slang term for female genitalia, the population of readers who are offended are likely to *far exceed* those who you were targeting, which distracts everyone from what you were trying to say. And, for that reason, The Onion earns a great big fat #FAIL for this one.


  27. Jacob says

    To me, the joke didn't seem at all as deep as some people think. It seemed like a very basic say-the-exact-opposite-of-the-truth formula, akin to other jokes aimed at MLK or Mother Teresa. If they had substituted the phrase "a terrible person," then it would have been crystal clear. The giveaway was the first half, where they state that everyone else agrees, but is just afraid to say it; that made it clear that they were going over the top with the opposite-shpiel.

    The problem (with the tweet, not the criticism) is that the c-word has become roughly analogous to the n- or f-word – it's just something that you don't say unless you're in the targeted group, and even then eh maybe just don't

  28. Jamie R says

    I think part of why the joke failed is that it wasn't actually offensive enough. Twitter is full of miscreants who wouldn't think twice of calling someone "cunt" or using any number of other slurs. If you search twitter for any ethnic or sexist slur, you're going to find hundreds of examples of people using it with no irony at all. If someone made the same joke about Honey Boo Boo, who's even younger, it probably wouldn't even register as satire. It's basically Poe's law: There's no statement, however vile, that you can make about a child that is worse than what someone else on the internet really, sincerely, would say.

  29. Conrad says

    Makes me think of Jennifer Lawrence's SNL monologue

    Oh, it's 9-year old Quvenzhané Wallis You think you can beat me?! "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Wallis?" Also: The Alphabet called; they want their letters back. Ka-bam! [ she turns serious ] Quvenzhané, I saw "Beasts of the Southern Wild", and you are a revelation.

    Nothing vaguely racist there…

  30. somebody says

    The L'Hote post you linked at the end of your article is awesome, by the way. It's a shame that the comments have so quickly disintegrated into frothing rage.

  31. naught_for_naught says

    Can we please stop trying to pick the fly shit out of the pepper. This notion that there is some higher social purpose being served by savaging a nine year old is absurd.

    Who explains this to the child? Will it be her problem if she can't understand the satirical nuance of being called a cunt? Thankfully, her peers will understand the context and are certain not to use it as a cudgel.

    Drop all the pretense, will you please. It's snark. It's that "edgy" "clever" disdain for the culture that we use to convince ourselves that we somehow outside the absurd, mundane routine of modern life. It's the pablum of internet, feeding the insatiable appetite of the millions of pseudo-hipster fucktards who fancy themselves intellectuals, but deep down they just enjoy a good stoning.

  32. Fred says

    How is it that so many in the mass media fail to see how they devalue the worth of young women for profit? The satire was biting, painful, and tailored perfectly for the #Oscars2013 glamor culture. I weep for the moms who read gossip magazines and fail to understand how they hurt young girls more than The Onion ever will.

  33. says

    @Stephen: "I suppose I'm the only person on Earth who saw Quvenzhané Wallis' name and went "who?".

    Nope. I'm still wondering who the heck "Quvenzhané Wallis" is.

    Of course, that probably means I'm a racist.

    But then, I'm also wondering who the heck was following an Onion twitter feed and not expecting tasteless humor.

  34. Mary Sue says

    Huh. You're the only person I've read who has called the apology terrible. I'd believe your thesis that it was awful if they had a history of using actual (instead of composite, made up) minor children in their satire. Which, you know, they haven't.

  35. naught_for_naught says

    The satire was biting, painful, and tailored perfectly for the #Oscars2013 glamor culture.

    Oh, I get it now. Hollywood is a vain, self-absorbed glamor factory that spawns a publishing industry that demeans fundamental human dignity. Epiphany! And to think, all I needed was one brave soul employed by that publishing industry with the courage to call a child a cunt.

    While we're elevating ourselves, do you want to publish the email addresses of your nearest relatives under the age of 10?

  36. princessartemis says

    If the satire was tailored "perfectly", I seriously doubt the people outside it would be feeling its sting.

  37. Jacob says

    While we're elevating ourselves, do you want to publish the email addresses of your nearest relatives under the age of 10?

    How would insulting an un-famous 9 year-old make the same point about Hollywood culture? Disagree with the tweet if you like, but those things aren't equal

  38. Grifter says

    Well, also a generic tweet to the ether is vastly different than a message directed directly at the person. Saying you don't like someone while sitting in a park, even loudly, is vastly different than calling them on the phone and saying it.

