Seth MacFarlane performed what is likely Hollywood’s most thankless job Sunday night — hosting the Oscars. Right on cue, his bad reviews came in. Buzzfeed, among many other publications such as Daily Beast, did a takedown of his “juvenile” material and his nine most sexist moments. Not being familiar with Mr. MacFarlane’s work, I have no stake whatsoever in defending or attacking him, but have a different take on at least some of the material he is being skewered for today.
First among the musical numbers that were lambasted was McFarlane singing “We Saw Your Boobs” to the most prominent and award-winning actresses in Hollywood, starting with Meryl Streep, who bared her breasts in Silkwood. No one was spared, not Oscar winners Charlize Theron or Anne Hathaway. Hit especially hard was Oscar Winner Kate Winslet, who he basically accused of baring her breasts in every movie she did. His vocals were augmented in this “upbeat” number via a rousing finale by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. The skit even featured cutaways to some of the women, including Charlize Theron, who did a disgusted face-palm in reaction to him.
The thing is, these reaction shots were pre-taped, as evidenced by the fact that Theron was wearing a different outfit in her reaction shot than she was wearing to the event that evening. These actresses were in on, thereby theoretically consenting to, the joke. But whether one finds the skit to be in poor taste (and I did), misses the larger point being made by the material. Meryl Streep, for example, is considered the goddess of acting. The rest of these women are among the crème de la crème of show business and yet, the take away of all their magnificent performances over the years was, “Hey, we saw your boobs!” McFarlane may be many things, but he is no dope. He knew exactly what he was doing.
By performing this déclassé sketch, wasn’t Mr. McFarlane shining a bright line on the prurient attitude that we regularly complain of in the entertainment industry – and in fact, by the media as a whole? That a woman’s achievement takes second place to her looks; that a voyeuristic bent seeks to demean women rather than celebrate their accomplishments and that some women, willingly or reluctantly, participate? A woman’s beautiful performance could be cheapened, even nullified, because somebody pirated a two-second snippet where the actress was nude and then blasted it all over the internet. All of this was made very clear by this sketch.
Was this undignified and irreverent? Sure. And that may not deserve applause, but it is hypocritical for media outlets to now act self-righteous and complain when his song directly followed ninety minutes of network coverage of all the female stars on the red carpet. Every part of their appearance from their dress and choice of designer, hair, make-up, weight, height and demeanor was scrutizined and will be rated for weeks to come, with the unlucky ones to be raked over the coals for a lot longer. Just ask Anne Hathaway about her “inconvenient nipple protrusion,” wherein her beautiful dress has been criticized far and wide because of the darts sewn into the bustline. Aren’t these fashion gurus grading, and degrading, these women, too?
Buzzfeed then complained that there was a “joke about domestic violence” – and here it is:
MacFarlane said of the film Django Unchained: “Django is a movie where a woman is subjected to violence, or as we call it, a Chris Brown and Rihanna date movie.”
I doubt MacFarlane’s comment was making light of domestic violence. On the contrary, it was a slap in the face to the entirety of Hollywood and the music industry.
Last week, I wrote the following:
Images of Rihanna nestled close to fiancé Chris Brown at the Grammys last week were disturbing, considering he had previously punched her in the face, bitten and beaten her, even tattooing what appeared to be an image of the same on his neck.
…[O]ur celebrity driven culture tends to make heroes of, or at the very least, excuse famous men with unsavory, even violent, behavior.
Two recent studies reveal that overtly sexual images of women influence not only the way men see women but worse still, the way women value – or devalue — themselves, as if their worth is connected only to their physical appearance and the pleasure they can offer. Is it any wonder that when Chris Brown got public grief for his treatment of Rihanna, girls were actually blogging about how “he could beat them up anytime.” That Rihanna, or any woman, would return for the possibility of more of the same treatment is something passing understanding.
So was Seth MacFarlane making a joke at Rihanna’s expense, or at Hollywood’s? Or society-at-large? Didn’t he tell the truth? Brown did beat Rihanna and yet she is still with him. He is still making music and has not been made a pariah in his industry. So is Seth MacFarlane championing Chris Brown or pointing a finger at how preposterous it is that this kind of behavior is tolerated, and that people look the other way…?
