Beyond the Funk: Prayers for Quvenzhane Wallis UPDATED

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.

I wrote:

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.

Some of you who are also familiar with my somewhat idiosyncratic position on ethics and morals (and politics, too), might find this to be an odd case for me. Where does my outrage come from?

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.

UPDATE

The Onion posted a very nice, and extremely rare, apology today, on Facebook.

  • http://www.popehat.com Ken

    This is just a guess — but, I think, not a wild one.

    The Onion hired Jack Stuef not too long ago.

    Jack Stuef, you might recall, is the one who did a “humor” piece about Trig Palin for Wonkette.

    I betcha he authored this tweet. It’s his style.

  • arty

    Sam:
    Yeah, I was a big fan of “The Onion” too, but it’s gotten a lot less funny and pointed over the last few years. When I was an undergraduate, all of us dorky history TA’s used to cluster around the office computer on Wednesdays, when the new issue came out, and laugh our heads off–at the stuff that was just hilarious (Herbert Kornfeld anyone) and at the stuff that was brilliant (like those old “Onion in History” articles they used to do). I think it has gotten more political lately, in the sense of partisan positions, and it just isn’t as “smart” as it used to be, either.
    Sad. Oh “The Onion,” we hardly knew ye.

  • Petro

    People make mistakes all the time. Part of comedy, as you noted, is often high-wire act. This danger is often what makes something humorous. Occasionally comedians slip up and fall. I don’t read the Onion very often. It’s not really my style and gets repetitive. Nevertheless, if I were a fan, this would not be reason for me to stop reading. Someone stepped over the line. It was pulled down very quickly. They officially apologized today. What else do we need?

    Today’s Gospel speaks to something that is truly lacking in the Internet world, even in cases such as these.

  • Hilary

    The difference between what you wrote about racist jokes and what the Onion did, is that you insist for a real level of trust and respect between actual people before it’s ok, not running off stupid comments on twitter about a litle girl you don’t know face to face.

    When you can look a person in the eyes, feel the touch of their hand, hear the sound of their voice, know the heat and smell of their body, that’s funky. That’s real.

    BTW, I loved your post about White history month.

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