Steve Paul

August 19, 2014

The Onion swipes at KC culture, we take offense

Some friends suggest The Onion went beyond the pale of humor in a recent post that took direct aim at the citizens of our fair city and the art museum that bears the name of this newspaper’s founder. I don’t disagree.

Now, I like The Onion as much as the next person. I mean, adolescent humor mixed with pinpoint zeitgeist satire goes a long way to propping us up when things seem deep in the pits.

But some friends suggest The Onion went beyond the pale of humor in a recent post that took direct aim at the citizens of our fair city and the art museum that bears the name of this newspaper’s founder. I don’t disagree.

The shtick involved an acquisition by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art — this was fiction, not based on news — of a Picasso sketch the Onion writer deemed lousy, though he or she used a different, NSFW word.

“It was “just [lousy] enough to be showcased in Kansas City.” The Onion quoted an invented curator, who raved about the piece, and then added another swipe: “Art experts agreed ... that the sketch would probably impress the people of Kansas City.”

Full disclosure: My partner and I are paying members of the Nelson-Atkins and she worked there long ago.

Friends who alerted me to this attack on Kansas City culture used words like “mean-spirited” and “nasty.” And I guess I will take it personally, given that my taste (as well as yours) was called into question by this ill-conceived “joke.” In most people’s experience, the museum is filled with extraordinary paintings and objects, the scope and beauty of which The Onion’s fledgling scribe would hardly ever understand.

Did The Onion not know that the Nelson-Atkins possesses one of the world’s greatest works by Caravaggio? Surely, the homework-challenged writer did not get the recent press release about Thomas Moran’s “Grand Canyon,” a glorious 19th-century Western landscape in the museum’s collection that has landed on a postal stamp (on sale Aug. 21). Or the one that detailed the recent honor that the French minister of culture bestowed on the museum’s CEO and director, Julián Zugazagoitia, now an officer of the Order of Arts and Letters.

And clearly, the clueless Onion had no idea that an extraordinary exhibit of Plains Indian art will open here a month from now.

One always takes a risk when challenging a jokester. But, c’mon people, couldn’t you have picked on some art-challenged place that deserves the grief? Podunk, Wyo., maybe. Or fill in the blank with the nowhere town of your choice.

OK, there, I’ve said it. It should be clear that we won’t stand for this act of dismissal and diminishment.

Now, carry on.

Steve Paul, editorial page editor: 816-234-4762, paul@kcstar.com; on Twitter: @sbpaul.

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