Hey, The Onion, Dating Violence Is a Terrible Punchline

Cristen Conger

The Onion's dating violence joke was a Valentine's fail. © Tetra Images/Corbis
The Onion's dating violence joke was a Valentine's fail. © Tetra Images/Corbis

The Onion, fake news site extraordinaire and one of my favorite places on the entire Interwebs, celebrated Valentine's Day with some hilarious headlines like, "Girlfriend Just Wants to Have Low-Key, Laid-Back Valentine's Day Fight This Year" (don't we all?!) and "Mother Considers Son 'Quite the Little Casanova'" (don't we all?! wait.). It even offered readers tips for spicing up this most special of non-holidays, such as "Greet him at the door wearing nothing but his dead wife's clothes."

But it was hard to get a kick out of that comedy gold after watching its lead Valentine's Day video, "Devoted Abuser Stops By Girlfriend's Office To Deliver Surprise Threat." The headline initially raised an eyebrow because of its blatant dating violence and stalking implications, but I figured that The Onion would do something more clever than turning a very real -- and often underrecognized -- problem into a punchline. Oh, but it did:

"I figured I would stop by unannounced during my lunch break with a few promises of physical violence, just to let Mallory know how much I've been thinking about hurting her," said Strachan, adding that his girlfriend was completely surprised by his open display of antagonism at her desk in the middle of her workday. "Her face went completely red as soon as she saw me, so you could tell she totally didn't see it coming. And before I left I whispered a little something hostile in her ear just to make her feel really unsafe for the rest of the day." Strachan also confirmed that he was planning some "very special" abuse for his girlfriend when she returned home that evening.

I get it, Onion. This guy is hilariously creepy, treating his sweetheart the exact opposite of how a gent should on Valentine's Day right? OK. But still, not funny. That article about "Teenage Girl Blossoming Into Beautiful Object" that refers to a 17-year-old girl as a "lovely vessel for displaces sexual frustration and voyeuristic lust?" Great satire regarding the persistent objectification of women in our culture. By using such strong language, it points out the absurdity of women being perceived as sex toys. Laughing at a guy who's physically, verbally and emotionally abusive to his girlfriend isn't clever or thought-provoking; it's desensitizing.

It's fine for comedy to make us uncomfortable and violated out sensitivities. And when it does, solid comedy mocks the institutional roots of the bad stuff (like female objectification) that it's calling out. A brief monologue from his abuser about his plans to abuse fails to do any of that, and I'm surprised the talented Onion crew went with it anyway. Oh, and since I'm being such a wet blanket about all this he-haw, here's a sobering reason why dating violence isn't some outlier behavior that makes it fair game to laugh at: it happens -- a lot -- to women and men alike.

From the CDC:

More than one-third of lesbians (36.3%), over half of bisexual women (55.1%), and more than one-quarter of heterosexual women (29.8%) have been slapped, pushed, or shoved by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. Approximately one-quarter of all men, regardless of sexual orientation reported being slapped, pushed, or shoved by an intimate partner at some point during their lifetime (24.0% gay men, 27.0% bisexual men, and 26.3% heterosexual men).

So think twice before you laugh at a joke, people, because someone might throw some CDC stats back in your face. Just kidding. Think twice before you make a stupid joke that deserves a statistical smackdown like this one.