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February 25, 2013
Was "The Onion's" Joke Really That Bad?
Before I mention the joke, I have to mention the template for it.
Jokes have templates. A lot of times you may think someone sounds like he "just made something up," and he's a quick wit. In fact, what he is is someone who knows a lot of joke templates, and just swaps appropriate words in the A Blank and the B Blank, and makes it sound fresh.
But the template itself is old, old, old, and has been used a million times.
And I'm not knocking this, as I do it all the time; anyone who writes jokes does this. I mean, this is what jokes are, you know.
The template the Onion used was this:
"We're all thinking it: [Insert something truly horrible that absolutely no one at all is thinking]"
You see this joke on sitcoms all the time.
CHARACTER A: [Something fantastically horrible]
CHARACTERS B & C: [Upset reaction that anyone would say such a thing]
CHARACTER A (flatly): Well we were all thinking it.
The point of the joke is not the truth of the statement offered, but some kind of unintentional revelation about the speaker of it.
Of course, while the joke relies on the idea of an "unintentional revelation" about the speaker that he he intended to keep silent, in fact it's completely intentional, because the joke is designed for just that effect.
ME: Lindsey Lohan hasn't been bangable since "The Parent Trap." Well, we were all thinking it.
I mean, honestly, if I believed this I wouldn't write it into the Evidentiary Record.
The simple variation of the joke is to change "We were all thinking it" to "Everyone's afraid to say it, but..." They have the same meaning.
So the Onion deployed this joke with regard to a 9-year-old actress...
Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a c**t, right? #Oscars2013
The joke is that precisely no one is thinking that, and this is supposed to be the Onion writer "accidentally" exposing the dark twists of his brain. The target of the joke is the Speaker, not the Subject the Speaker is speaking about.
But he didn't mean it, and anyone who's seen this joke any of the sixty five million times it's been deployed knows he didn't mean it.
The only problem here is that this is a kid, and she might read the joke, and might be upset, even though no offense was actually intended.
And that's a concern, but... I mean, do we literally have to worry about every single person who may read our jokes and patrol them to make sure literally no one is ever hurt by them?
And as far as that little girl: I mean, once you explain the joke to her, does she remain upset?
And what's this girl's parents doing letting her read the Internet unsupervised, or be on the sewage pit Twitter, or read the adult-oriented Onion?
They should be burned with fire until they are dead, dead, dead.
Come on, you know you were all thinking it.
Risk Vs. Reward: Given this joke is in fact a cliche (and currently being way overused, to the point where it could have its own TVTropes category), another objection would be "Does the merit of the joke justify its capacity to offend?"
Well, clearly not, given that The Onion felt the need to apologize.
But that said, that's a purely prudential consideration, a cost-benefit determination, not a matter of morality.
And so no, given that people have a short-trigger when it comes to Jokes About Kids, no, it wasn't worth it. It's really a joke that's now in its last gasp, and the writer thought he could give it some freshness by adding even more Shock Value than usual.
But, in none of the worlds that exist did the guy really mean a cute little girl he never met is really a c-word.
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