Last night on Twitter, during the fanfare of the Oscars, the satirical news publication, The Onion, posted a perverse tweet about nine-year-old actress, Quvenzhane Wallis, from Beasts of the Southern Wild. The tweet referred to the beautiful young girl using the C-word.
The intent was clear: juxtapose the most adorable person at the Oscars with the most revolting description imaginable—and get lots of attention. Well they got it and now they seem to regret it. They removed the tweet, which on one level I find unfortunate. I certainly understand the decision, but I also think it is important to keep record of these things. This post is written, in part, in the spirit of keeping a record.
I also want to state my position on the issue. A few days ago I re-posted an essay about the virtues of vulgarities exchanged between friends, as a form of intimacy and solidarity. With today’s incident, I want to be very clear about what I did and did not say. I would hate for someone to see my essay as a defense of this sort of ugliness.
The funk is not an excuse to be dirty for no good reason or to skip a shower, but it is a real example of the inescapable fact that we all sweat, lust, swear, and more. We all love and hate. We are alive. In the same spirit, this absolutely does not mean we should just tell racist jokes willy-nilly or accept racist remarks easily, but it does mean that we shouldn’t assume that a racist joke is always racist.
My position could not be more clear: this is not a case of someone behaving badly or simply doing what is not permissible. This is not merely wrong or even evil. It is perverse. Perversity is beyond the funk, beyond the ordinary grit of everyday life, delving into the very pit of ugliness that twists your guts and makes you angry and sick and righteously indignant.
For me, this goes well beyond racism, into a deeper and more revolting place. Repulsive.
I do not wish to use the lovely Ms. Wallis as a case study to score a philosophical point, so I’ll go no further. Let me simply ask you that you pray that she be kept safe from harm.
I was once a huge fan of The Onion. Not anymore.
The Onion posted a very nice, and extremely rare, apology today, on Facebook.