Onion apologizes for crass joke about nine-year-old Oscar nominee

Alternate headline: “Blogger struggles to cope with slow news day.” As does the AP, which, believe it or not, now has a story on the wires about this.

You can read the offending joke, since deleted, at Twitchy. The surest way to bomb in comedy is to pick on a child or use the C-word. Do both at the same time and you’ve got a mushroom cloud. Here’s what the fallout looked like on the Onion’s Facebook page a few hours ago:

Dear Readers,

On behalf of The Onion, I offer my personal apology to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the tweet that was circulated last night during the Oscars. 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.


Steve Hannah
The Onion

I’ve been reading the site off and on for years and can’t recall another case of them apologizing for a joke. And bear in mind, this is an outfit that’s not above using disabled veterans as a peg to satirize the Pentagon’s reliance on repeat deployments. So, question: Does it matter that Wallis isn’t really the butt of the joke? The joke, as Ace took it, is the author’s feigned obliviousness to the absurdity of calling an adorable little girl a C-bomb. The “everyone else seems afraid to say it” bit at the beginning is the whole point of the goof; literally no one else would think such a thing and of course the author knows that, so when he presumes to be speaking some unspoken truth, he’s revealing himself to be a monster. He’s the butt of the joke.

That’s one way to read the gag. The way I read it was as more of a goof on the sort of catty oneupsmanship that populates social media during awards ceremonies generally and the Oscars in particular, especially vis-a-vis Anne Hathaway. The Onion had other gags last night devoted to the otherwise inexplicable dislike people have for her, but she’s only the most extreme example. Between the fame, the wealth, the fashion, and the hyperventilating entertainment “journalists,” there’s no more target-rich environment in American culture for joyless, jealous bitchy snark than the Oscars red carpet show. I took the Wallis joke as a goof on that mindset, of the critic who’s so eager to take the A-listers and their egos down a peg that he’d actually drop a C-bomb on a sweet little nine-year-old. She’s not the butt of the joke, we are. But your mileage may vary.