Seven Things I Think I Think About Quvenzhané Wallis, The Onion, Outrage, Comedy Writing, C*nt, And Being A Robot

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1. I think I first heard the word “cunt” when I was 12 years old. (Actually, this is a lie. I know without a doubt that was my first time hearing it. But, in keeping with today’s theme, I’m staying with “I think.”) It was halftime of an AAU tournament game. We were up a couple points against a team we should have been beating by 50, and our coach was livid. I wasn’t having a particularly good game, and the coach, um, let me know about it, calling me a “scared shitless cunt.”

Although I didn’t know what a cunt was, the spit congregating in the corners of his month gave me the idea that it wasn’t a good thing to be. After learning what it meant, I eventually categorized it with “cock,” “prick,” and “jizz” on my list of “Weird colloquialisms White people—and Black people who’ve spent too much time around White people and/or watching White porn—use to describe sexual things” and I probably didn’t hear it aloud for (at least) another decade.

It wasn’t until later (and by “later” I mean “like three years ago”) that I realized cunt is considered by many to be the single most offensive word in the English language, and I’m not sure about why this is. I mean, for other words that have been deemed unspeakable—nigger and bitch, specifically—there are clear historical, political, and sociological reasons for it. And, while cunt is a vulgar way of describing a vagina, it doesn’t seem any more vulgar than pussy or twat or cooze or any of the dozens of other slang terms for female body parts that have been used as slurs against women and 12 year old basketball players committing too many turnovers.

I guess what I’m asking is if there was a particular tipping point for cunt that I’m not aware of? What is it about this particular word that makes it dirtier and nastier than the rest?

(Personally, I think it may be due to the fact that the word just sounds nastier than most other words. It’s pronounced in a way that makes it seem like an ominous whisper. It also has a hard T ending, which can make a word sound like it has a perpetual sneer.)

2.  I think I totally get what whoever is in charge of The Onion’s Twitter account was attempting to do Sunday night. The preternaturally cute, talented, and charming Quvenzhané Wallis is the last person anyone would think to call a cunt, so the tweet was very obvious satire. In this sense, it was no different than saying “Those Phoenix winters sure are cold.”

But, just because something “structurally” works doesn’t mean it’s appropriate, or funny, and if a piece of satire is inappropriate, offensive, and lacking humor, it doesn’t work. This isn’t to say that Quvenzhane Wallis is impervious to satire or that you can never use that word in a joke. But, anyone who attempts to create that type of humor should also have enough wherewithal to know that certain things are just flat out wrong, and using a sexual reference—the most vulgar sexual reference at that—to joke about a nine year old actress is exactly that.

Whoever wrote that tweet didn’t just shoot and miss. They shot, missed, and put a hole through the f*cking backboard.

3. I think many people who regularly write jokes and other forms of potentially provocative/offensive material for a living have cold sweats about what happened last night. I know I do.

When your popularity/readership/relevance is predicated on being funny, or entertaining, or irreverent or whatever, you’re encouraged to push the envelope on what’s acceptable to say. Usually, it works. But, when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work, and the push back received from the one time it doesn’t work exponentially exceeds the praise received all the other times it did. This does not feel good.

Writers have to be especially careful with Twitter, as a potentially offensive standalone tweet just isn’t able to have the same context that same statement might have in a middle of a book or 30 minute comedy routine.

I’m not complaining, mind you. People who produce this type of content are aware of this dichotomy, and it’s just something you learn to deal with. It’s an inevitable occupational hazard that leaves you with two choices: Find something else to do, or get better and grow thicker skin.

4. I think I loved how quickly social media descended on the Onion’s tweet. Thousands of people—Black, White, and other—immediately called them out, eventually leading to the tweet being taken down and the Onion issuing a formal apology. Basically, the Onion stepped out of line, and a hundred thousand people responded, ultimately saying “Don’t worry, Quvenzhané. We got your back.”

But, as much as the emotive/visceral part of me loved to see that happen, I did feel some ambivalence. The outrage was supposed to protect Quvenzhane, but without it, I doubt she even finds out the tweet exists. Like millions of other controversial tweets, it would have been forgotten about in 10 minutes. Now, the reaction to the tweet is a bigger story than the tweet itself. And, while she might have come across this tweet before it became a story, there’s no doubt she will—and will probably be interviewed about it—now. Basically, while this was supposed to protect her, it places her in the line of fire.

Ultimately, the outrage was a positive. The tweet got deleted, and the Onion issued an apology. This would not have happened without that. It also served as a reminder that “free speech” doesn’t equal “accountability-less speech.”

Most importantly—well, most importantly to many—it was a very swift and public pushback to Black women and girls being disrespected in some form in the mass media, a too rare sign that people are in fact there to protect them.

All that considered, it still doesn’t sit completely right with me. It just seems like while the attention brought to the tweet about Quvenzhane helps Black women and girls in general, it didn’t help Quvenzhane specifically. I’m not sure what else could or should have been done to protect her though.

I expressed these views on Twitter yesterday, and—among other things—I was accused of being myopic. I actually don’t disagree with this. I realize my tendency to see certain things in very black/white absolutist terms leaves some blind spots. (While discussing this yesterday, Panama called me a robot. I am a human being, so naturally I disagreed.) It’s not that I ignore nuance and context. But, I do think that too much of it has a tendency to cloud the truth.

(For instance, in the Dorner case, I just can’t get past the fact that he likely killed that couple. There are no “Yeah, but’s” for me, no sympathy, no nothing. If he did that, nothing else he did as far as exposing corruption or fighting the power matters to me.)

Anyway, I’m bringing this up because although I feel how I feel about the effect of the outrage not sitting right with me, I also realize that I could very well be wrong. There may be something here I’m just not seeing, and perhaps what happened was both the best way to approach this issue and the best way to defend Quvenzhane.

5. I think the Onion’s tweet wasn’t even the most disturbing Quvenzhane-related thing I saw yesterday. Apparently, quite a few people feel she is quite full of herself, and the flexing she did whenever the camera was on her confirmed (to them) that she was a little asshole-in-training.

There are a thousand different things you can say about all of this—how confident Black people are still thought by many to be uppity/cocky, how she’s a freaking 9 YEAR OLD GIRL having the time of her life, etc—but three questions have to be asked:

Did these people not see the f*cking movie??? Don’t they realize she was just mimicking what her character (“Hushpuppy”) does in the movie’s most memorable scene??? Do they even know what “Beast it!!!” means???

6. I think our resident Obsidian brought up a good point yesterday. Everyone was rightly and justifiably angry about the Onion’s tweet. Yet, many of us—myself included—are very selective about who deserves our outrage. Often, this selection is determined by likability. Basically, wrong is wrong, even if you don’t agree with the politics held by a person a wrong is committed against.

7. I think Beasts is a spellbinding, captivating, enchanting, engaging, and completely unique movie. I’m not sure if it was good, though. While I was fascinated with it—and even may have even accidentally rubbed some salt in my eye that forced them to water a little—once I got out of my post-movie haze a couple hours later, I couldn’t help but think that I just watched a 100 minute long ode to child abuse.

Maybe P was right. I just might be a robot.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)