Having said all that, The Onion chose to apologize, and many of us still find the decision baffling. This is a magazine that has made off-color jokes in the past about everything from 9/11 to Bosnian war atrocities and to my knowledge has never responded to previous demands for apology from members of the ever-expanding humor-free community. Some have tried to argue that the magazine finally crossed a line in making a rude joke about a child, but as Forbes magazine pointed out, they’ve never had a no-crude-jokes-involving-kids policy in place before. (And anyways, where was all this ostentatious concern about hurting a child when her parents gave her that name?) Other Onion headlines have included:
Bosnian Child Makes Fun Art Project with Mother’s Skull
God Answers Prayers Of Paralyzed Little Boy: ‘No,’ Says God
Pope Vows To Get Church Pedophilia Down To Acceptable Levels
They’ve also not shied away from using vulgar or sexist language (“Foster Mom A Cunt”) or mocking blacks (“African-American Neighborhood Terrorized By Ask Murderer”) or anyone else, so the decision to apologize strikes many as out of character and somewhat insincere.
It’s a dreary sign of the times if even The Onion seriously intends to “install new and tighter procedures” to prevent jokes in bad taste from getting through. At its best, the magazine is probably the only thing in contemporary American satire that achieves the level of classic 70s-era National Lampoon magazine—I’m referring to the Lampoon in the heyday era of comic geniuses such as P. J. O’Rourke and Doug Kenney. (Who could forget unapologetically bad taste, morbid-humor classics such as “If Ted Kennedy drove a Volkswagen, he’d be President today” or the notorious “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog” cover?) Perhaps The Onion‘s decision to apologize for the first time bodes ill, and one hopes it doesn’t become, as the Lampoon did in the 1980s, a shadow of its former self.
But the world of irony and satire is a difficult one to sustain at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. In the comments section under one of the pieces about the Quvenzhané Wallis uproar, one particularly apoplectic blowhard shrieked at someone trying to defend the Onion joke thusly:
You got any kids?!!! If you do, I feel sorry for them!!!! THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SATIRE AND EVIL; AND THIS WAS EVIL.
We live in a world where people on one side understand satire, and on the other side are those who scream in all caps about the difference between SATIRE AND EVIL!!!
Let’s hope that the screamers aren’t the emerging majority I’m beginning to think they are.
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