No, actually. No. Violence against women actually isn’t funny.

No, The Onion. No, Hanna Rosin. A joke about beating a woman to death is not funny. No, Hanna, trivializing horrific violence against Rihanna to make a (supposedly) funny point about domestic violence is not funny or okay. Jesus Christ. (Trigger warning for domestic violence on the linked post.)

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66 Responses

  1. ChariD
    ChariD May 15, 2013 at 12:35 pm |

    Don’t read the comments on her article if you’ve just eaten lunch. Folks are doing their damnedest to not.get.the.point.

  2. a lawyer
    a lawyer May 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm |

    Chris Brown is an asshole who (though I don’t know details) sounds like he should be in jail. And obviously, violence against women (or anyone else, really) is horrible, shitty, and indefensible–who could disagree? And it is, often, trivialized by the media.

    But having read the Onion post numerous times, I am honestly a bit unclear what you’re seeing that suggests that it does make violence seem trivial. If anything, I think it clearly talks about the link between violence and murder, and the tendency of abusers to escalate their abuse–and that doesn’t read to me as “trivial” at all. Just the opposite, in fact. Not to mention that it makes Chris Brown seem like an asshole, which he is.

    Can you be more specific about what you think is wrong with it, or how it trivializes violence?

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune May 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm |

      If anything, I think it clearly talks about the link between violence and murder, and the tendency of abusers to escalate their abuse–and that doesn’t read to me as “trivial” at all.

      I agree. Rosin’s article is a pile of crap, and her reasons are annoying and disgusting. However, the Onion article is pretty clearly not condoning Brown in any way whatsoever. Also, it’s a beautiful takedown of the real meaning of the “aaaaah I am heartbroken” cover that abusers so love to hide under when their victims get out from under their thumb even for a second.

      1. SophiaBlue
        SophiaBlue May 15, 2013 at 2:29 pm |

        I mean, obviously the Onion article isn’t sympathetic to Chris Brown or anything, but in the course of slamming him they explicitly describe violence towards Rihanna in a way that is both unnecessary and triggering for a lot of people.

        1. Anon21
          Anon21 May 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm |

          in the course of slamming him they explicitly describe violence towards Rihanna in a way that is both unnecessary and triggering for a lot of people.

          What obligations does the Onion have to its readers there? It’s always been about as far from a safe space as it’s possible to be, and I feel like anyone who’s even passingly familiar with it would know that its articles have a high potential to be triggering in this way.

    2. arcadesproject
      arcadesproject May 20, 2013 at 7:48 pm |

      I think the feminist (and humanist and moral) objection to the Onion article is that there are acts so shocking to the civilized conscience, acts that revolt us on such a deep level, that they cannot be made the subject of comedy.

      The Onion, as an institution, apparently does not possess a civilized conscience. I stopped picking up Onions after the episode involving the child actor. As to Mr. CK., I think it is obvious that this guy is morally deformed. And also not funny. Unless, perhaps, you are a sadist and a woman hater. Or one of those cowards who pounces on the bully’s victim, just to show that he is not the victim. This time.

  3. A4
    A4 May 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm |

    I would like to take the opportunity to say I dislike Louis C.K. with a great passion.

    1. A4
      A4 May 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm |

      Ah, also (caps lock ahead)

      Jokes about Chris Brown abusing rihanna are NEVER FUNNY. IF I do a google image search for “rihanna”, a picture of her beaten face is in row 20. That picture will be there and elsewhere forever. Since Rihanna has to live with pictures of her abuse being available to the public in perpetuity, it would be nice if we could REFRAIN from making it into a joke for pageviews.

      1. amblingalong
        amblingalong May 17, 2013 at 9:22 pm |

        Of course that’s not true, because funny is subjective, not objective. You mean “NEVER FUNNY TO ME,” or alternatively, “SEXIST.”

        1. A4
          A4 May 18, 2013 at 1:17 am |

          Please do not tell me what I mean. I meant exactly what I said, and I think the context was clear. I don’t believe in objectivity anyway. To claim to speak objectively is to claim you have the judgement and knowledge of God. I’m not interested in anyone’s God or their “objective” priorities.

