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The Onion on Chris Beating Rihanna: Offensive or Funny?

Chris Brown and Rihanna (The Onion)
Chris Brown and Rihanna (The Onion)

Here's an excerpt from a story The Onion published with the headline "Heartbroken Chris Brown Always Thought Rihanna Was Woman He'd Beat to Death."

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.


Some people were none too thrilled (and we're not just talking about Team Breezy — these were actual adults who care about domestic violence, sexism and racism) with this joke and its "punchline" about Brown's attitude toward women.

Slate's Hanna Rosin says that reaction is ridiculous:

Is there anyone who can read this item and not think that the writer is disgusted by domestic abuse, and more specifically disgusted by Chris Brown's casual attitude toward domestic abuse? Apparently so, as seen in the outraged responses compiled by BuzzFeed. Feministing founder Jessica Valenti tweeted that "using Rihanna's imagined death as fodder is awful." Others said the article was "horrifying" and that "violence against women isn't funny." A Tumblr user also called out for a "trigger warning," so they wouldn't have to risk reading about domestic violence. This then expanded to a general discussion of whether the Onion was sexist and racist.

Would the reaction have been the same if the joke were about a conservative Republican congressman assaulting a young boy? Definitely not. Jokes are only "offensive" if they offend our particular political sensibilities. As my colleague Will Saletan points out: "It's liberal prudery. You can soak a crucifix in urine because there's a larger point to be made, but you can't mix humor with domestic violence even when the point is blindingly obvious." The anti-Onion reactions basically amount to: hide it, don't mention it, keep it away from our delicate sensibilities. That's the opposite of what comedy is designed to do. In fact, this item brings more attention to domestic violence that 100 earnest blog posts on the same subject ever could.


After The Onion's "c—t" comment about a little girl, we're definitely not the ones to rush to give the satirical publication the benefit of the doubt. But mocking a grown man for some terrible things he's done (and that's how we read the piece) isn't really in the same category, right? What's your take? Let us know in the comments section.

Read more at Slate.

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