I love the Oscars. They are my Superbowl. Say what you want about Hollywood nepotism and self-indulgence, but sitting down to watch the Academy Awards has been an annual highlight ever since I was seven and pissed off that Shakespeare in Love beat Mulan for Best Original Score. In my naïve love for movies, the Academy Awards stand as a bastion of Old Hollywood glamour and class amidst the sea of modern Hollywood detritus. Sure the telecasts are long, cheesy and trivial, but, betting pools aside, I think they’re fun.
And then Seth MacFarlane hosted.
Before you jump down my throat (I’m sorry, should there be some kind of swallowing reference here?), I want to say that I actually don’t mind Mr. MacFarlane’s humor. Family Guy makes me laugh, I enjoyed his hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, and I was actually quite pleased when it was announced that he would be hosting this year’s Oscar ceremony. “How fresh,” I said, “I hope he does a sassy pop- culture song-and-dance routine.” Well… he did sing. And he did dance. And there were pop culture references.
Oh, and did I mention sexism?
Jokes can be politically incorrect. That’s fine. That’s great. It’s humor. It’s funny. – Except when it’s not. Except when those jokes are aired to an entire nation (of which, granted, only 40.3 million tuned in) and aren’t followed up with any sort of balancing force. Especially when those jokes don’t enlighten, but rather perpetuate established cycles. Not to mention when they’re jokes we’ve heard a thousand times before.
Fo examples, the “We Saw Your Boobs” Song. Okay. Boob joke. Great. Original. A minute and a half of pure objectification. (And of the performances mentioned, it’s worthwhile to note that several of those breasts were seen in rape scenes.) Or how about boiling the plot of Zero Dark Thirty down to exemplifying, “a woman’s innate ability to never let anything go.” Funny, but perhaps there were other aspects to the film and its female protagonist? Or joking about how most actresses at the ceremony capitalized on the “flu” to fit into their super-tight dresses. Yes, let’s applaud eating disorders and the unhealthy concepts of beauty promoted by the entertainment industry. I’m not even going to go into the Chris Brown-Rihanna joke (which, as my living room agreed, has become stale. But wait, since when do we treat domestic violence as passé?).
I think that what bothered me most about the openly sexist humor coming from Mr. MacFarlane (at least try and obscure the fact, would you?), was that so many people didn’t mind. “Yeah, but that’s his humor,” one of my guy friends explained when I protested a joke. That may be Mr. MacFarlane’s humor, and people may find it funny, but that doesn’t mean it should be all right. As Spencer Kornhaber noted in his own review of the ceremony for The Atlantic, “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.”
Of the thirty-nine winners last night, a whopping nine were women (up from five out of thirty-nine last year!). 77% of Academy voters are men. There wasn’t a female studio head until Sherry Lansing in 1980 and the disparity between male and female executives – to say nothing of creatives – remains enormous. And of course, the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director was only two years ago. You are right Mr. MacFarlane; with that Hollywood monopoly we should definitely do everything we can to discourage female participation in the entertainment industry.
It’s a shame that this year’s telecast was such a mess of poorly produced musical numbers (I’m looking at you disjointed Daniel Radcliffe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth MacFarlane dance routine) and distasteful jokes. It should be a celebration of another year of exceptional films – and this year was a particularly solid bunch in my opinion – not a platform for the furthering of antiquated sexist, racist and homophobic jokes. Oh, and did I mention that Brett Ratner was forced to resign as producer of last year’s Oscar telecast due to anti-gay slurs and explicit comments about Olivia Munn? I’m glad to see the Academy doesn’t put up with that kind of shit.
Seth MacFarlane’s already announced he won’t return next year. What a loss. But maybe we’ll see more of Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway, Adele, Brenda Chapman, Andrea Nix Fine, Karen Baker Landers, Lisa Westcott, Julie Dartnell, and Jacqueline Durran in the years to come. I certainly hope so.