  4. J. Lynn
    J. Lynn May 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm |

    The thing about satire (which is what the Onion does) is that satire is not always about getting a laugh. To grab just one definition (from dictionary.com): “the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.”

    I have read The Onion since I was a teenager. I can count the number of times it has made me actually laugh on two hands (granted, I tend only to read stories about certain themes). If there is ANY humor there, it is usually unmistakably dark.

    The original post on The Onion that you are referring to did not read to me as though it was meant to make people laugh. It did not read to me as though it was trying to “make a (supposedly) funny point.” It did not read to me as though it was trying to be funny at all. It is satire. The author was very clearly ridiculing Chris Brown, drawing attention to his actions and the fact that the mindset behind those actions cannot possibly sane or condoned. The author did this in the way that is typical for The Onion–using the guise of a “normal” news story to throw sickening truths into sharp relief.

    It isn’t supposed to be funny. And I don’t believe it was written at the expense of domestic abuse victims and survivors. Just like I don’t believe this story (POSSIBLE TRIGGER WARNING) was written at the expense of children, or this story (POSSIBLE TRIGGER WARNING) was written at the expense of us LGBTQ people, or this story (TRIGGER WARNING) was written at the expense of veterans, the LGBTQ community, Planned Parenthood, teen mothers, recipients of government aid, or those too poor to pay for medical services.

    The story about Chris Brown wasn’t particularly well done (few things at The Onion are), but it fits into its genre, and I do not feel that it needs to be condemned. Its target was clearly the perpetrators of violence and the culture that allows this violence to be commonplace. We weren’t supposed to laugh. Those of us who already “get it” were supposed to go, “Yes. This is our reality. And it is fucked up.”

    When I was in grade school, we read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” When asked for our thoughts, one of my classmates cried out, “It’s horrible! I can’t believe he actually wrote this! How could anyone eat babies?” She obviously did not understand that the story was satire. Those of us who did, though…do you think that we laughed? We didn’t. Because it wasn’t that kind of satire.

    Satire, due to its nature, is easily misunderstood. Something that is meant to denounce a horrific part of our culture without the comfort of a laugh can easily be laughed at by those who miss the point entirely, who are not the intended audience, who are, in fact, probably part of the problem. It is up to the reader to determine what the author intended. And while there is plenty of satire out there that is meant to make us laugh, I think a lot of the most poignant pieces are the ones that do not.

    1. J. Lynn
      J. Lynn May 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm |

      I would like to clarify that I don’t agree with Hanna Rosin’s article. There is a difference between a joke (which is how Rosin views it) and satire, just as there is a difference between the type of satire made to evoke laughter and the type where laughter is not the appropriate response.

  5. IrishUp
    IrishUp May 15, 2013 at 2:38 pm |

    “Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar. ”

    – Molly Ivins

    The issues to me are that A) The Onion has a fucking pattern of making WOC the butt of their satire [sic] that is totally unacceptable and B) too many douchecanoes won’t read that as satire at all.

    1. Anon21
      Anon21 May 15, 2013 at 2:45 pm |

      Rihanna was not the “butt” of that article. Chris Brown was. I don’t think many people are even disputing that point; rather, they’re saying Rihanna was collateral damage, or got caught up in it. Which is true, but I don’t think it makes the article wrong. It wasn’t aimed at her, it did not trivialize the abuse she suffered, and I don’t think a norm of public discourse—including satirical public discourse—in which famous people who have awful things happen to them can never be commented on, or only outside the context of the horrible things, is realistic or desirable.

      1. IrishUp
        IrishUp May 15, 2013 at 2:50 pm |

        Umm, ok, she was the collateral damage, if you prefer THAT terminology. Which is a pattern that The Onion engages in repeatedly.

        1. Anon21
          Anon21 May 15, 2013 at 2:55 pm |

          Well, it really undermines the point you appeared to be making by quoting Ivins if you acknowledge that Brown, not Rihanna, was the target of the article.

    2. J. Lynn
      J. Lynn May 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm |

      That is an absolutely fantastic quote, but I do not feel that it applies here. The piece was not aimed at Rihanna, it was aimed at Chris Brown and those who perpetrate violence against women.

      And I agree–there are many “douchecanoes” who don’t get it. There are too many people who DO laugh, who DO think it is funny. This can happen with even the best-intentioned satire.

