Can You Construct A Functional Joke About A 9-Year-Old At The Oscars?

I’m glad @theonion apologized for calling Quvenzhané Wallis curt. She’s nine years old, who cares if her answers are short.

— Jesse Berney (@jesseberney) February 25, 2013

So The Onion apologized today for one of their many, many Oscars jokes last night. Which one? The one that was nooooottttt good or okay. Nooo, the other one.

Quentin Tarantino has been heavily criticized for his frequent use of the word “nigger” during tonight’s red carpet interviews #Oscars2013

— The Onion (@TheOnion) February 25, 2013

Yeah, not that one. (That one is actually maybe good satire, about when and how some things are okay.) Buoyed by the success of that joke, I would imagine, and also entering a sweary patch of the evening…

‘Jane Eyre’ is unfortunately not nominated tonight because it didn’t come out this year and was fucking terrible #Oscars2013

— The Onion (@TheOnion) February 25, 2013

…they went for a now-infamous joke about 9-year-old nominee Quvenzhané Wallis. The apology was very straight, and not that great. (“No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.”)

Actually? The apology was kind of terrible and dumb! It’s almost impossible to do any explaining in an apology, but in this case, it seems worth it. “This joke was unsuccessful” is a weird thing to say, but that’s the truth. “This joke didn’t actually succeed in sending-up people’s attitude about famous people” would just create more trouble. The apology read like the business department freaking out, instead of editorial saying, “Hey, we got together and really talked about this.”

And then, you know, is no one going to say that this is a joke about Anne Hathaway??? (Related: “Hey, maybe calling Hathaway a ‘dirty slut whore bitch’ is horribly sexist.”)

Speaking of: here’s how not to deal with this event at all:

And what the Onion missed is that it’s Anne Hathaway who’s the real cunt. Right EVERY WOMAN ON THE INTERNET?

— Jack Moore (@BuzzFeedJack) February 25, 2013


This particular kind of going afoul happens to lots of us, and by “lots of us” I mean at male-dominated outfits. (In 2002, The Onion had five writers, one woman and four men. Six of the 30 present and former staffers listed on the site’s Wikipedia page are women. When The Onion relocated from New York a few years ago, all the women quit, because they’re too smart to live in Chicago. (That’s a “joke” too.))

Sidebar: there is also a case to be made for not making an apology! This — a fake apology “spoofing” the actual apology, from former employees — is not a good way to make that case.


Well now how do I confirm my meeting with Quvenzhané next Tuesday?

— Richard Lawson (@rilaws) February 25, 2013

In a similar but somewhat more successful vein, The Onion did a “Ha ha this seven-year-old is going to be a prostitute” Honey Boo Boo monologue piece last September:

In the worst-case scenario, my reckless behavior and destructive lifestyle will entangle dozens of people within an inner circle of handlers, publicists and hangers-on with whom I’m still able to surround myself due to appearances at nightclubs and adult magazines, which will pay just enough money to keep me from insolvency — that is, until I reach an age in which the public inevitably tires of me and I have to resort to pornography or prostitution.

They didn’t get outrage, in part because the child in question actually is regularly talked about like this, but also because they had the length to elaborate on the conceit.

Part of me wonders if jokes about the c-word, songs about seeing boobs (in rape scenes!), would sting less with a Kathryn Bigelow Oscar nod.

— sarah sprague (@sarah_sprague) February 25, 2013

Various white male tweeters to world: Can’t everyone just relax and enjoy this tasteless joke about a 9-year-old girl?

— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) February 25, 2013

But really, the question is: is this a joke that can be saved? It’s not impossible! EVERY JOKE DESERVES A CHANCE TO LIVE AND RUN FREE WITH OTHER FUN-LOVING JOKES. Can we?

A good start is taking out the c-word, which, guess what, doesn’t play in the U.S., you might be shocked if you are FINDING THAT OUT FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. I guess that was one of the “points.”

Downgrading the cussing: does it help? Eh…. “Bitch” as a substitute doesn’t really play either, though it might have resulted in not having to make an apology. Any kind of sexualizing — the whole “when she will be too old to date George Clooney” thing was just… no — is right out as well.

So: what’s the point of the joke? There was a colloquial setup. (“Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but…”) The point of the joke is that approximately one bazillion people are ranking actresses’ outfits and talking about their impressions of who these people are, with a special focus on how terrible they might be. [MANSPLANATION ENDS HERE.] Extending this to a charming — and, it’s relevant, African-American — nine-year-old is supposed to take the piss out of that.

The problem is, when you start applying adult-world stuff on a sweet nine-year-old, it comes out all wrong. You want to make a joke about her smoking up with Kristen Stewart? (Also, wow, was Kristen Stewart ever baked last night?) Congratulations, you are perhaps funny but (rather rightly) dead.

There are actually about 15 more ways to go wrong, it turns out, when trying to make a successful joke! (I mean, not as wrong as calling her the c-word? But.)

It’s hard. Apparently I can’t.

If you’re really desperate, you can pull an Andy Borowitz, which is just combining two things in the news cycle so that it looks like a joke. To wit (as it were):

Ha ha, that is some classic Borowitz almost. Sigh.

It’s easier just to go “weird Twitter” on it.

And with that, I submit there are no jokes to be had here. OR ARE THERE? Tell us in the comments… on The Onion’s Facebook page, which is a cesspool of human suffering and sadness.