The Onion Makes Weird Domestic Violence Joke About Justin Timberlake & Jessica Biel

Fake news site The Onion posted a weird story today about Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel about JT threatening his wife that no one would ever believe her if she told anyone what he really does to her because he’s so famous and beloved.

Here’s just a snippet of the tone:

Explaining the exact nature of the situation to his wife, pop superstar Justin Timberlake reportedly told Jessica Biel on Wednesday that even if she were to make the mistake of telling somebody what happened, not a goddamn soul would believe her. “You’re nuts if you think anyone’s going to take your word over mine,” said Timberlake, who according to sources invited Biel to think for a minute about how ridiculous it would sound—her, the former7th Heaven star, going up against him, an international sensation and the reigning king of pop.

It could be a commentary about Chris Brown’s popularity despite his violent arrest record, pegged to his recent arrest for assault, maybe?  But, still, that’s kind of a stretch. Really, the whole thing is weird.

The Onion’s approach to making humorous political commentary about violence against women has always been very arch, whether it was the joke about Brown being sad he’ll never be able to beat Rihanna to death, or a joke about a stepfather’s incestuous relationship with a 13-year-old girl.  (And, of course, there are the other times that The Onion has completely misfired, like when the person manning their Twitter called Black child actress Quvenzhané Wallis a “cunt” during the Oscars last year.) Lately, “very arch” is way too cozy with “tasteless.”  The site is suffering from a serious case of That Uncomfortable (White Male) 23-Year-Old Standup Comedian At An Open Mic Trying To Be Provocative By Being Over-The-Top Offensive Who Makes Everyone Cringe.

I think the point of this story is about hero worship and how quickly people forgive celebs and local sports heroes for violent crimes. Point taken, but it’s not very “ha ha funny” to me, seeing as Justin Timberlake doesn’t have a violent history, or even an arrest history that I know of.  I guess that’s supposed to make it more funny than if it were about Charlie Sheen, or Brown, or some other male celeb who actually has behaved violently towards women? I don’t think that’s arch enough for the joke to work; it’s more “cringe” than “cringe-inducingly funny.”

Instead, The Onion just seems to be handing people reasons to say they think domestic violence is a joke. While I don’t believe that’s ultimately the case, I think they’re out of their depth.  Don’t make a complex joke about a sensitive subject if you can’t execute it well.

 Email me at [email protected] Follow me on Twitter.