      But–I absolutely believe that The Onion capitalizes on the audience it has gained–an audience comprised, from my experience, of many immature individuals guilty of most any -ism you can imagine–which makes all of their writing problematic. That said, I do believe that some articles are truly well-intentioned and do make points that need to be made. And hopefully at least every once in a while provoke thought from those you would least expect.

      1. J. Lynn
        J. Lynn May 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm |

        This was meant to be a response to IrishUp’s comment.

    3. IrishUp
      IrishUp May 15, 2013 at 3:11 pm |

      I appreciate that other people’s readings of this don’t match mine. In my reading, the graphic depiction of violence that an ACTUAL person, was ACTUALLY AT RISK of suffering, is NOT FUCKING SATIRE.

      Satire holds up $_Behavior to ridicule. There is NOTHING to ridicule here. Violence against women, PARTICULARLY women more marginalized than I, is not fucking funny. Satire GENERATED towards marginalized people by White Doodz is going to get the side-eye from me every fucking time. Of the Onion writing staff listed in Wikipedia, only one name is recognizably a woman’s. Will Tracey – Editor – is a white dood. Frankly, most of the worst of the OnionFail has been under his tenure. I have read elsewhere that it has a very dudebro culture. I see nothing to contradict this.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune May 15, 2013 at 4:43 pm |

        Satire holds up $_Behavior to ridicule. There is NOTHING to ridicule here.

        Things to ridicule here (that the article definitely ridicules):

        1) The tendency of abusers to abloobloobloo about how they have the sadz over not getting to abuse their victims anymore.
        1a) The tendency of people to look at it as genuine heartbreak instead of said abloobloobloo.
        2) The media’s attitude to this (“lovers’ spat reconciled? soulmates? 4evah!”) in contrast to what Chris Brown has done.
        2a) The media’s glee and bouncy joy in giving copious exposure to the abloobloobloo as if it were justified, when everyone and their aunt knows it couldn’t be justified.
        3) The media’s total hatred of referring to an incident of violent intimate-partner abuse as violent intimate-partner abuse.
        4) Society’s general tendency to say “awww, abuse just means he wuvs oo!”

        1. SophiaBlue
          SophiaBlue May 15, 2013 at 5:06 pm |

          Every one of those things could have been done without describing further violence against Rihanna.

          Look, I understand what the Onion was trying to satirize here, and I think Chris Brown is a good target (although I agree with Gametime that it’s not a coincidence that these things are always about Chris Brown). I just don’t see why Rihanna has to be collateral damage in this, too.

        2. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 15, 2013 at 5:40 pm |

          Every one of those things could have been done without describing further violence against Rihanna.

          Possibly, yes. I don’t think it would have been half as effective to only use euphemisms in protesting the use of euphemisms, but maybe I’m a bit too simplistic in my thought.

          I just don’t see why Rihanna has to be collateral damage in this, too.

          I don’t see her as collateral damage in this. If anyone’s take-away from that is that the Onion’s seriously wishing violent death on her, then they probably also think the Onion supports mass child rape, genocide and terrorism, since the Onion’s style is actually pretty consistent in terms of how they describe it.

          In which case, if there’s going to be protest, really, people should be protesting the entire site. If someone’s undisturbed by the Onion’s coverage of the Sandusky child rapes, or the Steubenville rape, or the war on Iraq, but the Onion’s style is somehow suddenly a horrible horrible issue where the victim who is “collateral damage” is a celebrity, well. I’m side-eyeing that hypocrisy very hard.

          Also, re: your comparison of this to the Quvenzhane Wallis tweet – no, I don’t see the similarity at all. Being called a straight-up slur is miles different from a non-victim-blaming article.

        3. SophiaBlue
          SophiaBlue May 15, 2013 at 6:27 pm |

          since the Onion’s style is actually pretty consistent in terms of how they describe it.

          See, I don’t actually think this is the case. Usually when they talk about issues like this there is some element of humor or exaggeration. This article is literally just “Chris Brown would like to beat Rihanna.” It’s neither funny nor satirical to say that Rihanna might continue to face violence, or that Chris Brown like many abusers would like to continue his abuse if given the opportunity.

        4. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune May 15, 2013 at 6:55 pm |

          Usually when they talk about issues like this there is some element of humor or exaggeration.

