The C-Word and Offensive Humor

I’m going to keep this brief, because truth be told, I feel I am a poor barometer for humor. Plus, here’s what you already know: there were Oscars, a 9 year old girl of color was nominated for Best Actress, a satirical website thought it satirical enough to call her a “cunt” as a commentary, it didn’t work.

(I will only use the word that one time to specify what I’m talking about and then letting you assume you know what the C-word is.)

I can’t remotely begin to unpack this situation myself, as truth be told, I’m a white male. This isn’t my fight to be offended by the use of the word. I can say, however, that smarter people have rightfully analyzed this situation. The rest of this might just turn into links on why this is more than just misfired satire. And that’s fine, because again, we need a lesson. Roxane Gay in her amazing Tumblr piece on the situation says:

This tweet was ill advised and repulsive, not just because the actress was nine, or because MacFarlane had, earlier in the evening, made a joke about her being too old for George Clooney in sixteen years, but primarily because young black women, black girls, are regularly hypersexualized. There was this additional, fraught context that someone didn’t take into consideration and probably couldn’t take into consideration because they are oblivious. They are oblivious to the context because they’ve never been around people who are familiar with it, because they’ve never been held accountable.

Read the rest of her piece, as it gets at why this hurts and why this isn’t just “whiny PC people being upset at swear words.” Then read this from the Crunk Feminist Collective:

He wasn’t nice. Some of the people who have interviewed you and are talking about you have been really disrespectful. You’ve done such a great job telling people how to say your name. It makes me mad that people still can’t get it. People think it’s funny to make fun of Black girls with names like ours. When I was little people would say my name wrong on purpose. Even now, people hear me say my name and think I’m saying something that’s more familiar to them. How folks hear “Gwen” from Moya, I will never understand.

With all of this in mind, I will say something I do feel I should comment on as a white male. More accurately, I want to comment on the commentary on offensive humor that has come out of this discussion. Shit like this irritates the fuck out of me. In attempting to “defend comedy,” it pretends that satire is about being vile. Look, we’re not all good people. I get what the intent was from the Onion tweet. But pretending that this isn’t a comment that people should be angry about because it reminds them of systemic oppression is basically mansplaining. It misses the point of why people are taught about intersectionality (the crossroads of class, race, sexuality, and gender) in college classes. (Cue “but that’s just Women’s Studies bullshit, I’m sure.”) It’s because we view black athletes as thugs but white athletes as rebels. It’s because of the Hottentot Venus. It’s because songs about asses are made by black artists and usually attached to black women.

It’s also because comedy is the biggest tightrope in the world. I respect that. Being a comic that is funny with bite is extremely difficult. That’s why a lot of comics strive for the middle of the road. But that’s what a tightrope is. We can’t all be Louis CK and knock social commentary out of the park while not caring about where the offensive line is. I mean, surely you get when someone brings up a taboo not just to shock and delivers it perfectly, right? It wasn’t the Onion tweet or Seth MacFarlane’s schtick or anything hurled (as satire or commentary) to Quvenzhané Wallis on Sunday night. It wasn’t helped by mostly white men defending the tweet without understanding the implications.

But maybe I’m just humorless, eh?


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