The Trouble with Seth

oscar stuff

I posted that on some social media places this morning, and have been thinking more about it.  MacFarlane, about whom you’ve surely heard a lot today (probably that he was cripplingly offensive or gut-bustingly hilarious, but his routine demanded polarized opinions, so you’re not going to hear anything in-between), delivered a ton of sexist and racist jokes that alienated women, sexualized a child, and reinforced reductive viewpoints on other cultures and identities.  Women took hits in every single one.  According to MacFarlane, Jews run Hollywood, being stupid is normal, and women are incessant nuisances – he likened Maya’s (Jessica Chastain in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty) mighty quest to apprehend Osama bin Laden to the idea that “women just can’t let anything go.”

He disparaged Latinos by saying that the Oscars reserve a segment for the appearance of either Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, or Javier Bardem in which “We have no idea what they’re saying, but it doesn’t matter because they’re hot.”  Then poor Salma Hayek had to come out and muscle through an ocean of teleprompted crap after being introduced in such an embarrassing way.  How is the implication that white Americans don’t understand accents or care about other people’s cultures supposed to be funny, especially during a ceremony that (despite its near-whitewash every year) celebrates (or at least gives the illusion of celebrating) artistic diversity?  Why is the appearance of an all-gay-men’s choir supposed to be funny in and of itself, and why is MacFarlane’s clearly homophobic “Oh, I’m not in the gay-men’s choir!” okay to deliver in front of a billion people?

It’s all just easy ableist humor, and it’s pretty gross.  We’re not okay with in-context male nudity (see 2011’s Shame) or accurate lingo in period pieces (see Django Unchained), but we’re okay with aggressively debasing women for three-and-a-half hours, with anti-Semitism, actual racism, and homophobia thrown in?  Would any of this “humor” have been okay if Billy Crystal (last year’s and many other years’ host) had been in the room?

I’m sure I’ll be asked, Don’t you get that it’s supposed to be funny?  Yes, thanks.  I have a Master’s degree; I can tell when something is supposed to be funny.  What you don’t “get,” however, is that it’s not funny.  Being purposely hurtful is not funny.  Making a jokey reference to rape is not funny.  30 men and only 9 women won awards at the Oscars this year.  Single digits.  Kathryn Bigelow did one of the best directing jobs of the decade, and was not permitted into the boy’s club that was the Best Director nominee pool.  Jessica Chastain has been seen worldwide, proudly discussing how strong women are becoming in film, and this broadcast seemed like an almost deliberate attempt to swat all of that away.  If Bigelow was even there, her face was never shown.  Guess whose faces were shown during MacFarlane’s mean-spirited, exploitative song-and-dance number?  No one.

I also see a bit of unintentional symbolism in the fact that Bill Shatner appeared in character as Captain Kirk, who jokingly opposed MacFarlane’s tastelessness.  Kirk, the only one who visibly had a problem with MacFarlane, is canonically dead.  Luckily, the backlash has been significant enough (on the parts of thinkers of every stripe) that maybe some eyes will open as a result of this.

I don’t have a punchline for this one.  I’m exhausted by the anti-feminism, the anti-equality, the all-around anti-progression in an age with so much progressive potential.  I went to the movies nearly 50 times last year.  I did not do it so that a tradition I love could be misrepresented this way.

Here’s a great piece by Sarah Seltzer on the night.