          Which of those two would you judge appropriate to an article dealing with a victim of domestic violence? Particularly since you seem to oppose any description of violence.

        5. SophiaBlue
          SophiaBlue May 15, 2013 at 7:25 pm |

          I don’t know, one of them?

          To explain what I mean, here’s an article on Sandusky they did. The joke is that 10 year-old boys would have to call a press conference to explain that people should report rapes, and that reporters would be confused and ask clarifying questions. It satirizes the response both the Sandusky case and rape culture in general by exaggerating it, and it doesn’t actually need to describe rape of children in graphic detail to do so.

        6. Leah
          Leah May 17, 2013 at 5:05 pm |

          I appreciate all of those points, really. I get all that. I really would have been okay with the piece had it not invoked her actual death. Like someone said up-thread, this is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship – when she is in the process of ‘leaving’, whatever that may entail – it’s not the time to do a piece on the very real possibility of her murder. I appreciate dark satire just as much as the next feminist, but this piece could have been written more responsibly and still accomplished the writer’s goal. Call me touchy, but can we at least let some time pass and make sure he DOESN’T murder her before we use the possibility to make a point?

        7. trees
          trees May 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm |

          Also, re: your comparison of this to the Quvenzhane Wallis tweet – no, I don’t see the similarity at all. Being called a straight-up slur is miles different from a non-victim-blaming article.

          They’re comparable in that the little black girl and the young black woman are both being treated as irrelevant to the large comments the satirists hope to make. Both Onion pieces inadvertently communicate that black women and girls are simply unimportant. In a culture that dehumanizes WOC, this feels like regular old Nice White Liberal humor.

    4. Annaleigh
      Annaleigh May 18, 2013 at 1:30 am |

      The issues to me are that A) The Onion has a fucking pattern of making WOC the butt of their satire [sic] that is totally unacceptable and B) too many douchecanoes won’t read that as satire at all.

      This, oh so much. The one time I’ve been pretty triggered by something from The Onion was when I watched a Book TV presentation for their satirical atlas type book, and when they were talking about Latin America, they said something terribly racist and sexist against Latinas…

      Trigger Warning

      It’s a little foggy now but they were saying something about the sensuality of Latinas’ eyes, “eyes that say ‘help me I’m being raped!’” It was your standard sexualization of Latinas but also mocking the terrible rates of rape and sexual assault in Latin America. I wanted to throw up. I am a Chicana all the way so I am American born, but it was still triggering. I can only imagine how awful it would feel if I were a Mexican born Mexicana from Juarez or another locale with equally severe problems…

      1. Annaleigh
        Annaleigh May 18, 2013 at 1:34 am |

        Oops, I forgot to add, I have been a fan of the Onion for a while…but they have a huge plank in their eyes when it comes to WOC. They routinely manage to be racist and sexist in one full swoop.

  6. SophiaBlue
    SophiaBlue May 15, 2013 at 3:07 pm |

    When I first read the article the thing I compared it to immediately was the Quvenzhané Wallis tweet. That tweet’s target may have been the media, but regardless of that it still called a little girl a c**t. Similarly, the target of this article may have been Chris Brown, but it still described the violent death of a woman who has already experienced violence.

  7. Gametime
    Gametime May 15, 2013 at 3:20 pm |

    Any feminist willing to make a WOC and abuse survivor “collateral damage” so they can criticize an abuser isn’t advocating for any feminism I recognize.

    (And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Chris Brown was the target of this piece, rather than Sean Penn or Gary Oldman or Michael Fassbender or Sean Bean or Charlie Sheen or any of the other white celebrities whose domestic violence is either ignored or turned into a quirky loveable joke. Brown is a reprehensible person and deserves all the criticism he gets, but the contrast between how the media treats him and white abusers is undeniably racist.)

    1. IrishUp
      IrishUp May 15, 2013 at 3:56 pm |

      +1

    2. A4
      A4 May 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm |

      In addition to racist motivations on the part of the media (which in my m ind is unquestionably true), I also think the media treatment of Brown has a lot to do with the fame of the woman he abused as well as the widespread availability of images of the abuse on the internet.