What of the comment that “the orgy was taking place at Jack Nicholson’s house after the telecast”? Does the name Roman Polanski ring a bell? This man sodomized a thirteen-year-old girl while at Jack Nicholson’s home, only to have Whoopi Goldberg defend Polanski’s actions years later by saying, this “was rape, but it was not rape rape.” What does that mean, Ms. Goldberg?
Another on Buzzfeed’s list of flops by MacFarlane…
“The Prospect of George Clooney Getting with Quvenzhané Wallis Was Discussed”
Quvenzhané Wallis is a best actress nominee who is nine years old. What MacFarlane said was: “to give you an idea of just how young she is, it will be sixteen years before she is too old for Mr. Clooney.”
This was horribly inappropriate and the young Miss Wallis should not have had to hear that – nor should the American people, who might have been watching this program with their children. But ultimately, despite how awful this comment was, is he not trashing George Clooney? Mr. Clooney is in his mid-fifties, and yet every year shows up with a new “model” – literally.
No matter how wrong MacFarlane’s joke, I found it amazing that another man would actually dare to point out that these aging guys shouldn’t enjoy a double standard, and be excused for being with women young enough to be their granddaughters. How many grotesque “cougar” jokes have we had to endure even if the woman in question is keeping company with a man only five or ten years her junior?
By the way, The Onion just had to issue a formal apology for someone on their staff tweeting about the nine year old Miss Wallis, referring to her as a ‘c*nt.’ Clearly, Mr. MacFarlane is not alone in thinking everyone is fair game.
MacFarlane’s crack that Jessica Chastain’s character in Zero Dark Thirty illustrated that “women can never let anything go” just pushed the same stale, stereotypical mantra, but since her character was responsible for the getting of Bin Laden, isn’t he turning the female stereotype on its ear? Buzzfeed also accused MacFarlane of intimating that Jennifer Aniston was a stripper – but actually he was talking about her co-presenter Channing Tatum, who just made an autobiographical movie, Magic Mike, dealing with his years as an exotic dancer, so that, at least, was a manufactured complaint.
MacFarlane did make a number of other sexist comments, including one about how no one could understand what presenter Salma Hayek was saying, but just want to look at her since she is so pretty. Perhaps I am giving MacFarlane more credit than he deserves, yet if anyone is going to pretend that Hollywood does not function as a sexist factory churning out and using women as eye candy, that, too, is missing the point.
Did he make comments that were objectifying, sexist and tasteless? Absolutely. Was it any different from the crap we hear from David Letterman, Bill Maher, Jay Leno or any of them day in and year out, or at some past telecasts? Absolutely not.
And while we’re at it, it is ridiculous for mainstream media publications across the board to take MacFarlane to task for the very same sexism they themselves employed on a daily basis to take down a politically inconvenient female target. The disgusting commentary of pundits, comedians and even some news anchors aimed at Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin are legion.
The problem brought into sharp relief by MacFarlane’s material does not exist in a vacuum at the Oscars, but is societal.
As an example, Mrs. Obama showed up via videoconference to present the Best Picture Oscar. At that moment, it occurred to me that Tiger Woods, who had confessed to being guilty of all kinds of debauchery with many women while he was married, just enjoyed a golf weekend with none other than Mrs. Obama’s husband. You know… the President of the United States.
Was she happy her husband was playing golf with this man? What kind of a message does that send to the American people and to our children? And do we think that if a woman behaved the way Tiger Woods did, so many would be busy working for her “rehabilitation” and re-inclusion at the highest echelons of society?
As an actor of thirty years, I have a deep respect for many in my profession. One could argue that this is not the proper night or venue to hold the industry up for ridicule and that they are entitled to celebrate their accomplishments in a dignified fashion. However, if there is an indignity happening, to some degree, they bring it on themselves and allow it with some of the incongruent and hypocritical behavior mentioned here. Those in charge knew MacFarlane was going to do “edgy” material, as he called it — and hired him anyway. So was a quest for higher ratings a substitute for good taste?
While Mr. MacFarlane did nothing to class up the proceedings, in fact, quite the opposite, he is not the problem. He just pointed a neon arrow at the ones that already exist. He also jabbed a very sharp finger in the eye of an industry that often sells women on the cheap and is patriarchal in nature, affording powerful men a special dispensation women in the same position would never enjoy.
Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin: Sexism and Sabotage, a Hillary Supporter’s Rude Awakening, now available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon.
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