  39. naught_for_naught says


    The point is, which you still fail to grasp is that, what do an " un-famous 9 year-old" and a famous 9 year-old have in common? When you get to that, you realize that they are equal.

    The irony here is staggering. The cunt apologists defend this comment on the basis that it satirizes a shallow, image-obsessed Hollywood culture — let's assume that this is news to anyone who scores higher than a 2 on the Glasgow Coma Scale. But the reason that it's somehow OK to call this nine-year old a cunt is because (drum roll) she's famous. That makes you, the cunt apologist, the very target of the satire, the very one who is supposedly being lampooned, the butt of the joke, the very consumer of image-obsessed culture.

  40. Jacob says

    no, I'm not saying it's ok in either case, just that the comment you made reflected a false equivalency. Let's say instead of "cunt" they had said "terrible, evil person". They would not have been able to make the same point by substituting just any old 9 year-old. I'm not at all saying it's "ok because she's famous"

  41. James Pollock says

    "Let's be clear about who's painting on whom: becoming an actor doesn't amount to painting a target on your back"
    Seeking fame (which is usually, but not always, closely related to "becoming an actor") certainly does. Critique, even unfair critique, is part of THAT game.

  42. naught_for_naught says


    Thanks :), making my point that this doesn't tell us anything new about how the media grinds up celebrities (read people) for sport.

  43. Fred says


    They raised the white flag too easily. The debate was there and they shirked. Shame on them.

  44. naught_for_naught says


    We can factor in her race, her maturity, her fame, her choice to be an actor, her gender, her support network, her whatever ad nauseam in an attempt to explain how one is not like the other.

    What I'm saying is that there is one critical factor that makes all others insignificant: her age. She's nine. And that's why my statement draws a perfect equivalency.

  45. naught_for_naught says


    So I'll take that as a "no." You're not interested in subjecting your family to that type unwarranted abuse.

  46. C. S. P. Schofield says


    I'm not saying it SHOULD paint a large target on your back. I'm saying it DOES, which is a judgement of society and not of actors. Is The Onion tacky? Sure, and not just for this 'joke'. Should anybody ho expresses surprise and shocked outrage that somebody had the poor taste to attack the nine-year-old actress be put in a keeper's care, because they are too innocent to be allowed out off of a leash?


    I'm not saying it's defensible. I'm saying that it is run of the mill, and I see no way to do away with it short of ash-canning the entire film industry, with special attention to its publicity departments and their parasitic pseudo-reporter hangers-on.

    As for short skirts inviting rape; I sincerely hope that nobody wants to return to that disgusting defense. However, sty the same time, I would love to open up a discussion of a slightly different invitation.

    If a shapely young thing wears an outfit that exposes a great deal, or at least hints at it strongly, I maintain that she should have limited recourse to "sexual harassment" laws. Why? Because we have long recognized non-verbal speech as still speech for legal purposes (mostly having to do with the First Amendment); if you dress in such a way that you have non-verbally opened the subject of your availability, you shouldn't get to steam "Harassment" if some slob takes up the conversation.

  47. JR says


    Just out of curiosity, at what age do you draw the line where it becomes okay to say vile things about someone?

    At just what point does she turn from a fragile thing that must be protected from everything into a resilient and adaptable person who can decide for herself whether the things people say about her are worthy of her concern?

    I am not implying it is ok to do these things, but inquiring as to how she will ever learn to handle them without first experiencing them. I learned more about interacting with people on the schoolyard than in the classroom.

  48. Fred says

    Your argument is logically incoherent. You're asserting that in order for me to unhypocritically defend The Onion I must be willing to subject my children to being called a cunt. If I were to thrust my child into the spotlight, I would not be shocked to find out her image was used in satire. I'm not going to expose my children to senseless name calling by virtue of their existence.

  49. Jacob says

    I do think it's pretty inappropriate to apply that word to a 9 year old, famous or not. I also think that it's more about the word "cunt" than about the fact that it is a 9 year-old. A lot of people would have criticized the Onion even if it had been Meryl Streep that was called it. If they had avoided that skunked word, they probably would have just drawn a "they said the opposite haha *eye roll*" type of reaction.