      1. Miriam
        Miriam May 18, 2013 at 12:49 am |

        Madonna was already plenty famous when Sean Penn abused her. That was during my childhood, and while I do remember Penn being something of a target for ridicule, I don’t remember him being characterized as an abuser. It was all folded into his general hot-headedness and poor directing. In my memory, the poor directing was more of the cause of Penn’s D-List status than abusing Madonna.

        1. tigtog
          tigtog May 18, 2013 at 2:33 am | *

          We never saw photos of Madonna with bruises from Penn’s fists though. I do think that has made a huge difference in how often people reference Chris Brown’s abuse of Rihanna, and how seldom they think through why they’re republishing those photos as well, because I don’t think they’d be so casually disseminated if they were photos of a battered white woman.

    3. Taylor
      Taylor May 15, 2013 at 5:24 pm |

      +2

      Bad enough that Rihanna went through this, even worse that we insist on revictimizing her just to make a damn “point” about DV…

  8. Si
    Si May 15, 2013 at 4:42 pm |

    I think Hanna Rosin’s suggestion that the Onion do the same piece from Rihanna’s point of view was deeply misguided. That *would* be sexist, because it would be playing the reality that women feel trapped and powerless by their oppressors — and can easily mistake that oppression for love — for laughs, pointing to a systemic problem and blaming Rihanna individually. As it stands, I don’t think the Onion article was offensive, because it satirizes the voyeuristic media culture that forces celebrities into relationships way more than it talks about the specifics of domestic violence.

    1. Miriam
      Miriam May 18, 2013 at 12:51 am |

      That’s where it failed to me. I think if it had portrayed a fan talking about being sure Brown and Rihanna would be together forever no matter how often he beat her up, I would still find it problematic but I think the satire would be more effective.

  9. matlun
    matlun May 15, 2013 at 5:06 pm |

    I am 100% with Hannah Rosin on this.

    I thought that Onion article was quite funny and I can not see what is the perceived problem. It was very clearly an attack against Chris Brown, the perpetrator in this case, and pulling attention to the domestic violence issues in their relationship is also a good thing. The attitude that issues of domestic violence is something that is not talked about in public is a big problem in our culture (especially historically), since it often enables continued violence.

    In what possible way is Rihanna “collateral damage”?

    Then again, I have always quite liked dark comedy in general. For example Heathers and Grosse Pointe Blank are two old favorites of mine.

    1. Gametime
      Gametime May 15, 2013 at 8:47 pm |

      Do you really not recognize how comparing an article vividly describing the abuse and murder of an actual person to fictional comedic films is problematic? The issue isn’t whether the comedic style is funny.

    2. Annaleigh
      Annaleigh May 18, 2013 at 1:36 am |

      *taking a deep breath and counting to infinity…*

  10. yes
    yes May 15, 2013 at 8:05 pm |

    I cringe every time I read an article like this. Statements like “violence against women is never funny” grate on me because they try to turn a discussion of social practices into an issue of personal taste. The truth of the matter is that violence against women (among many other groups) is very, very funny to a great number of people.

    If you want to say that such jokes are socially damaging or suggestive of systemic sexism, go nuts. But that has very little to do with funny.

    Also, this article is clearly mocking Chris Brown. I’ll side with the people mocking abusers over the people whining that the mockery isn’t done in an appropriately sterile, witless way.

    1. Gametime
      Gametime May 15, 2013 at 8:52 pm |

      Also, this article is clearly mocking Chris Brown. I’ll side with the people mocking abusers over the people whining that the mockery isn’t done in an appropriately sterile, witless way.

      “Sterile and witless” is a funny euphemism for “omitting a graphic description of the murder of a particular woman of colour.”

      And it’s not like people don’t get what the Onion’s point was, or don’t understand that the Onion was aiming at Chris Brown. We’re totally aware of all that. The point is that it doesn’t matter what their super-duper edgy satire was supposed to convey. What it actually conveyed to us is that the Onion is willing to exploit the personal experiences of woman of colour to make a joke.

      I’ll side with the people unwilling to use woman of colour as ammunition for their own ends, thanks.

      1. Funty
        Funty May 18, 2013 at 7:37 am |

        It’s quite difficult to omit a woman with that many hits, videos and a clothes line in River Island.
        Sometimes I’d like to. I really don’t wanna see photographs of Rihanna having her time out ruined by paparazzi but nope, we’re all gonna be seeing that as well.

