The Onion that made me cry

There’s a lot more important stuff to be steamed about, but I am still disappointed with The Onion. A couple of weeks ago they stumbled across some imaginary PC line by tweeting something unfunny and rude about Quvenzhané Wallis, thus activating another cycle on the mass media outrage machine. Followed by a public apology, as is prescribed in such cases.

The satirical intent of the The Onion ought to be clear to us all by now, and I’m pretty sure that the tweet about young Miss Wallis was not an actual editorial position. I don’t feel that makes the joke any less repugnant, but I don’t understand why this particular stinker warranted an apology. Was it the use of the now-fashionably intolerable C-word? The Onion‘s articles are thoroughly peppered with naughty language. What about making a child or, worse yet, a black girl child the subject of fun? Also a regular feature on The Onion: there have been jokes about the president’s daughters that didn’t get the same reaction. Just a general lack of taste? Maybe, but nobody reads The Onion for its good taste.

In fact quite the opposite. If, for example, you don’t think a deranged despot lording over malnourished children is funny, then you might not think there is anything funny about North Korea. But the regime’s delusional self-righteousness in the face of its obvious incompetence and cruelty is pretty absurd and worthy of ridicule. To a (much) lesser extent our fawning over a child actress improbably nominated for an Academy Award is just as self-serving. When she turns sixteen or thereabout, if anyone still cares, the entertainment media and its consumers will be in her business about being too skinny, or too fat, or too sexy for her age, or just generally acting like a teenager. We will chew her up and spit her out at our leisure. This grace period we feel entitled to give her is no less capricious than the occasional generosity the Kims might show toward one of their wretched citizens.

The implications of The Onion‘s apology are that they will have to show contrition for every failure to self-censor, every time we don’t quite get the joke, and every time we wrongly expect something high-minded from a website that posts headlines like “God Worried He Fucked Up His Children.” For every hit-the-nail-right-on-the-head article they write plenty of bombs. We’ll have to accept the bad with the good, or there won’t be any good.

Author’s note: As usual this is not a very timely post but it takes me a while to ruminate over the meanings of such things. Actually, I wonder if the contemporary media might benefit from a little deliberate reflection instead of being an outlet for reaction.

The graveyard of democracy

Our last sight to see in New York was the National September 11 Memorial, a short walk from our hotel. Once I was there I felt l had already seen all I needed from our 24th floor hotel room window.

If there is a real monument to the terrorist attacks it is at the security control. Our tickets were looked at, scanned, and marked at three separate checkpoints. We had to empty our pockets and take off our belts (shoes could stay on). Officious volunteers ordered us to “move up, use every available space” even though there were 100 yards or more of emptiness through the rope maze behind us. At one juncture in this march, instead of  following the person in front of us to the left we had to turn right into an empty space and buttonhook around to the left. I have no idea why. In other words: the usual ritual humiliation we’ve come to expect when traveling or visiting other landmarks or other exercises in liberty. I wonder if this was lost on the memorial’s boosters.

The memorial comprises a plaza, an unfinished museum, and two giant square drains in the footprints of the old twin towers. Names of the dead victims are engraved into the parapets. The bottoms of the drains are not visible from ground level. I understood the intent of the giant drains: placid sheets of water falling off dramatically into a deep void evoked sudden calamity and great loss. But memorializing the footprints of the two great towers as if they are sacred ground annoyed me. Look up from the memorial into any building now casting shadow onto it: soon it will be filled with people selling hedge funds or credit default swaps or performing other morally ambiguous duties. Around the footprints of the towers, where some may have leaped to their deaths or were otherwise snuffed out by the buildings’ collapse, is now just a pavement plaza trampled by us gawkers.