  50. Burk says

    @James Pollock

    Calling a woman a cunt isn't critique, at least not by the most relaxed definition I can imagine. And "seeking fame" isn't justification for misogyny, racism or homophobia.

    I certainly agree that prominent people are targets for a variety of abuse, along with criticism. Claiming that they've painted targets on their own backs – that they somehow invite, and therefore deserve, the abuse – is blaming the victim.

  51. Fred says

    Yeah, it probably would have been better if they would have called her a no-talent assclown, but I see no sense in getting hung up on the dirtiness of that word.

  52. naught_for_naught says


    Just out of curiosity, at what age do you draw the line where it becomes okay to say vile things about someone?

    You tell me. When is it OK to become a vile human being? As far as protecting your children from the ugliness of the world, I suppose you do your best. One place to start is drawing a distinction between the acts of children on the playground and "professionals" in the media.

  53. Fred says

    >John Kindley
    She is adorable. She is probably a sweet little girl. And she's growing up in a Hollywood culture that subjects children to unreasonable exposure. The Onion is the least of her dangers.

  54. Jacob says

    She's been in one movie. It's a little early to claim she's growing up in that culture. Maybe her family will do a good job keeping her grounded and away from that tyoe of exposure, who knows

  55. JR says

    I don't have an arbitrary age line for such things. I think each person has their own limit to how much they can, or are willing, to put up with and that line is not permanently fixed.

    I was referring to your using her age as the distinguishing characteristic.

    @naught_for_naught Feb 26, 2013 @2:23 pm

    What I'm saying is that there is one critical factor that makes all others insignificant: her age. She's nine. And that's why my statement draws a perfect equivalency.

  56. says

    I just read a HuffPo piece that made this valid point: "I wish the headlines today were different. I wish we lived in a world where Quvenzhané could wake up the morning after the Oscars and search the Internet with her mama to find herself on our best-dressed lists."

    But whose fault is it that the headlines are what they are? The Onion's, yes. And those who blew their little joke out of proportion. If some obscure tweeter made that, would anyone care, beyond maybe unfollowing him or her? But the Onion is such an important voice in our national discourse that we should care?

  57. naught_for_naught says

    >John Kindley

    Point taken, but I just want to make the point that Charles started it.

    Lettin' it go here boss.

  58. James Pollock says

    "Calling a woman a cunt isn't critique, at least not by the most relaxed definition I can imagine"
    Surely you're not suggesting it was intended to be interpreted literally?

  59. says

    I don't blame Clark. I blame the Tweeters who launched their outraged crusade and made it a story. And I kind of blame the Onion for apologizing in response to the crusade, which helped make it a story. When I first saw this outrage showing up in my Twitter feed, I kind of figured it would stay in Twitter, and not make the jump outside social media. I figured the Onion was big enough that it could care less, and at the most might quietly delete the Tweet.

    Maybe we CAN change the world through Twitter after all?

  60. Anonymous says

    1: Unlike most people here, I think the joke was great but

    2: It still shouldn't have been made. Nine-year-olds are not appropriate to use in this kind of thing, even when they're not the target.

  61. Burk says

    @ C.S.P.

    I think we agree that it's indefensible, and also common. But I disagree that the PR departments are to blame for shoveling what sells.

    I took exception to your characterization of prominent people painting targets on their own backs because it seems to give cover to perpetrators of abuse. Likewise, I think blaming Hollywood publicity departments shifts the blame from the folks who are eagerly consuming this spectacle (to mangle an analogy).

  62. says

    I didn't even know about this till now. I'd read that tweet in context az as "look how easy it is to be edgy and mean when the person cannot even begin to fight back like the _real_ *word* would".

    Way back in college one of my liberal arts classes was about theater (don't remember the course name). We had to, among other things, write some reviews. The teacher then made an _excellent_ point about how most people don't understand that "reviewing things", e.g. "being a critic", isn't _supposed_ to be about being "critical" of everything. That is, your job isn't to just tear everything down when you are offering "critique". The critic is one who cretiques things, not criticizes them.

    So given the backstabbing tone of hollywood and the other comments re Anne H. and all, and knowing how the inner workings of "talent" can be so back-stabby and vile; seeing how the entire "public image industry" seems to be a game of king of the mountain where we must first tear away all hope and grace from the current monarch of the moment; the offensive comment, red _satirically_ is pretty damn full on point.

