The Onion is masterful at satire. I've LOL'd a million times at the wonderfully biting irony The Onion has crafted. This week, though, they attempted to satirize the very tragic story of the three women in Cleveland freed on Monday from a home they'd been kept prisoners in for a decade. The piece titled "Men Are The Best" was "written by" Ohio kidnapping victims Amanda Berry, Georgina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, and it had me in tears. Actual tears. From sadness.
It starts out like this...
But based on our experiences over the last 10 years -- being kidnapped and locked up against our will by a group of three men who didn't think twice before physically and emotionally destroying us -- the one thing we do know, in fact the only thing we can say with absolute, 100 percent certainty, is that men really are the best.
I'm a comedy writer. I get dark comedy. I was booed at my aunt's funeral for not telling jokes. I get satire. I get that this is supposed to be satire. I get it all. There's certainly a way to write a biting, sarcastic piece about a monster who locked up three teenagers in separate rooms and sexually assaulted them for ten years. And there's a way to do it without using the actual victims as the mouthpiece.
If the point is to be ruthless about the extent of the abuse, couldn't it be from the POV of the cops, called to investigate the house, twice, who never bothered to check the interior of the house? Or what about all the neighbors who didn't do anything because they didn't want to seem "nosy"? I just don't understand writing from the perspective of the three actual victims and using their actual photos. Their ACTUAL PHOTOS. From when they were teenagers. You know, before they were kidnapped by a sexual predator. Please, someone explain to me why that's OK, cause I'm not buying the old "because satire" excuse.
Outside of using the identities of actual sexual assault victims to execute satire, there's also this weird gender attack:
You know those little biological and primal impulses men have that take over their entire psyches and dictate their every action? The ones that they are seemingly powerless to control or deny, even though society is repeatedly pleading with them to? Boy, those are just nothing short of our very favorite things.
Stripped of irony, isn't this making the point that all men are the worst? Not child molesters or kidnappers or rapists. Just all dudes, everywhere.
Here's the other thing I don't understand. There's this real thing, called Stockholm Syndrome. I'm not saying that Berry, DeJesus and Knight suffer from it, I'm just saying it's a real thing that happens to women in this situation. Jaycee Dugard, who was held captive in a backyard for 18 years, told police that the monster who had kidnapped her was a "great person" and "good with her kids." Real victims have time and time again defended and sided with their captors, in real life, and that fact makes this sarcastic piece lousy with sad truth. I don't think The Onion writers meant to make fun of Stockholm Syndrome, but as satirists, not considering all the sensitive issues is irresponsible.
There's no law that says that comedians get to say or write whatever we want without criticism cause we're like changing the world or something. We're not. As far as influencing sweeping social change, our jobs are not that important. Lenny Bruce didn't end apartheid and Bill Hicks didn't cure AIDS . We write jokes for a living, and every once in awhile, if we're lucky, we get someone to say "hum, I never thought of it that way." And furthermore, at no point, ever, is it our job to put comedy and satire above being decent human beings.
I'm not trying to force The Onion to apologize or incite a flame war on some Disqus platform. I'm writing about this because I think we should talk about it. Talk about how we can make double triple sure that satire is diligent about vilifying the wrongdoer while being careful not to exploit the victim. Or maybe we won't have a discussion, maybe nothing will change, but maybe after reading all this, one of you will look at comedy and think "hum, I never thought of it that way."
Or maybe you agree with this Onion piece, as is.
If that's the case, let me ask you this. Would you print it out and hand it to Michelle Knight? Would you walk into her hospital room and would you tell her that thanks to her, The Onion has been able to make a trenchant social comment on the evil nature of her kidnapping and rape? Would you sit in the room with her and read this to her...
Oh, sure, once in awhile they'll get you pregnant and then lock you in a darkened room for 10 or so years while they viciously beat you until you lose the baby and almost die, but hey, we all have our own little quirks, right?
And would you look her in the face and say "And they used your real name and face, cause, you know, satire."
(read "Men Are The Best" here)