by Caitlin Donovan – Staff Writer – [email protected]
Seth MacFarlane should have kept nine-year-old actress Quvenzhane Wallace out of his jokes and insults as he hosted the Oscars.
He claimed no one was safe from his humor, but it seemed women and minorities were whom he felt safest insulting.
“I immediately felt like I didn’t like this guy,” said Sarah Brown, a 32- year-old UNC Asheville student of women, gender and sexuality studies seminar. “He did that entire skit with William Shatner saying he would fix his performance, but he didn’t fix it. He acknowledged the terrible nature of the jokes he was telling but he didn’t do anything about it.”
MacFarlane’s comedy includes an entire musical number dedicated to moments where various actresses were topless on film. The number mainly consisted of MacFarlane pointing out these actresses and singing, “We saw your boobs,” coupled with re-recorded reaction shots of the actresses looking mortified, or in Jennifer Lawrence’s case, happy she had escaped being shamed by MacFarlane.
The song gets slightly more uncomfortable if the audience realizes four of the scenes MacFarlane referenced in his song were rape scenes. The nudity occurred because the actress in question was playing a person being sexually assaulted based on true stories. In the case of Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry, she played a transgender man named Brandon Teena who was raped and murdered. Teena was a real person who fell victim to sexual violence. Boys Don’t Cry is based on his story.
The fact MacFarlane felt it was appropriate to use this depiction of a real life tragedy as an opportunity to mock Hilary Swank for daring to show her breast on film is quite galling; especially considering the person Swank played had his breasts and body scrutinized and exploited for the amusement in the most disgusting and horrific way possible.
MacFarlane’s tastelessness did not end there. He also turned the abuse Rihanna suffered at the hands of Chris Brown into a cheap joke. The joke was especially uncomfortable because he compared the relationship of two people of color to Django Unchained, a movie about slavery.
“There was also this racist joke he made about how nobody could understand anything Javier Bardem, Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz said, but that was OK because they were so good-looking,” Brown said. “How in the world does that sort of stuff air in 2013? How did Salma Hayek manage to read her lines after hearing that?”
MacFarlane also made a joke where he congratulated women for faking the flu and losing weight for the Oscars, essentially applauding women for having eating disorders. He made jokes accusing the Kardashians of having facial hair and accusing Jennifer Aniston of being a prostitute. He used Jessica Chastain’s character’s dedication to finding Osama bin Laden in the movie Zero Dark Thirty as an example of how women never let anything go.
“I remember when he was discussing the Zero Dark Thirty movie and how the woman in it worked for 12 years to find Osama Bin Laden,” Brown said. “I hadn’t seen the movie, so just hearing that a female character was so dedicated really uplifted me. I thought it was awesome that she did that and then he undermined it with his stupid joke.”
It is easy to claim MacFarlane’s jokes were just jokes and people who take offense at them should lighten up. But it will be a little easier to take these sorts of jokes lightly when the reality behind them is not so ugly and unchallenged. It is not simply MacFarlane who perpetuates sexism and racism. The very ceremony he hosted is rife with it.
Only nine women won awards in this year’s ceremony, compared to 30 male winners. The Academy voters who decide the awards are 94 percent white and 77 percent male, according to a study by the Los Angeles Times this year, which may partly explain why Wallace is only the tenth black actress ever to be nominated for best actress.
In this atmosphere, it seems if MacFarlane really wanted to be “edgy,” he might have wanted to try his hand at humor that was subversive and a challenge to the status quo.
Women and minorities are safe and easy targets for any comedian. What would have been really unsafe humor would be if MacFarlane challenged the Academy voters and bigwigs. But then, the higher-ups who had to approve his performance might not like being targeted.
“The worst thing about all this is that I’m sure MacFarlane had to submit his act to several people and get it approved. I don’t know how it was allowed, but all these people thought it was OK,” Brown said.
The people reviewing MacFarlane’s act were not the target. It was safer for MacFarlane to aim his humor at those he considers below him than at those who had power.
It is a shame because humor at the expense of those in power would make for a much more original and entertaining act, but instead the audience to this year’s Oscars had to settle for the same tired and sophomoric humor.
Next year, the person the Academy chooses to host the Oscars ought to take Shatner’s advice seriously and simply let Tina Fey and Amy Poehler host everything.