    But indeed you _can't_ win making that observation in that context. The satire only works if you are an "insider" and when the public at large looks at The Oscars™ et. al. we view it all as outsiders. We know the context. We know that everybody in hollywood likely calls everyone else a cunt or worse behind their back. We know about the back stabbing and manuvering. But we don't _feel_ it, so we don't feel the joke even though it _is_ funny when you know what it is.

    I don't think it's racist. I don't think its hateful. I don't even think its un-funny. I don't think its a lot of things people are calling it.

    What it _is_, is an inside joke told in front of outsiders and overly-sensitive douche-nozzles, where the backlash must and has caught fire in a way that the original content never possibly could have.

    I had to explain the line "and that bitch Anne Murry too", from the song Blame Canada, to a Canadian friend of mine. He'd heard the song and he'd heard people talking about the song, so he was all offended about the blaming of canada. When I made him stop assuming all over the song and actually listen to the words he laughed his ass off.

    People respond to the _assumed_ message far too fast and easy, and they always assume the message is overarching and personal. They always assume it's aimed at their most sensitive underbelly-bits. They are always wrong. Being wrong in this way is the core definition of not getting a joke.

    This joke is beyond the pale for people who imagine fame to be all wine and roses and who think theater and film are anything more gracious than a total grind most days.

    This joke _offends_ the notion of fame and so it structured to be off-putting.

  63. Rich Rostrom says

    One thing is, I have no idea what calling a woman "a cunt" signifies.

    A "prick" is an annoying man, or a man who commits small-to-medium offenses. "Asshole", "bastard", and "son-of-a-bitch" label offenders in increasing magnitude.

    The parallel usage for women would be "bitch", but I don't know of any other gradations.

    The only use of "cunt" against a woman that I can recall is in Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins, which is over 40 years old – and it wasn't clear what was meant there.

    There is also the point that "prick" has completely non-obscene usage, which "cunt" does not, which I think moderates the impact of "prick".

  64. AlphaCentauri says

    Calling someone a "cunt" is insulting them by calling them female, just as calling them a "nigger" is insulting them by saying they have brown skin.

    Both words should only bring shame upon the person speaking them, since no one should thing there is any reason for a woman or a person of color to be ashamed of who they are.

    But so long as there are people who are using those words without feeling ashamed to do so, so long as there are significant numbers of people who sincerely think that when they call a man or woman a "cunt" or when they call an African American an nigger they are insulting them, those words will remain deeply offensive.

    If you use the word "cunt" as an insult in any context, you will lose the respect of a high percentage of women.

  65. Terry Towels says

    @JR, I do follow a couple of entertainment blogs, and the consensus at one of them is that children should not be targets of satire or evil, negative discussions. As to when someone can become a target, it would be legal age.

    I know we have no right to privacy once in the public eye, but I think everyone is forgetting that children in the media are not there by choice. Adults around them put them in the public eye.

    I gather that the children in the entertainment industry are often sexually and physically abused. In a way, this explains the train wrecks we see as these children come of age.

    I've been amazed over the years at how Americans seem to really hate children. Just the thought that someone thought it was ok to call a child a vile name is appalling. For those of you with children, I ask how would you feel if some adult called your daughter a nasty word on their public facebook page as a joke?

    It's not a question of free speech, it's a question of how we treat other people. I think we need to discuss civil discourse. Some words are just hurtful, and people should be sensitive to their use. Context is everything.

    As Ken pointed out, you can say anything you want, but you have to take the consequences. Perhaps the consequences are sensitivity training?

    I know this sounds like the advocacy of political correctness, but I'm trying to say that we're social animals, which means we have a need to feel accepted by others. The use of crappy words really says more about the user of the words, but until someone is fairly comfortable in themselves, being the target of those words can be destructive. I think that none of us want to be destructive of others.

    I know, tl:dr. But gosh, kids should be off-limits.

  66. Lago says

    You guys are taking this tweet way too seriously. I didn't even know about it until I read this post. Nobody would even care if people didn't get so outraged about it, and the little girl would never be the wiser.

    You guys are ALSO taking the tongue-in-cheek apology way too seriously.

  67. James Pollock says

    "Calling someone a "cunt" is insulting them by calling them female"
    Does this track with calling a dude a "prick", a "dick", a "tool", or a "dickhead"?

