Vulgar Is As Vulgar Does

18th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards - Press RoomThere are some days when, for whatever reason (too many headlines on an empty stomach, maybe?) it feels as if the barbarians have taken over our little garden spot.  It looks as though they’ve tossed their trash everywhere, trampled the flowers and peed in the fountain for good measure.  It’s on days like this that I wish I could just hole up somewhere and read novels.  Unfortunately, I can’t.

At the risk of giving the Oscars way more ink than they deserve, their antics are still holding our heads in the proverbial sewer – five days after the fact.  The Hollywood camp followers, never the brightest lights on the marquee, are keeping the pot boiling, and for some unknown reason  we’re all clambering to get a second crack at who did what to whom on Oscar night.  I have no idea why.  Remember most of these hangers-on are still in apoplectic shock over Seth McFarlane’s song and dance about boobs.  At the other end of the freeway, the rest of them are slobbering all over themselves because the seams on Anne Hathaway’s dress suggested she might have a couple of them hidden in there.  Somehow, I can’t take people who have the sophistication of a pubescent schoolboy seriously, even though it looks as if just about everybody else around me can.  But my gripe is not with these folks – at least not today.

Today, I’m pissed off at The Onion, the risen Messiah of the Chattering Class, and even though they apologized (here) I plan to hold a grudge.

Ever since The Onion deemed it necessary to call a nine-year-old child, Quvenzhane Wallis, a very adults-only nasty name, the prevailing wisdom is the guys and dolls from Chicago went too far.  Crap!  “Going too far” suggests you were on the right road and just didn’t know when to hit the brakes.  If these gangsters merely “went too far,” which epithet should they have used that would have been far enough and no further?  Personally, I can’t think of one.  However, I can tell you, definitely, that The Onion and their loyal readership have missed the point entirely.  While they are rattling on about “appropriate” and “acceptable,” some of us are wondering how (not why) did it all come up in the first place.  After all, The Onion is a big organization; it’s not a couple of guys smoking dope and watching the Oscars in the parents’ basement.  There must have been a general consensus of some sort.  How does a journey that ends in “too far” begin?  What are the building blocks that create an attitude that could ever say, “It’s open season on nine-year-olds”? These are the questions we should be asking– not whether the result was “appropriate.”

It’s obvious that — somewhere between Anna Paquin in ’93 and now — our society has become scuzzy.  We’ve turned into a bunchpower1 of cheap-shot artists who might have a biting wit but lack the wisdom to know where or when to use it.  Why?  In the last twenty years, we have spent so much time Big Brothering each other’s “appropriate” and “acceptable” language and behaviour that we no longer understand the need to govern ourselves.  It’s a matter of supreme indifference to us.  Mainly because we no longer care about the substance of our ideas, we’re simply scared skinny of what they might look like.  For example, you and I both know there are several “inappropriate” words that The Onion could have used in this situation, but they never came up on the panel.  Satire and parody be damned; they were “unacceptable.”

The Onion can be hilarious.  However, vulgar isn’t funny: it’s not satire and it’s not parody.  It’s just bad taste, tarted up as comedy.  Unfortunately, when, as a society, we no longer possess the ability to make that distinction, there’s something dreadfully wrong.  Therefore, as of today, The Onion can go hang.  They might have 7 million readers, but they’re going to have one fewer.  It’s a tiny gesture that those big-ass birds aren’t even going to notice.  But I’ll know.  The barbarians might already be trampling the flowers, but this is one posy who’s going to surrender slowly.

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