Did you hear the one about the satirical publication that live-Tweeted a joke on Oscars night that won hundreds of favorites and ReTweets, only to vanish an hour later after many more voices called out said publication for being tasteless, misogynist and even racist, and then prompt an extremely rare apology from the humorous fake news organization the next afternoon?
If having to describe a joke ruins it, then having to describe an absolute failure of a joke fails absolutely. They teach that in Joke Politics 101.
If you pay attention for long and close enough, you’ll also learn that you can make a joke about anything, so long as said joke is funny.
The Onion, which has built a reputation over two decades as a paragon of parodic virtue, failed on that front when it sent out this verbal assault via Twitter to more than 4.6 million followers at the three-hour, 12-minute mark of the live telecast of the Academy Awards:
Note that hundreds of people loved hurling the vulgarity at a 9-year-old girl. Note that that may not have been the intent of the unidentified joke-writer who hit that Tweet button for @TheOnion. Note that @TheOnion deleted that same Tweet after celebrities, journalists and even people whose names you don’t know expressed outrage over the Tweet that hundreds of others had loved. Note, too, that while continuing to share jokes and links to headlines and stories, The Onion’s CEO, Steve Hannah, apologized for that Tweet.
A personal apology. A sincere apology. For a tasteless joke.
This, from the same humor rag that published this front page two weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, published this letter to readers on Feb. 25, 2013:
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.
This moment also served as a painfully acute reminder that The Onion of 2013 isn’t The Onion of 1993, nor even The Onion of a year ago.
That’s because Hannah uprooted the editorial offices of the humor publication from New York City to Chicago. Not that Second City isn’t as funny as NYC. But several key staffers chose not to make the move, instead staying behind, and launching a new satirical project called Thing X, which is backed by Turner’s Adult Swim.
Thing X’s writers provided the much-needed levity and apologetic tone that their former boss at The Onion could not. As they wrote in “Thing X Apologizes“:
Feb. 25, 2013
On behalf of Thing X, I’d like to offer the following public apology for everything we’ve ever done:
I am sorry to the thousands of people who took offense when we suggested that water chestnuts were worse than the Killing Fields of Cambodia. The fact that I find their sickening, crunchy texture and utter lack of flavor personally disgusting, is irrelevant to the millions who died in that terrible tragedy.
They are really bad, though.
We’d like to apologize to those who did not enjoy our Christmas album, “Now That’s A Merry Fucking Christmas!” The word “Fuck” was testing well that year among schoolchildren, and we figured it would be a no-brainer.
We’d also like to say “we are sorry” to the dozens of schoolchildren we accidentally released nerve gas on in our testing chambers the year we released our Christmas album.
In addition, let me take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who’s ever been offended by anything at any point throughout time. To be challenged in any way, or made to feel an emotion that is not immediately recognizable, is the worst thing in the world, and something for which the incredible human gift of language should never, ever be used. We are sorry if your feelings were ever hurt about anything.
To that end, we’re sorry to the people of Pompeii, JonBenet Ramsey, the people of Afghanistan, the people of Iraq, the people of Rochester, New York, those who were unhappy with their last meal, the world’s retarded people, the victims of the tsunami thing, anyone who was offended just now by the term “retarded people,” Jimmy Spivey, whom I made fun of in high school for his big fat head, Armenians, and, most importantly, victims everywhere—especially our advertisers.
Rest assured that from this day forward, nothing will matter to us more than your comfort, now and after we are dead. Moreover, we have taken immediate action and murdered every intern involved with these incidents.
Thing X CEO
This could just be the thing Thing X needed to get our collective attention. Perhaps instead of an apology, Thing X should write The Onion a thank you letter.