Too far? Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar night

The Daily Shift’s Roisin Peddle takes a look at the most controversial Oscars’ host in years… 

Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane

You have to wonder why the Academy picked Seth MacFarlane to host Sunday’s Oscar awards. The cynic might suggest that it was a way of boosting ratings. The creator of Family Guy, Ted et al is bound to say something controversial. And he didn’t disappoint, with a slew of outraged articles condemning him as racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic. If it all was a ploy for bigger ratings, it worked. Neilsen data shows the audience for the Oscars was up 3% from 2012, with a boost in young male viewers.

However, like all award-ceremony hosts since the dawn of time, his main crime was not being funny enough. His opening monologue had its moments (the sock puppet renactment of Flight) but went on for far too long. But apart from Hugh Jackman’s musical montage in 2009, I can’t name a single opener that wasn’t overlong.

MacFarlane’s humour is juvenile, crude and shocking. When pulled off, which he did for several years in Family Guy before the joke wore out, it is extremely funny. When it fails, it falls flat and leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. It’s not for everyone; it’s humour of the internet generation, for whom nothing is sacred, for whom everything is reduced to memes and upvotes.

So what exactly did Seth MacFarlane do to shock and offend Hollywood? Possibly the first joke that brought nervous laughter went as follows; “[Django Unchained is] the the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who has been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.”

Hysterical tweets followed saying MacFarlane thought violence against women was both funny and justifiable. Hmmm. As a woman who considers herself a feminist, my sympathy for Rihanna has grown to almost none.

Look, everyone knows that abusive relationships are hard to leave. However, for ordinary women (and men) in such situations, the demoralisation associated with physical and emotional abuse is often compounded by other bonds, such as financial dependence, property ties and children. Rihanna doesn’t have any such issues; she is a billionaire and has all the freedom that that brings. If she wanted, the best psychotherapists and counsellors in the world are at her disposal. Yet, public sympathy goes to this foolish, privileged woman for using her free will, while ignoring thousands of women in trapped in worse situations. Criticism of her relationship with Brown seems to roll off her back; so why are we wasting time being offended on her behalf?

It is interesting that the Anti-Defamation League slammed down on MacFarlane’s Ted skit. The notion that Jews control Hollywood is antiquated nonsense, but it’s antiquated nonsense that certain people, such as Mel Gibson, seem to believe. I find it interesting that Mel Gibson has tentatively been welcomed back in the Hollywood fold, allowance having been made for his alcoholism, but has there been any change in his attitude to Jewish people? The controversial line “His blood on us and our children” still remains on the DVD of The Passion of the Christ, although it is not subtitled in English.

The one area where criticism of MacFarlane was wholly justified was in his treatment of nine-year-old actress Quvenzhané Wallis. The crude joke about her eligibility for a relationship with George Clooney was unfunny, and well, crude. The Onion also got into hot water for its using of the “c” word in reference to Quvenzhané, which was far worse than what MacFarlane said.

Again, remember, 30 years ago, a girl slightly older- 13 or 14 maybe- than Quvenzhané would have been considered ‘jailbait’ by elder figures in the entertainment industry. Wrong as it may have been- and it is unequivocally wrong- we only need to scoot across the Atlantic to see how prevalent this attitude was in the 1950s and beyond. DJ Jimmy Savile was a predator and a paedophile, but he was not alone, and his crimes were looked on by senior figures in the entertainment industry as a mere quirk of character. It is believed that Savile abused his last victim in 2008. In Hollywood, there have been cases of management and agents abusing young stars; most notably Martin Weiss, who received a jail sentence for molesting a child. And MacFarlane did not accuse George Clooney of anything of that nature, even in jest.

In an article in the New Yorker, Amy Davidson accused MacFarlane of reducing the actresses in Hollywood to boobs, and then adding the decision to have a gay male choir backing MacFarlane was degrading to all concerned.

“[I]t’s hard not to wonder what the rhetorical point was meant to be. We saw your boobs, but that’s not even what we find attractive, so you exerted no power in doing so—all you did was humiliate yourself?” Davidson wondered.

Does it matter that these women participated willingly in the skit (the offended reactions were pre-recorded)?

Davidson does have a point. ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ was ridiculously stupid, but  would MacFarlane have recorded ‘We Saw Your Penis’ ? Anyone who’s seen his work knows that anything’s possible. Yet MacFarlane is not alone in his male gaze of Hollywood. Actresses are largely judged on appearance; the female form is a staple of the silver screen. Witness the taboo on male frontal nudity; why else was Michael Fassbender’s role in Shame such a big deal? Yet, Kate Winslet is largely known for getting her kit off, and roles for older women, apart from Meryl Streep, are still thin on the ground. There is still the sexist double standard in Hollywood.

I suppose the question to ask is this. Does MacFarlane believe the things he is saying? Is he a misogynist? Does he really think the Jews control Hollywood? Or does he say these things to get a reaction, to make people feel uncomfortable about their own prejudices? It’s a question that can be asked of many others, from Frankie Boyle to Ricky Gervais.

I don’t know if Seth MacFarlane genuinely has a problem with Jews, women or gay people. If he does, he’s not alone. It is hypocritical for Hollywood to shrink away from its mirror image when presented to it. The most frustrating aspect of the willingness of commentators to be offended by shock merchants is that there are far worse things than lame jokes, and they are going ignored. Women, don’t get angry about puerile songs such as ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ or Rihanna jokes, get angry at unequal pay, sexual assault, the situation of women in the developing world. If someone offends you, turn off the television.

*Lead image via Wikimedia Commons

The Daily Shift’s Roisin Peddle takes a look at the most controversial Oscars’ host in years… 

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