On MacFarlane and the Oscars – Should I have been offended?
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was in a bind. The ratings for the Academy Awards telecast have been going down for years. Most people chalked that up to a show that reveled in an old-Hollywood environment that younger viewers had no desire to engage. They had tried to rectify this in the past by bringing in the youthful team of Anne Hathaway and James Franco two years ago. Unfortunately they forgot to stipulate in Mr. Franco’s contract that he had to actually care when he showed up, and that performance was a bomb. They over-corrected last year by bringing in Billy Crystal, whose face seems to have been worked over no less than 20 times by plastic surgeons, and whose act seems about as timely as a “Take my wife, please!” joke. The “youth block” yawned and changed the channel.
So the Academy decided to take a pretty dramatic turn for this years show by selecting Seth MacFarlane to host. Seth MacFarlane was pretty hot at that moment the decision was announced, having just finished making a half a billion dollars worldwide for ‘Ted’ (you read that right, over $500,000,000), as well as having just wrapped a very well-received hosting gig on ‘Saturday Night Live’. The real, key, though, is that because of his most famous product, ‘Family Guy’, MacFarlane would be a host that would directly tap the 18-34 demo that the Oscars just could not get their hands around.
That’s not to say that MacFarlane was a safe or easy choice by any means. His resume was ‘Family Guy’, ‘Ted’, and . . . well, that’s pretty much it. (I’m wrapping all of his Fox animated shows under the ‘Family Guy’ banner). His short resume is combined with the type of humor that is directly associated with ‘Family Guy’ and ‘Ted’, which is to say NOT Billy Crystal’s style of humor. ‘Family Guy’ is known for pushing the boundaries on all levels, and so there was quite a fear of just how far MacFarlane might go. This was combined with a large number of people who simply associated MacFarlane with the humor of his shows, and were going to bring in a lot of preconceived baggage about the host before the show even started.
Based on all of the reviews since then, I’d say that this is exactly what happened. USA Today said, “Awash in self-indulgence, neither he nor his 3-hour-and-35-minute show ever seemed to hit a comfortable, confident stride . . . .” On the other hand, the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Showing considerable poise, MacFarlane . . . opened with a series of jokes that were bona fide winners, landing on just the right tone: confident but not cocksure.” In the middle was The New York Times, much more critical of the overall pace and music selection of the show than Mr. MacFarlane, wrote, “Mr. MacFarlane didn’t ruin the show. But the show almost ruined the Oscars.”
So the responses turned out to be pretty much exactly what MacFarlane was already prepared for, and I as well. He was as polarizing in reviews as he was coming into the show to begin with, so no real shock. However, as I began reading real-time reviews last night, another theme started popping up, one that I was a little more taken aback by – this show was amazingly sexist?
The Sexisim/Racisim Blind Spot
The Atlantic was the first publication to really give a full-throated thrashing of the show, with an article published almost before the show was even over, titled, “The Banality of Seth MacFarlane’s Sexism and Racism at the Oscars.” This was followed fairly soon after by this Buzzfeed post: “9 Sexist Things That Happened at The Oscars.” I found both of these articles immediately confusing, because at no point during the show’s telecast was I struck by the thought that anything I had seen was sexist. I also didn’t find it particularly racist, though his use of race in “Django” and “Lincoln” related jokes, I could at least see where that allegation could come from. The sexism charge, though, had me truly confused.
For full disclosure, I am a white, 30-year-old male who was raised in a pretty Conservative (the big C mean’s I’m talking about politically) household. I grew up in a Conservative environment, and in all honesty, never really lived in any environment that could be considered mildly liberal until I moved to the Bay Area this past June. I say all of this to acknowledge that I would be the first to admit that there can be times when I have a “blind spot” to certain sexist/racist issues. It’s a “blind spot” much in the same way a car’s blind spot work. It’s not that I can never see it or even don’t want to, but sometimes I have to take a second look and really pay attention before I see where an offended party might be coming from with their allegation.