Trying to turn a financial center into hallowed space is simply a tasteless idea. Unlike a preserved battlefield we can learn nothing about the terrorist attacks by the present condition of the land, expect perhaps that we were so cowed by them that the memorial now lays beyond a phalanx of magnetometers and x-ray machines. The addition of the victims names to the memorial did nothing to humanize the place. The approach, which may have been novel and effective at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, totally fails to connect me with the dead. In the temporary museum nearby, a dusty wallet recovered from the wreckage and displayed in a lucite cube did much more for me emotionally.

The disconnect I felt came from the proximity in time of the memorial’s design and construction to the event itself. Most Civil War monuments, for example, were erected a generation or two later to rally citizens around other national challenges and to remind new generations of the old hardships as those who knew them first-hand died off. Most Americans saw the attacks on television, live and then in repeats for months and years afterwards. We think about September 11. 2001 every time a soldier gets killed in Afghanistan or Iraq, or every time we partially disrobe before flying off to spend Thanksgiving with our families. So are we collectively needy of a memorial? Who does it serve? Isn’t it an expensive guilt trip foisted on us by a small group of extroverted mourners? Can’t I feel the national injury without also sharing in another family’s loss?

The memorial’s excess of sentimentality and its vacuum of meaning made me emotional for the wrong reasons and angry at the wrong people. Visiting the place felt like having our national dignity sucked into a pit of despair. I can’t believe this colossal public grief project has held us up for ten years from putting the World Trade Center back together. Getting the place back to normal quickly would have been the real monument to liberty and democracy.

Mirror, Mirror

Avert your eyes if you don’t like spoilers!

If the trailers made “Mirror, Mirror” look like a comedy, it’s because they had the funniest parts. Maybe I should have known better. That guy who imagined up “The Cell” directed “Mirror, Mirror”, meaning it manages to be bright and colorful and creepy all at the same time.

It’s a fun movie, but not a very good one. I think it was the seven dwarves that turned me off. There was a faint reek of political correctness about them. They aren’t indentured miners or whatever they were supposed to be in the Disney film. They’re ruggedly and independently employed as a merry band of bandits. The actors playing them had many unnecessary lines—as if there was contractual obligation to be equitable—that killed the momentum of their scenes. In this case, adding depth to the characters didn’t contribute to the story. A film that wants to avoid the appearance of being exploitative should probably not involve dwarves at all.

Julia Roberts was a hoot, the best part of the movie, better than even the costumes. Actors must find it liberating to play villains. It always makes their performances more enjoyable. Or maybe it’s us and we just like a good baddy. Oddly, I didn’t find her wicked queen to be a fading beauty because Julia Roberts is just as pretty as ever. But I suppose a hypothetical society that fetishizes baby-smooth white skin would indeed find Snow White “fairest of them all.”

Turkey empanadas

Empanada is Spanish for “little bundle of deliciousness”. With a pound of leftover turkey meat and some slightly stale crusts of a leading Argentinian brand found in a Hispanic grocery, Lore whipped up an impressive batch of turkey empanadas. From now on I want to take all my meals in empanada form.

Three empanadasa on a plate next to a mug and bowl.
Three empanadasa on a plate next to a mug and bowl.

The packages of empanada crusts we bought featured a blackface cartoon character in the logo. Lore explained that some of Argentina’s cuisine originated with black domestic slaves, who are often portrayed this way. Argentinians don’t think of it as offensive, but it was very shocking to a progressive white American like me.


I drove up to Marquette with some coworkers for mandatory equal employment opportunity (EEO) training. A lady from our regional office explained a about our rights and how to lodge a complaint.

In the course of discussing how to be sensitive to others’ perception, she brought up the infamous New York Post cartoon of cops shooting a chimpanzee. She also dredged up the matter of self-censorship, such as being nice to Indians by never saying “chief”.

Discrimination ought to be confronted and fought against, but the emphasis on political correctness and celebrating group identity as a solution is Baby Boomer baggage which we need to discard. Are we entering the much-heralded new era of race relations or not? If you already don’t associate blacks with lower primates, then why should you train yourself to do so just to avoid potential offense?