Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Onion: Humor in Shackles

This week The Onion is experimenting with an 18th century period theme. This is quite tedious to begin with, but the hateful and spectacularly unfunny "Humor in Shackles," which features mock jokes about the torture and killing of black slaves, is in the worst possible taste. Mark Twain's classic anti-slavery novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses the word "nigger" over 200 times, yet still manages to depict its black and white characters as deeply human. "Humor in Shackles," despite its PC language, merely exploits horrific imagery in order to turn the knee-jerk mechanism of dehumanization back onto the white slave owners, committing itself to the same mentality of tribalist hatred and oppression that permits atrocities like slavery in the first place. Shitty satire* merely perpetuates the kind of thinking it purports to criticize, and this week's issue of The Onion is a case in point. Boo-urns.

*Also see Stuff White People Like, Wonder Showzen, etc.

(Image from


Quammy said...

What's your beef with Wonder Showzen?

John said...

Sometimes it's pretty funny, but other times it isn't even satirical or "edgy", it's just obnoxious and quasi-racist. Like the sketch about the pizza shop that the one guy likes going to because there aren't any black people there--no one actually thinks like that. It might be "ironic," but it's not even critiquing anything, let alone suggesting something better. It's just pushing people's buttons.

Quammy said...

I agree with everything you said there, but I still think the show is great. Wonder Showzen can be incredibly obnoxious, the Patience episode in particular. I give them a pass on the quasi-racism only because one of the two main guys behind the show is black. Pretty much the same reason I give Sarah Silverman a pass on her nazi/holocaust jokes because she's Jewish. And you're right that the show isn't so much a critique as it is an opportunity to push buttons, but I don't see anything wrong with that. Shows like Wonder Showzen and Robot Chicken get their humor from shock-satire not smart-satire. They take familiar situations and archetypes and simply distort and pervert them. With the death of comedic institutions like George Carlin and Richard Pryor, we no longer have sources or smart-satire or social-improvement-satire. Plus, puppets are hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Meisner says:
Wonder Showzen is marginally funny at times. I found the Beat Kids segment with the boy dressed as Hitler asking randoms what the problem with youths of today amusing, in the fact the majority of the people he spoke to either took no offense to him being dressed as Hitler, or they didn't care.
Asking the (I assume) Texas businessman who's hat exemplified more oppression, the German military cap or the cowboy hat an interesting touch.

HedgeWitch said...

Is giving someone a pass because they are of the same ethnicity ok? Is it really ok? Didn't the egyptians enslave their own race long before it became a race issue? Wasn't it initially a class issue?

John said...

No, it's absolutely not. Nor is it OK to give someone a pass just because their group happens to be a minority in their present geographic and historical circumstances. Hateful prejudice in general is superstitious and intellectually lazy, no mater who's doing it.

I think the question of whether slavery began with race or class is kind of a chicken-or-egg question, since both are modern inventions. Their older hominid forms, in-group status and tribalism, undoubtedly both played a part in the evolution of the modern institution of slavery. Unfortunately, we can't just do away with the formation of in-groups without abandoning culture, friendship and community in general. I think we have to recognize that the impulse to dehumanize or exploit others is to some extent innate and inseparable from what's best in all of us, and be on guard against it at all times.