  68. says

    Yeah you can say all you want about how "it's a shame on The Onion that they made the joke and how it's going to damage the poor girl" or "no child can be so insulted" but all the outrage the bloggers and websites of the world are throwing out there is going to be the one to blame in the end. If we just ignored this once The Onion apologized, or just let their joke fall flat, this wouldn't be an issue. But that fan-favorite term, used even here at that, of the Streisand Effect guarantees that in the least the child's family is going to come across this stuff constantly. Did The Onion make a bad joke? I personally think so. But who is ruining the girls ability to google search her name? Us.

    I also refuse to accept the whole fact that there's an appropriate age for targeting an actor / actress with jokes. Perhaps there should be a limit on the sort of jokes that are thrown their way but I'm always leery of telling comedians what they can joke about. If the joke falls flat you boo them off stage or just stare at them blankly. Why this doesn't apply to the internet as well I have no idea. I guess people feel like they have to be outraged for someone else on the web.

  69. says

    "Calling someone a "cunt" is insulting them by calling them female"
    Does this track with calling a dude a "prick", a "dick", a "tool", or a "dickhead"?
    Which boggles the mind when you think that it is thus okay to use the term as an insult to a man. I propose we pass a comedy referendum that states it's only okay to call women "Pricks, tools and cocks" and men "douches, cunts and pussies".

  70. says

    I've always assumed that to call a man a prick was to insult him for what are understood to be masculine qualities but carried in him to a deranged extreme. Thus Donald Trump is a prick (though he's also a douche). I take cunt to have a complementary meaning with respect to females and what are understood to be negative aspects of "femininity."

  71. says

    Cultural point: In Scotland (I can't be sure but I think the rest of Britain may be similar) you are more likely to call a *man* a cunt, and whether this is intended as particularly offensive depends a lot on context. There's a big difference between "what did you do that for, you silly cunt?" and "Nick Clegg is a spineless opportunistic cunt".

    But I think directly calling a woman a cunt with intent to insult her "for being female" is rarer, and would carry the same level of offence (probably for that reason) as it does elsewhere.

    Agree with @John Kindley to the extent that calling someone a prick is metaphorically and comically ascribing them the same attributes as an erect penis: agression, selfishness, stupidity etc. I don't think that applies to cunt as used over here.

  72. says

    But just as not all men are pricks, I don't think the word cunt is a derogatory word meant to apply to all females, but only to certain females with certain characteristics. (The Onion's joke supports that understanding.) I could be wrong, but I take it to have a meaning very similar to bitch. And I'd suggest that the same feminist mindset that would ascribe to the c-word the same kind and level of absolute opprobrium ascribed to the n-word would be the mindset prone to blame all the evils of the world on testosterone, and wouldn't have much of a problem with the word prick at all. I, on the other hand, think human evil is pretty equitably divided between the male and female members of the species. Women can be bitches just like men can be pricks. The same masculinity that supposedly aspires to dominate resists being dominated, and the world needs more such resistance.

  73. says

    First this is by far the best criticism of the Onion tweet I have seen. It was and is a disaster. But I need to clarify this:

    “It was predictable, though. The Onion isn't a bunch of smartasses in Madison anymore, owned and operated by its founding writers.”

    Wrong! Scott Dikkers is a founder of the publication, a writer & editor & is now a VP of the publication who basically did anything but apologize for the incident in this NBC interview:

    This is not a question of new writers or creative talent screwing up. The leadership & vision is 100% the same. Some of the staffers in NYC who did not move to Chicago still contribute remotely. Perhaps moving from a weekly to daily schedule tripped them up this time so the vetting process failed, but the perspective that the Chicago move screwed up the comedic soul of the publication is far from the truth.

    Otherwise, I genuinely believe this is the best & most level headed assessment of how the tweet was a disaster, the response was a disaster & the defense of comedians coming to the defense of other comedians was a disaster.

    This tweet cannot be defended.

  74. says

    Clip Arthur: Thanks for posting the Dikkers highlights. I'm glad that, aside from the formal apology, some of the guys at The Onion are being a little less spineless about how they frame the apology. I did think the "she's a big star, she can take it" was a bit crass, though. She's still 9!

    Probably late for a disclosure but I'm friends with a bunch of former Onion writers now at Thing X and was a headline contributor to ONN for a while back in ~2008. I don't think this colored any of my analysis but I may as well throw it out there.