So it’s with that disclosure in mind that I decided to take a serious look at the allegations against the show and MacFarlane. I reviewed all nine of the item’s on Buzzfeeds list. After a serious, careful consideration, my conclusion? I still don’t see it. The “Boobs” song was purposefully sexist in a meta-way, and the actress reactions were all pre-taped, illustrating that they were more than game for the joke. The Quvenzhane Wallis/Clooney joke was a joke about Clooney liking to date young women. The Chris Brown joke doesn’t offend me because CHRIS BROWN IS AWFUL AND DOESN’T DESERVE TO BE LEFT ALONE ABOUT SAVAGELY BEATING RIHANNA. The Anniston/Tatum joke was only calling her a possible stripper in as much as it was reminding us all that Tatum was once a stripper. That joke would have worked as well if he’d had a male co-presenter instead of Anniston. The dieting joke was really no different than every other “ladies trying to fit in Oscar dresses” jokes that have been made for the last 84 years of the show. The Kardashians joke wasn’t about women, it was about the Kardashians. Is anyone really in a mood to come to their defense? The Nicholson joke allegation is simply about the fact that Nicholson is known to be a scoundrel. The Salma Hayek joke might have been sexist if the setup didn’t also include Javier Bardem, who I’m pretty sure is not a women.
So of the 9 jokes that Buzzfeed labeled as sexist, the only one I’d probably give a slight nod to is the Chastain/’Zero Dark Thirty’ joke, because, well, yeah, that was just a joke about women. With all of that said, though, again, I’m fully admitting that I can have a blind-spot on these issues. However, I’ve already begun asking some women who are colleagues and former classmates, and so far, I’m not finding many people defending the “sexist” allegations. I’d also note that two of the writers who wrote the more positive reviews that I linked to earlier were women. If you were offended by these jokes, though, please feel free to describe it below in the comments. I will not argue with you about it or try to talk you out of your perception of the show/jokes; I truly want to see and understand where other people who might have been offended are coming from regarding these jokes.
So with ALL of that said, what was my opinion of the show? As you may imagine, I really enjoyed it. Aside from the fact that MacFarlane is my new-school doppleganger (Donny Osmond my old-school one), I thought he brought to the table just the right mix of edginess combined with respect for old-school Hollywood. This shouldn’t be surprising, as this is a guy with a love for 50′s and 60′s era Hollywood (he put out an album of old standards in 2011, ‘Music Is Better Than Words’, that was nominated for 2 Grammys). He regularly holds large galas at his Hollywood home and brings in Big Band orchestras.
The style of joke delivery that USA Today and other described as “awkward” and “nervous” was anything but that; being somewhat bashful/playful with the delivery of a heart-spearing joke is his style. Hell, it’s really the comedic style of my entire generation. We like to give over-the-line jokes because we want to push the edge, but we want to signal that it’s a joke through our body language because we’re really not a mean or hateful generation (if anything, we’re one of the most open, loving, and respectful generations), and MacFarlane’s comedic style is the essence of that. Every interview he’s ever given has shown him to be a genuinely kind and likable person. Most people looked to the ‘Saturday Night Live’ gig as a preview of what to expect, but I thought the better indicators were his performances as host of the Comedy Central Roasts of David Hasselhoff, Donald Trump, and Charlie Sheen. What’s funny about those performances was that they made my wife, who HATES ‘Family Guy’, somewhat develop a crush on Mr. MacFarlane and the charming way he twists the verbal knife.
They won’t have him back I bet, but I appreciate the Academy giving him the stage last night, and I enjoyed what he did with it.
Thoughts at the Closing Bell:
- So while I have obviously defended MacFarlane, I will NOT be defending The Onion after their move last night regarding Quvenzhane Wallis. I mean . . . yikes. I’m a habitual line-stepper, and that’s a bridge too far even for me.
- All signs point to Sequestration happening, folks. Did you enjoy the recession in 2009? Because we might be saddling up for seconds.
- Spring Training has started! I listened to a Spring Training game on the radio yesterday, and my life already feels brighter and happier. BASEBALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL. (Awww, but ain’t that America!)
- So let me just acknowledge that, yes, it’s been 100 years since I last wrote a post. Actually, it’s been almost 3 months, which is one of my longest streaks since law school killed my blogging for awhile. I can’t say for sure what’s kept me from writing. I will say that some of the blame, though, lies with Twitter and Facebook. When I first started blogging after I graduated from college and moved 1000 miles away from home, blogging was my way to keep family and friends updated and connected. Now, though, I often find myself starting to write a post, only to think, “Huh, I kinda already talked about that on Twitter and Facebook.” I will say that I started and stopped gun-control posts at least three times, each time stopping and going, “Ughhh, I just don’t want to go here.”
That’s all for now, kids. One love to you all.