        Would rather rip the piss out “that violent guy she shagged, you know, the one who can’t do empathy right” than find yet more magazine covers implying Rihanna is “troubled” because she’s wearing something that isn’t boring.

        Just don’t get how you’d rather respectfully cower at the feet of abusers than mock them and bring them down. Instead you seem to be trying to even things up by bringing VICTIM into greater prominence.

        Which is a shame since women can all do a lot more than be afraid.

        Also, tangentially and I’m probably wrong, but I swear The Onion once ran a header calling “That Kid from Jerry Maguire a Real Arsehole”. Or something.
        In a compilation from 2000ish, that I lent to a housemate and was never returned. Can somebody capable of doing so please look it up?

        1. Aaliyah
          Aaliyah May 21, 2013 at 7:37 pm |

          The point – you are missing it. That is all.

    2. Alexandra
      Alexandra May 21, 2013 at 7:23 pm |

      Thank you thank you.

  11. Katerina R.
    Katerina R. May 16, 2013 at 6:24 pm |

    The issue with this being satire that vilifies abhorrent through sarcasm is that *a lot of people won’t realise it’s sarcasm*, because a lot of people WOULD laugh at that sort of thing, or otherwise not agree with the ‘domestic violence is never okay’ message.

    A lot of people think that ‘DV is never okay, BUT’ and follow it up with some justification of when it *is* okay, e.g. “but some bitches need to be slapped/shown their place”.

    Part of the Onion’s audience may be reasonable, decent people who haven’t internalised that particular attitude, and will recognise the satire for what it is.

    The other part will fail to get the joke. To them, the Onion’s article will REINFORCE their already harmful attitude, which is really something the world doesn’t need more of.

    So my opinion is that, no matter how much the Onion might like to write satire about this, they’d better hold off doing so until such a point where it won’t, instead, reinforce the very same problematic attitudes they claim to be trying to combat.

    In other words, advocating against DV is useless if the method you’re using, due to the target audience being fucked up, gives them them the impression that you support it, instead.

    1. Colin Day
      Colin Day May 17, 2013 at 12:10 pm |

      So my opinion is that, no matter how much the Onion might like to write satire about this, they’d better hold off doing so until such a point where it won’t, instead, reinforce the very same problematic attitudes they claim to be trying to combat.

      Fair enough. But at that point there would be no need for such satire.

    2. Alara Rogers
      Alara Rogers May 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm |

      I actually don’t think a lot of people would agree with the message “Dude is heartbroken because he really thought his current lover was the one he would get to beat to death one day.”

      This was not subtle satire. It wasn’t gently making the point that domestic violence was wrong. Nor was it making spurious satirical arguments about why Rihanna “deserved” abuse that misogynist idiots could mistake for not being satire. It was flat out saying “Chris Brown wants to kill Rihanna” and phrasing it in the same way that we phrase talk about actual romantic troubles. *Nobody* is going to gather from this piece that it really is a sad thing when an abuser doesn’t get to murder the woman he really loves to abuse.

      There wasn’t any mention in the piece of justifications for why it is ok for Chris Brown to abuse Rihanna except that he wants to. It didn’t try to satirize “bitch had it coming” by claiming ludicrous justifications for why she deserves the abuse; it said Chris Brown is heartbroken because he wants to beat and eventually kill Rihanna and now he thinks he won’t be able to. So no, I don’t think this particular piece of satire falls into the category of things that inadvertently reinforce pernicious beliefs. I think that the majority of people who have those pernicious beliefs will probably not think the satire is funny, because their pernicious beliefs that DV is justified will lead them to believe that the piece is unfair and slanted against Chris Brown by not mentioning any of what they think are the “good reasons” why Rihanna deserves abuse or why Brown has “changed really” or why “the situation is more complicated than you’re making it sound”… but they will not believe that the Onion is agreeing with them or reinforcing their beliefs.