  75. says

    Charles, you know what would have worked? Jackie Harvey (old Onion “Hollywood” columnist) or Archie “Arch” Danielson (old Onion old guy movie reviewer) being given control of the main Onion Twitter feed during the Oscar’s live tweeting. Jackie & Archie Arch are both idiots in their own way & would be perfect candidates for saying something that stupid in an effort to be “edgy.” Then after saying that, the main Onion twitter voice could have regained control of the account & “fired” them. Classic straight man wacky sidekick setup.

    Instead what did they do? They posted that tweet as the main voice of authority. Pathetic.

  76. princessartemis says

    Holy shit I'm glad I decided not to step up and actually explain what that word means to an actual woman when Rich asked. I'll leave you guys to it; happy explaining to one another why women shouldn't find it as insulting as we do.

  77. JR says

    Kinda like a senate hearing in here isn't it?

    I did my best to steer the conversation in a direction I hoped would be more substantive than everyone pulling out a dictionary. If anyone wants to try again, I'll be keeping my eye on this for a day or two.

  78. says

    princessartemis and JR: I don't think you can convince or teach people who come to this discussion believing that history is irrelevant or use words like Humpty Dumpty does. Not in a comment section, anyway. At least the discussion stayed civil.

  79. says

    I don't dispute it's a vile word. In fact, although I wouldn't swear I've never used it, I can't remember ever having done so, and I'm more likely to have used it to refer to a man than to a woman. I'll also admit that to call a woman that word I'd have to hate her more than I'd have to hate a man to call him a prick, so for whatever reason it does appear to be a more insulting word than prick. But I don't put it on the same level as the n-word, which actually does indiscriminately denigrate a whole class of people. I might even admit that it approaches the n-word by suggesting there's something inherently shameful in having genitalia that isn't a penis, except that if I'm not mistaken I've heard more than a few women in my lifetime use the word pussy to refer to people they perceived to lack courage.

    What's the point? Just as some mistakenly saw racism in the tweet, some others saw (mistakenly in my opinion) misogyny, and this contributed greatly to the overreaction.

    I suspect that the next Road to Popehat feature may have some interesting results as a result of this post. Incidentally, my apologies for confusing Clark with Charles upthread.

  80. JR says

    Disambiguation may help to provide context for use and meaning of words in a public forum, but it would also help to define the root of the problem.

    The people I tend to associate with are a very thick-skinned sort. We constantly trade barbs that would be easy grounds for a lawsuit in most other groups. It might be because of this that I have trouble understanding how one can let words from strangers have such a significant effect on their self-esteem.

    Saying this, I do moderate my language and mannerisms according to the company I keep. Though, I sometimes get the feeling of walking on eggshells around people when I do not know that they are capable of experiencing me in a relaxed setting without their head exploding.

    I do not fault them for their sensitivity. As I stated before, each person has their own line in the sand. I do think we could benefit from a discussion of why the things that are said about us can be so hurtful and whether that pain can be mitigated. Because there will never be a lack of trolls in the world.

  81. naught_for_naught says

    I pitied thee,
    Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
    One thing or other: when thou didst not, savage,
    Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
    A thing most brutish, I endow'd thy purposes
    With words that made them known. But thy vile race,
    Though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures
    Could not abide to be with;

  82. Lago says

    I have a question.

    If the girl were old enough to understand the joke, would any of you be outraged about it?

    The reason I ask is because I want to know if people are upset that she's a little girl and probably doesn't understand that it's a joke, or if people are upset because they called somebody (anybody) the "c" word. This conversation has really gotten caught up in the meaning of the word (for pete's sake, it means obnoxious) when it seems to me like it has little relevance to the issue.

    I understand the first reason people would take issue with. I would blame that more on the backlash against The Onion than The Onion itself, but I understand the outrage about it. If for the latter reason, then I'm not sure I understand. It's a compliment veiled as an insult (if you disagree with that assessment you can go soak your head in a toilet), it's not like anybody actually thinks she's a cunt.

    @naught: doth protest too much, methinks

  83. AlphaCentauri says

    "Does this track with calling a dude a "prick", a "dick", a "tool", or a "dickhead"?"

    There is an underlying assumption in the use of gender-based insults, and that is that being male is superior. Calling a man a "cunt" is an insult because it implies he's less than a man. Calling a woman a "prick" is an insult because it implies she's trying to hard to be a man, but she's still less than a man. You can argue that saying a woman is a prick is implying that you believe women are better than men, but that's really not what the type of people who use those insults mean when they use them.

