The Onion Apologizes For Dropping ‘C-word’ in Oscar Tweet — Should They Have?

onion-1“On behalf of The Onion, I offer my personal apology to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the tweet that was circulated last night during the Oscars. It was crude and offensive — not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, however biting.”And so begins the apology letter issued by Steve Hannah, CEO of “America’s Finest News Source.” It is a weird and uncomfortable thing to read — a comedian’s apology. We (yes, I count myself amongst the ranks of people who are professionally funny) do not typically apologize, because there is nothing funny about a sincere apology. Comedians live for the laughter, and when we are put in a situation where we need to evaluate and potentially rethink our actions, it is the hardest day of our lives.

The offending tweet, which read “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a cunt, right? #Oscars2013,” was logged at 11:42 p.m. on Oscar Sunday. Though the tweet was yanked an hour later, the backlash had already begun (did I mention that the little Oscar nominee is just a 9-year-old girl?). At 1 a.m., Hannah posted his sobering apology to Wallis and everyone offended on his site. It was especially tough to read because I kept waiting for a punchline that clearly wasn’t coming.

onion-2The real question in all of this is should The Onion have apologized at all? They experimented with a joke and it didn’t work. I’ve had many attempts at humor backfire completely (but have effectively landed many more); the line between humor and beyond is a very fine point. In fact, I recently had someone call for my head, largely over an old (and, in hindsight, perceivably mean) article I’d written. Did I apologize? No. Should I have? No. There is always somebody who is going to get offended by something you say in this world — sometimes even if that something is a compliment. It’s best, mostly, to just accept that you won’t get invited to every tea party and move on.

Not everybody even found the tweet to be as debased as it came out either. Laura Hudson, Entertainment Editor for Wired.com at least said, “I believe they made a shocking, ugly comment to point out that the way the media talks about women is often quite shocking and ugly.”

The entire scope of her article essentially states that the tweet was inappropriate, but at least Hudson was willing to consider the potential for a bigger picture. Personally, I think she is wrong with her assessment — I can literally picture myself sending that exact tweet, and it wasn’t to make a blunt social statement. This was a shock and awe campaign all the way.

Here’s the thing though: We live in this bizarrely sensitive world where people are so wounded by the smallest things that sometimes when you really leap over that microscopic line — like calling a 9-year-old girl a “cunt,” you do need to offer up a mea culpa. In the end, it is much less taxing to apologize than to try and fight the good fight in the name of comedy.

onion-3Was I offended by it? Not even a little bit (so little in fact, that at the time, I didn’t even consider it a real story). And I am mostly against apologies for apology’s sake, but sometimes it is the most valuable tool in your bag of tricks. You got snagged on this one Onion, it happens. Lay off the kid jokes for a while, but, overall, keep up the quest for bold comedy [Jeff pours some malt liquor on the curb, and suddenly you realize you’ve just read the ranting of a street-dwelling drunk].