Privilege Dies Hard

So we all know the story now.  The Onion made a series of irreverent, snark-filled tweets during the Oscars.  And then they demeaned a nine year old.

The joke, so say knowledgable comics, was to take someone innocent who is doted on and then turn that very innocence on its head, to say, in effect, you think she’s this, but in reality she’s that.  Waka, waka, waka!

The crickets that normally follow a bad joke did not materialize.  Instead a fierce and might storm of tweets soon erupted, causing whoever posted the stupid tweet about Ms. Wallis to take it down an hour later.  Because of course, this comment was more than just a bad joke.  As Salon noted in their headline, it was quite vile.

We also know that The Onion came clean and issued a full and complete apology, where they took ownership for the mistake, apologized to Ms. Wallis by name, admitted how vile the incident really was, and said they would take steps to keep such things from happening in the future.  This was not one of those “I’m-sorry-you’re-offended” apologies or even an Endora apology, this was the real deal.  Good for The Onion for coming clean about it.

I actually find defenders of the Onion’s boneheaded tweet almost more disturbing than the tweet itself.  BuzzFeed reported on a couple of former Onion staffers who did not like that The Onion apologized at all.  Former Onion editor Joe Garden said:

“My reaction was, ‘It wasn’t a great joke, but big deal.’ I saw where they were going, and the commentary was about the media construct and the Oscar hype in general.”
-Quoted in BuzzFeed

Those who make such observations tend to live in a world blind to the fact that women and girls, particularly women and girls of color, are subjected to such demeaning language regularly.  Or worse, they rely on the tired cliché, ‘yeah, well, women are called things like that, but then this was only meant as a joke, not to be taken seriously.’  Wrong.  Similarly, trying to contextualize the “joke” in the framework of Oscars hype doesn’t fly.  Had the target been an adult, it still wouldn’t have worked.  The remark would have still come off as crude and tasteless.  And the offended woman would likely have told them as such in short order.  But the target was a nine year old girl, someone who by definition could not have defended herself.  That’s cowardly. There is no context where it’s OK to call a nine year old girl the b-word or the c-word.  Period.  Don Imus learned a similar lesson the hard way.

So Mr. Garden’s statement is a fail.

Worse, though, was this tweet from another former Onion staffer:

Steve Hannah will use this to shuttle last shreds of editorial say from creative–>management & ad sales. Cunt is the onion’s reichstag fire.
-Quoted in BuzzFeed (same article)

So he’s saying that current Onion CEO Steve Hannah will use this tweet as an excuse to jackboot down, Nazi style, on The Onion and make it his fascists fool’s paradise.


But that is what he’s staying.  What he’s alluding to is the infamous fire which destroyed the German Reichstag building in the early days of the Nazi regime.  In fact the fire, the origins for which scholars continue to debate to this day, occurred on February 27, 1933 (80 years ago this Wednesday, in fact), a mere month after the Nazis came to power.  Adolf Hitler used the fire as a pretext to suspend civil liberties, clamp down on opposition parties, and basically turn the country into the genocidal Nazi dictatorship it became and remained until the end of the war in 1945.

Wikipedia states that the term “Reichstag fire” has become an archetype for any disastrous event that can then be blamed on hated political opponents as a means of discrediting and destroying them.  They cite an example from history where an event lead to the persecution of Christians in an ancient civilization located in modern-day Turkey, an event that modern historians refer to as a “4th century Reichstag fire.”

So the question becomes, does the apology and disciplinary actions taken at the Onion for a dumb, offensive tweet rise to the level of a Reichstag fire event?  Such absurd speculation merits an article in the Onion itself.  Of course it doesn’t.  As is often the case, when you have to rely on a Nazi comparison for your defense, you’ve lost the argument already.

Whenever I hear folks whining about not being able to make such-and-such a joke, at the expense of some usually oppressed person or persons, it’s always in the form of the privileged, those outside the group, complaining that they are suddenly beholden to the oppressed, the target of ridicule.

And privilege dies hard.

© 2013, gar. All rights reserved.

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