… there will always be a learning curve, and there will always be those of us who take the curve too fast and go plunging through the guardrail. The faster technology evolves, the more of us will end up taking the plunge. It’s comforting to think it will only happen to those who deserve it, but it’s far from the case.
— Jeff Bercovici in Justine Sacco And The Self-Inflicted Perils Of Twitter
Seth MacFarlane delivered the kind of Oscars humor you’d expect from him. I laughed at some of his jokes and heard more than a few that made me cringe — misogynistic is almost kind — but I’m not a fan and I’m not in his target audience. If it had been Saturday Night Live, I may have changed the channel. I hung in because it was the Academy Awards, probably proving the point to ABC and the Academy that there is an audience that will come no matter what in addition to the audience they’re trying to pull in with a host like the creator of Family Guy and Ted. I did mention one joke on Twitter that fell particularly flat for me — and predictably was accused of not getting that it was a joke.
Meanwhile, the folks at The Onion were doing what they do 24/7, churning out topical humor that taps into the zeitgeist of the moment with varying degrees if taste or lack thereof. Often that humor is simple parody that draws a quick laugh; sometimes it’s knife-sharp edgy. Sunday night during the Oscars, The Onion went off a cliff with the last tweet in the image below, using a coarse epithet that someone apparently thought would-be funny when paired aimed at nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis They quickly found out that even some of their biggest fans have more boundaries than they do. Following an immediate uproar, the tweet was deleted nearly an hour later.
If the only people who cared were those who already don’t like The Onion, well, consider the source. But when people who like your brand feel betrayed, you have a different problem. They think they know what to expect, even if sometimes it’s not funny or the taste level of something that makes them giggle is below 1/8 of a tank. They don’t want to think they have anything in common with someone who would toss the C word at a child as a joke.
Deleting it doesn’t make that go away.
As for the notion that pushing back at humor equates to being humorless,
Update: The Onion deleted the tweet Sunday night. Midday Monday CEO Steve Hannah apologized to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences via its Facebook page. (The apology is now on theonion.com too.) Hannah said new and tighter Twitter procedures are in place and promised disciplinary action.
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.
The tweet was taken down within an hour of publication. We have instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again.
In addition, we are taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible.
Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry.
Hannah strikes the right notes, especially for a publication not known for apologies or retractions.
No one who enjoys The Onion wants its sense of satire to be degraded. Many who enjoy it think The Onion can avoid that without being degrading.
Not everyone thinks an apology was warranted or that the tweet should have even been deleted.
Some of the responses are worse than the original tweet. Not posting them here but you scan Facebook or search for the C word and onion on twitter.
One more thought for now: I didn’t see the initial tweet as racist but as Oscar satire gone awry. Here’s the “commentary” “by” Best Actor winning Daniel Day-Lewis that went up minutes later:
Commentary By Daniel Day-Lewis | While I’m Glad I Won, I Personally Believe Abraham Lincoln Deserved To Die onion.com/124YZut
— The Onion (@TheOnion) February 25, 2013
I still don’t think it was racist but I can’t ignore the number of people who quickly saw it as racist
or as an example of continued racism by The Onion. If someone at The Onion thinks it’s ok to use the word about a woman of any age or about a child, I don’t think race would have held them back. I’m not going to dismiss their response, though. It’s from their perspective, their experience and it’s not up to me to say it doesn’t hurt.