  84. says

    Near as I can tell it has to do with the hard line feminist types getting upset over the word itself, the reactionary racist types getting offended at the joke's perceived racism and the general public's confusion at why the hell that's even supposed to be a joke and, if it is, how it's supposed to be funny. Some of the reactions about educating people really reminds me of how one person I know raged at the "Mewling Quim" line in the Avengers movie and how that was the worst thing ever.

  85. NL_ says

    Yeah, it was mean and insensitive and ridiculously over the top. That was the joke. Is the objection that the joke was 'too' offensive or that it was insensitive about the wrong subject? Because there are lots of jokes about the holocaust, rape, murder, racism, sexism, etc. and saying that some subjects are protected but some are not quickly degenerates into simply saying that you care less about offending certain people.

    I take a laissez-faire attitude towards joke. I would say that more or less any subject ought to be fair game. Humor is one way to process our emotions and experiences, just like sadness, anger, haughtiness and sappiness. I know nothing about Wallis, but the Oscars are a ridiculously self indulgent event; in principle, mocking the event's tone with an extremely offensive statement about a participant is great satire. And I'm not sure I accept even the principle that children can never be seriously mocked in public.

    That said, hopefully Wallis is not still upset. It wasn't personal. If anything, it only works because she's done nothing to deserve it. The tweet would be far less funny if said about Alec Baldwin or Mel Gibson or someone else about whom it would be true.

  86. NL_ says

    C. S. P. Schofield: "Now, if they were talking about somebody who was famous for developing a cure for cancer, or for rescuing orphaned children in Nigeria, or something similarly substantive, that would be different."

    I disagree, self-important and accomplished people need mocking at least as much as the Kardashians and Paris Hiltons. That cancer-curing, orphan-saving jerk deserves what's coming to him. Doesn't he realize that cancer and Africa are part of God's population control policy?

    See, the joke works better because nobody is against saving cancer or saving Africans. But no doubt plenty of people would be offended by my poorly written, highly derivative attempt at shock humor. Which shows that some people are relatively humorless and think that everybody needs to deal with life in the same somber and unironic way that they do.

    Joking about disease and poverty and famine is a way to think about the subject and acknowledge its negativity, while also trying to process it and feel better about it. I suppose somebody who's jealous of a famous pretty starlet could benefit from calling her dumb (regardless of the truth), but that does little for me personally.

    Also, I guess the fact that it's widely implied that soldiers and doctors and police are heroes beyond mocking triggers my contrarian impulse.

  87. NL_ says

    Also, just want to point out that the Clareified post said "fucktard" which is of course a contraction of fuck and retard, itself a derogatory term for people with developmental disabilities. It's a little hard to take seriously the argument that being a child, a female, or a black person is somehow protected from mocking (or some combination of those things) from a person who is implicitly mocking those with disabilities.

    If you want to be a killjoy on behalf of people's feelings, you're a huge jerk when you're selective about whose feelings count and whose don't.

  88. AlphaCentauri says

    Joking about sensitive subjects — either because humor helps us deal with frightening topics, or to mock the people who hold views we find repugnant, or whatever — often doesn't work well when tweeted in 140 characters with no context and no idea who the audience will be.

  89. says

    I could see it making sense more that The Onion was calling the young actress a name that was so far from truth that folks would know they were being sarcastic/humorous, though the joke fell flat on its face. Turns out, there are just some bad words that still carry more stigma than others.

  90. says

    I saw the joke when they tweeted it, I "got" it, and I thought it was funny. But they didn't have to use the word "cunt," I guess. They could have constructed the joke differently.

    And, for some reason, "cunt" is a hard word to use. My personal trainer, who generally has a foul mouth, was taken aback when I complained about "cunt hair" in the gym's shower drain. Go figure.

  91. Dan says

    As an Englishman, I can assure you that it's not OK to call your mum a cunt over Christmas dinner! The word can be used humorously, but there's a definite 'code' to that.

    Interestingly, we (the English) do not call women cunts, pretty much ever. The term is reserved for men.


  1. […] see why I'm keeping my own creative contributions to a minimum here.) I somewhat agree with Charles at Popehat, also think Matt Kirshen has a point, and am on board with a great deal of the Flick […]