The great Emily Nussbaum links to, while critiquing, a defense of the Onion‘s Quvenzhané Wallis tweet. To amplify Nussbaum’s response a little, I actually agree with Johnson that the intent of the tweet was to mock misogynist attacks on girls and women in Hollywood. The problem is that directing that epithet at a 9-year-old, in the context of a tweet, completely swamps the intent in practice. It functioned as an attack on Wallis no matter what the intent, as The Onion ultimately recognized itself. The poor execution of the joke defeated the purpose.
Predictably, similar defenses of MacFarlane have made made, and they’re even less tenable. First of all, I don’t believe that the primary intent of MacFarlane’s witless parade of sexist and racist cliches was to mock MacFarlane. But even if we implausibly assume arguendo that the the intent of MacFarlane and the writers and producers was to produce a mean 4-hour satire of a comedian reduced to using material that would have been rejected as too tired by a Catskills hack 40 years ago, the same problem remains — the material just wasn’t sharp enough to make the joke work. Pace Grierson, the attempt to “critic-proof” the misogyny by going meta is just a chickenshit cop-out; pointing out that your next gag will by unfunny and offensive does not, in itself, make the joke any less unfunny or offensive. And while the idea of a song called “I Saw Your Boobs” could in theory be mocking the sexist douche making the joke, in that context when it goes on for nearly two crudely and painfully unfunny minutes the butt of the joke is the actors whatever your intent was.
Entertainingly mocking something by impersonating it is certainly something that can be done to great effect — cf. Randy Newman or Stephen Colbert. (Hint: for one thing, Newman and Colbert don’t sound exactly like a Lester Maddox fan or a Fox News host; the discernible ironic distance is a large part of what makes the joke work. There has to be a twist.) The Onion can pull it off at its best too. But don’t try it at home: if you’re less talented than Newman or Colbert the results can get pretty ugly. The Onion failed this time, and if it’s what MacFarlane was trying to do he didn’t come close.
…Margaret Lyons on why this matters.