I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend a satirist's artistic right to call a nine-year old girl a c**t. No biggie.
Doubtless you've already read about The Onion's twitter-coverage of the Oscars. Here's the tweet:
Appalling isn't it? Well yes it undoubtedly IS, shorn from its context like that. And here's the thing; now The Onion has taken it down that's the only way you'll ever read it, most likely. Leastways that's how the popular online press and the recreationally offended have chosen, consciously or not, to drape it across your consciousness post-event. Not censorship exactly, far from it, but certainly a digital amnesia; an instinctive dislike of fine detail that only mass righteousness on the internet can produce.
I don't follow The Onion's tweets, but it's obvious even to a fool like me that this gag was a brushstroke upon a much larger canvas that, skillfully or not, mocked and impersonated (impersonated: now there's a term everyone reporting this story has failed to use) Hollywood's strange and unchecked mores. The Onion was playing a character... (with me so far?)... a venal celebrity commenter (who isn't the people at The Onion; please, please keep up) who is a comment on how the venal celebrity Hollywood misogynistic comment-world behaves (Hey! Your eyes are glazing over! Oh forget it. Have a lie down...).
Here in the UK we've been down this road before. In 2001 came the Brasseye Pedophilia special. Stupid people, the Daily Mail particularly, thought it was dragging laughs out of Pedophilia. Of course it wasn't: it satirized--brutally--the British media's sensationalist yet inwardly cynical take of that complex and tragic social problem. But it's a depressing thought that, only twenty years into the internet age, the world's social progressives are indistinguishable from the Daily Mail.
Don't get me wrong; I love the internet. To even think of the world just before it, with it's TV channels and papers controlling everyone's information, brings me out in retrospective hives. But I fear, absolutely fear, one of many possible future worlds it hints at in moments like these.
A world who's morality is a nervous Pavlovian reaction rather than a cerebral act, a heart-on-sleeve world of a million 'likes' and no wish to squint at fine print because that might actually be work. A world, in effect, that would deem Jeremy Clarkson and (yes, that unrequited love of my life) Requires Hate as genuinely 'edgy'. An open source boilerplate set of ethics, gestalt and lukewarm.
Heck, even the inter-net's great debates seem oddly consensual. Theist-vs-atheist, gun control-vs-libertarianism; the same arguments go back and forth until the debate takes on the feel of a late night dogging session in a car park just off the M1. No desire to know each others faces or deeper proclivities, just a swift anonymous rage-f**k to deaden the sting of mundane life.
Heck, in this atmosphere, I can already tell you how reaction to blog posts like mine will go- mostly pantomime imagery of a young African-American girl set against fat, white middle-aged and privileged boors. I know this because, if you look, it's on the flowchart; the one given to all progressive warriors who don't live in a genuinely multicultural area. The people who feign outrage at a clearly problematic thing whilst gluing a glib little 'fail' to it so it'll trend. Rather than, you know, do anything.
The Onion shouldn't have backed down (Private Eye wouldn't have, I know that much). Their reaction demonstrates the limitations of satire that's wholly dependent on advertising revenue. But ultimately the problem lies with us, the internet and what we intend it to look like in the future. Short term, we defended a nine-year old girl (Who would, one suspects, never have heard of this tweet unless her saviors hadn't raged about it and, more importantly, were seen to rage about it) but long term...
Long term we've set a precedent. The future world-wide-hive, apparently, would prefer its satire toothless and simpering: an unctuous, sweaty gift shop worker hocking concensus-amusing LOL-cat figurines forever. Juvenal, Swift, Parker and Cook held down by midgets. Six billion midgets.