Feminism direct from Las Vegas!
So, The Oscars happened. And despite host Seth MacFarlane’s attempts to steer the whole ship off a cliff, there were some good moments. But we’ll circle back around to those. First let’s just get right to this MacFarlane business.
Admittedly, I did not have high hopes for MacFarlane as a host. His comedy chops, such as they are, have been cut from behind-the-screen as a writer/animator and voice-over actor, not as someone who comes from the tradition of stand-up — like so many legendary Oscar hosts — or, you know, actually appearing in the flesh in a movie. (You can talk all you want about the success of Ted, but you can’t deny that MacFarlane only “appears” as a voice.) But that aside, I can’t stand MacFarlane’s brand of sexist, homophobic (especially trans-phobic), racist, and blatant rape-culture “humor” exemplified by his work on The Family Guy, et al. I stopped watching when, early on, there was a joke about molestation. Full stop. I can’t even stand to hear the voices of the characters, the show irritates me that much.
But, call me old-fashioned, I love watching the Oscars. Indeed, I love movies. In my pre-parenthood days, I would see all of the nominees for writing (adapted and original screenplays) and best picture. It’s a little harder now that I have to wrangle a babysitter into the mix. This year I managed to see only one of those films before the Oscars, Django Unchained. But even without seeing the films (yet), I can’t help myself but to love the spectacle and wait for the unexpected of live television.
The choice of a less-than-desirable host was not going to keep me from watching, but there certainly were parts of the telecast that I wish I could erase from my memory. Even with the bar set low, I couldn’t believe how unimpressive MacFarlane was… and I’m not even getting to the parts that pissed me off, yet. As much as I love Star Trek (and I do), what the hell was Captain Kirk doing there? And why did that bit go on so long? And then there were the ridiculous, Family Guy-style asides that were just not funny. I saw that Von Trapp Family bit coming a mile away! Indeed, the only time I actually chuckled at MacFarlane was when he did the oldest gag in the book, “This next presenter needs no introduction…” and he walked off stage. Thank God he’s gone!
And then there were all the really problematic parts of MacFarlane’s act from “We Saw Your Boobs” to the William Shatner/MacFarlane exchange in which Shatner says MacFarlane will go gay in the future. Cue: MacFarlane looking “hilariously” uncomfortable. Because discovering/admitting that you are gay (or bisexual or trans…) is so gross and makes “real” men queasy. Gee, I’ve never seen that bit before. (And no, Seth, being backed by the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Choir does not absolve thee of making homophobic jokes.) And speaking of the boobie song, thanks to my friend Stacey I now realize that four of the women mentioned in the song were playing characters who were raped. Hello Rape Culture! But I suppose singing a song about seeing Oscar-nominated pecks (ala Hugh Jackman, et al) would be too “gay” for MacFarlane. But if that’s not enough, here are nine more sexist things that happened, including that joke about domestic violence (Rihanna and Chris Brown), the squirm-inducing jab at Quvenzhane Wallis, and mocking Selma Hayek’s accent while simultaneously giving the audience permission to make her the object of the male gaze (because that’s her only value). Meanwhile, I would urge MacFarlane to never joke about all black people looking alike ever again (ala mixing up Eddie Murphy and Denzel Washington).
Ultimately, the biggest problem I had with Seth MacFarlane at The Oscars was that his whole schtick was unbelievably predictable and boring. It was lazy! In fact, I found the Jaws theme playing off speeches to be funnier than many of MacFarlane’s bits. In the end, I tend to agree with Spencer Kornhaber in this Atlantic piece:
The fight over what’s OK and what’s not OK in comedy is deeply worn out, but it’s a fight MacFarlane asked us again to have… It shouldn’t be hard to come up with a sensible position on this. Everything, including punchlines about the Jews cutting non-Jews out of Hollywood, snickers about women faking the flu to lose weight, and cracks that there’s no need to try to understand what Salma Hayek’s saying because she’s so hot, is “OK.” It’s a free country, etc. But that doesn’t mean those jokes aren’t hurtful, obvious, or dumb. It doesn’t mean they don’t make the world a worse place. Humor, after all, can be an incredible weapon for social progress, but it can also be regressive: The more we pass off old stereotypes, rooted in hate, as normal—as MacFarlane did again and again last night—the longer those stereotypes, and their ability to harm people, will be in place.
And for those who say that comedy can’t be edgy while also skewering out-dated, homophobic, racist, and sexist ideas, I direct you to look at the work of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho… Too female for you? How about George Carlin, John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, and after some conversations that he himself dubbed enlightening, Louis C.K.? These are top-shelf, award-winning comedians. Many of them legends (or destined for legendary status.) And they are funny as hell. As this piece by Jennifer L. Pozner so rightly points out, it’s not that feminists don’t like comedy or that there can’t be a funny joke that talks about something like rape… it’s about how you frame the joke. For instance, are you making fun of rape victims? Or, are you making fun of a society that perpetuates the status quo of hyper-vigilance for women, who live in a never-ending state of the threat of rape? There’s a difference. And frankly, the same goes for racist jokes and jokes about LGBT people and quips about domestic violence… to name a few areas that Seth MacFarlane went the lazy route.
But I digress…
There were some really nice moments at last night’s Oscars. God love Quvenzhane Wallis and her adorable enthusiasm! I enjoyed the Bond tribute and the musical numbers. (How happy was Catherine Zeta Jones that she didn’t have to follow Jennifer Hudson?) I even liked the dance sequence with Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum. How much did we love Jennifer Lawrence’s breathless (and clearly surprised) acceptance speech? I am thrilled that Tarantino won for writing Django Unchained as well as Christoph Waltz’s recognition. And as a writer, I can’t help but be happy that Ben Affleck and company won best picture and writing awards for Argo. PS: How cool is it to hear the First Lady announce you won an oscar?
I hardly expect Seth MacFarlane to change his stripes or learn from his mistakes. (They can’t all be Louis C.K.) I just hope that next time around we can get a host that is smart and funny and doesn’t takes the lazy way to hackville.