By now, you’ve had a chance to let all the pointless sanctimony over The Onion’s deleted Oscar tweet soak in and stain your mind forever. If you would like a sound explanation why the outrage over the joke was stupid and missing the point, you can find it here. I’d rather not have to spend the time going over that.
An important thing to remember is The Onion has such a massive following that it’s inevitable that it will offend people, even when their comedy is at its most anodyne. Because good comedy often challenges people on some level. And people, by and large, DO NOT like to be challenged. Obtuse and humorless people are a constant. I have long enjoyed looking at reactions to Onion tweets to watch idiots take issue with a satire publication about whether a joke or a headline is “fair”. It’s great. It’s like watching someone argue with a whoopee cushion.
For several years now, I’ve done a Hines Ward character on KSK that plays on Asian stereotypes. For me, the humor was and continues to be that the characterization is absurdly far from how Hines acts and speaks in real life. Ward is only half-Asian and he certainly doesn’t speak in pidgin English. He has a fucking Southern drawl. A few readers have accused me of racism for that character. I don’t deny people the right to be offended by it. Simply invoking stereotypes is enough to bother some people. Then again, plenty of others find uses of stereotypes funny if they’re not coming from a place of hate. You be the judge. I’m a guy who writes dick jokes for a living. I’m not an arbiter of what’s in acceptable taste.
The Onion’s tweet about Quvenzhane Wallis didn’t even hit on that many flash points, but the concept was based on a similar disconnect of perception. Wallis is an adorable, sweet little girl that the world loves. Their punchline was, hey, what if she’s really a cunt and everyone is afraid to admit it! Without the word cunt, it’s a non-story. But “cunt” is one of three slurs considered so heinous, it usually requires the “-Word” treatment when being referenced in polite conversation.
Factor in that the joke was in reference to a little girl and being disseminated during the Oscars, and the shitshow was on.
Was it the funniest gag in the world? Not really, but the argument isn’t whether it works as comedy, but rather whether it should even be allowed to work as comedy. By apologizing, Steve Hannah has indicated that it’s not. Not only did it force the publication to break character for perhaps the first time in its history, but it puts The Onion in an untenable position going forward. It lets the audience dictate where the line is being drawn. The Onion is now no longer in control of its own voice.
Former writers for The Onion and observers have claimed that this a step toward management assuming control over editorial decisions, violating a sense of freedom that the publication’s staff has enjoyed like few others over the years. That’s always death. Whether that is Hannah’s intention or not, he was still cowed into a needless apology by people who aren’t even his target audience: witless, humorless pieces of shit.