Yesterday, we, and many, many others, breathed a sigh of relief when Chris Brown told a radio station that he and Rihanna had once again broken up. (They’re both too young for him to be “wife”-ing her, he said.) Humor site The Onion did their spin on the story today, penning the story “Heartbroken Chris Brown Always Thought Rihanna Was Woman He’d Beat To Death,” in which Brown (obviously, not really Brown) laments he’ll never get to murder her in a domestic violence incident. Here’s a sample:
After revealing yesterday that he had recently split up with longtime girlfriend Rihanna, a heartbroken Chris Brown tearfully told reporters that he always thought the 25-year-old singer was going to be the woman he’d beat to death one day. “Despite all the ups and downs, I was so sure Rihanna was the one I’d take by the throat one day and fatally assault, and even toward the end I continued to hold out hope that we’d be together until the day she died at my hands from blunt-force trauma,” Brown, 24, said in a radio interview this week, telling DJs he still has abusive feelings for his ex-flame and is hopeful that he might punch her again one day.
Simply, I thought the piece was cringe-inducingly hilarious — it’s supposed to make you viscerally uncomfortable about how far domestic violence can go. Not everyone agrees, instead seeing it as mocking violence against women of color.
Several feminist bloggers and other cultural critics have accused The Onion of cracking a racist joke about violence against women of color, who disproportionately experience domestic violence. “Waiting for someone to explain how an article about a real living black woman being beaten to death is ‘satire.’ I know it’ll happen,” tweeted blogger T.F. Charlton. Feministing co-founder Jessica Valenti tweeted, ”I understand it ‘raises awareness’ but at the cost of woman’s life/privacy/humanity is not worth it.” Blogger Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, in a piece titled “The Onion Can Go To Hell,” wrote (emphasis hers):
I just don’t find jokes about beating a black woman to death funny. I don’t find jokes about beating anyone to death funny, particularly people from marginalized populations who leave them disproportionately likely to be victimized by violence (and less likely to find justice). I especially don’t find funny jokes about a real man and a real woman, the former of whom has actually violently abused the latter.
Wha-what?! Do they really think people are sitting around chuckling at the idea of a black woman being murdered or not taking the scary-ass stats about intimate partner violence, especially against marginalized communities, seriously? The joke isn’t funny because it’s about beating someone to death, beating a woman of color to death, or beating a woman of color to death who has a lifelong history of exposure to abusive relationships. The joke is funny because it rightly depicts Chris Brown as a violent, homophobic abuser who deserves to be remembered as a man who beat a woman and got-off virtually scot-free by a culture who’d rather see him perform at the Grammys. The more opportunities to point out that Chris Brown is a piece of shit, the better. To me, that’s what this Onion piece was doing.
Some of this reaction toward the piece is holdover from the racist, sexist and disgusting tweet The Onion lobbed at nine-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis, calling her a “cunt” the night of the Academy Awards. I reached out to Andi Zeisler of Bitch magazine – who disagreed with me when I posted about it on Facebook — for her take and she mentioned that as well:
The continued “joke” of Rihanna and Chris Brown’s relationship just rubs me the wrong way — like I said on FB, there are so many ways to make the point that Brown is an abuser and a douchebag without implicating Rihanna in a graphic death scenario. (The level of detail in that article, while typical of Onion reporting, just seems way too gleefully described.) And since the Onion hasn’t adequately addressed the racism of their Oscars-night tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis, this comes off as insult to injury.
To be clear: we don’t and didn’t defend the Quvanzhané incident. That “joke” was pointless, lazy, mean-spirtedness that served no higher purpose at the expense of a little black girl. I’m not convinced this Onion article about Rihanna and Chris Brown should be seen as further mean-spiritedness towards women of color, or abuse survivors, or abuse survivors of color. Why? To me, the fact that the joke was about Rihanna was incidental because it could easily have been made at the expensive of a white abuser like Mel Gibson and his ex Oksana Grigorieva (had they had the same on-again-off-again as RiRi and Chris). This joke is meta-commentary about abusers. This joke does serve a higher purpose.
As for the humor itself, it’s not supposed to be a knee-slapper kind of joke. It’s supposed to be shocking, because, well, the fact that Chris Brown beat the living shit out of Rihanna and slithers around the airwaves today while everyone makes apologies for him and his violence should be shocking. The fact that many victims of domestic violence will be killed by their abusers is and should be shocking. It’s fucked up! The Onion’s approach is certainly not everyone’s type of humor (including mine), but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t spot-on in the particular ways it made us uncomfortable. Humor can be a powerful way to make people think.
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