When funny isn’t enough
by Adam Kovac
I have few things I hold sacred. The stance that the Canadiens are empirically better than the Leafs is one. That Schwarts’ smoked meat is overrated is another. That comedy reserves the right to be offensive and vulgar and crass is near the top of the list. Unfortunately, too many people out there confuse vulgarity and offensiveness with mean-spiritedness, or racism or misogyny.
So I feel compelled to defend The Onion’s right to call a 9 year old girl a cunt.
Yes, that sounds horrible (for those who are not plugged into Twitters tempest-in-a-teapot machine, the satire site sent out a tweet saying “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a cunt, right?” Wallis is the 9-year old Oscar nominee from Beasts of the Southern Wild).
It’s not a disgusting word (I hold the stance that collections of letters cannot innately be horrible – if the word “country” doesn’t make you feel like you have the vapours, why do you suddenly get pale when the o, r and y are removed? But I digress). The meaning behind is disgusting, though. But that’s the important distinction – the INTENT behind calling someone a cunt is what’s hurtful. Without that intent, it’s just letters on a page, or vibrations through the air. It’s nothing.
So of course, calling a 9 year old a cunt is pretty horrible. The intent is to degrade and insult in a clearly anti-woman way.
Except it’s not. At least, not in this case.
The Onion is a satire site. And unfortunately, most people have decided that because seeing a child’s name next to the word “cunt” is so shocking, there is no distinction to be made between taking something literally, or realizing the irony behind a statement.
(Note: for those of you who got their ideas about irony from Alanis Morisette, here is a clip that I think might help you understand that irony is not “a glass fly in your chardonnay.” Ethan Hawke is smart as well as dreamy!)
The Onion was trying to be funny. Anyone who isn’t prominently featured on Literally Unbelievable knows this. So what’s funny about calling a 9 year old a cunt?
Well, nothing. Unless you don’t mean it. Unless that 9 year old is obviously adorable, talented and amazing. Which Wallis is.
See, the punchline is unspoken. The punchline is that absolutely nobody in their right mind could think this kid is a cunt. That idea is ridiculous! It’s such a stupid notion that it makes me want to laugh.
See what I did there?
The Onion was not calling this kid names. It was cracking a joke about the absurdity of calling her a name.
Of course, as Tommy Lee Jones (who lost at the Oscars, because he’s a sourpuss and not a hilarious and badass German bounty hunter) told us in Men in Black, “A person is smart. People are stupid.” And as a result we have people literally threatening to kick The Onion’s ass.
Heh. A vegetable with an ass. I think we can all agree that’s funny.