      I can agree with the argument that this was insensitve of the Onion given a pattern of mistreatment of WOCs… their tweet about Quvenzhane was so far over the top into wrongness and unfunniness, I’ve lost a lot of faith in their ability to handle certain types of satire. I think they have been equally blunt in their use of wealthy disabled white men to satirize the media’s tendency to erase the humanity of the disabled while simultaneously making a cruel joke about an actual person (an Onion article from years ago about people putting Christopher Reeve on a literal pedestal, while he begs to be brought back down because he’s starving, is what I’m thinking of), but I am not sure I can think of any instances of them engaging in this kind of satire that talks about death or harm to real people against wealthy, real white men who are not disabled or members of any minority group. Of course, I’m not sure you can; if you’re satirizing the media’s tendency to overlook real harm to a category of people by writing an article that fictionalizes harm against a member of that category, you’re unlikely to be choosing a fully privileged target because the media doesn’t overlook harm to fully privileged people. But given the number of satires they write that do not feature real people (such as one that was something like “Ugly Girl Dies, Nobody Cares”, or “Man’s Total Cowardice In Face Of Fatal Illness Shortens Lifespan”, or recently one about an abusive father being proud of how the psychological abuse he commits against his children will cause them to be great artists), I really think it would be better for them to stick to fictional people. If instead of Chris Brown and Rihanna specifically it had been a fictional musician who abused a fictional more famous musician girlfriend, the satire would have been as effective and it would not have been cruel to Rihanna.

      I think the Onion forgets, or doesn’t care, that real people who are celebrities are still real people, and they read.

      But while I feel that the satire is gratuitously cruel to the person it was purportedly written in support of, I do not think it can possibly be mistaken as being actually in support of her abuser. By drawing a clear connection between the language we use to talk about love and heartbreak, and Chris Brown’s desire to abuse Rihanna, it’s basically saying that the only justification abusers have for the abuse they commit is that they want to, and when an abuser talks about “love” what he means is “desire to harm”, and there is no sense whatsoever in which the victim deserves or brings on herself the harm, because it is all about the abuser conflating love with harming others and society enabling this.

      So I disagree that the Onion’s strategy fails because the target audience is fucked up and will perceive the satire as reinforcement of their beliefs. They have done such satires in the past, but in this case, I don’t think that’s applicable. I believe the Onion’s strategy is problematic because they are using a real, living person who has suffered real harm in their satire, and she can read and is not unlikely to encounter their article for herself, and she would likely find it humiliating and upsetting. If they wrote the exact same article about fictional people, as they do for most of their satires, it would be effective and not problematic, in my opinion.

      1. the_leanover
        the_leanover May 22, 2013 at 7:57 am |

        100% this. The argument that satire and irony can reinforce prejudice in people who don’t get it is useful when we’re talking about the kind of lazy liberal hipster ‘irony’ that literally just consists in ‘saying bigoted things that you don’t really mean or making dumb bigoted jokes and calling it irony’. It’s ridiculous, however, to use it as an argument against ever satirizing prejudice, and this particular article (whatever your opinion of it) is about the least relevant example imaginable to the ‘some people will take it seriously’ objection to satire.

        1. the_leanover
          the_leanover May 22, 2013 at 8:13 am |

          It’s worth noting, too, that in certain circumstances, people being stupid enough to take satire as real is an integral part of the satire’s success, given that its purpose is to expose the stupidity or ridiculousness of certain things that are generally taken as normal and reasonable. So when a Republican congressman, on reading about a Planned Parenthood abortionplex, is inclined to immediately regurgitate that information (http://literallyunbelievable.org/post/17153265749/how-exactly-did-you-get-elected), that article may have initially functioned to reinforce his individual prejudice (which is a prejudice so ingrained that it was unlikely to be challenged anyway) but more crucially it helps to highlight not just that one guy’s stupidity, but the wider absurdity of the pro-life movement’s attitude to facts and reality.

          Again, that doesn’t mean that the ‘some people with take it seriously’ argument is never valid; in the aforementioned ‘lazy hipster irony’ scenario, the person making the ‘joke’ is usually depending on the notion that everyone else just knows they’re not serious; the purpose of the joke isn’t to set up or expose the bigot who unironically agrees with the joke, because that would just make the fun dudebro ironic banter uncomfortable and difficult, so instead everyone just functions in a weird ironic haze where everyone acts like a bigot but assumes that nobody is really a bigot without necessarily having any reason to believe that.

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