Op-ed: Seth MacFarlane Isn't The Problem
BY Victoria A. Brownworth
February 28 2013 6:30 AM ET
I always watch the Oscars. As a devotee of the movies, I like to guess the winners, see the awards given out, hear the acceptance speeches, see what kind of politics are in play.
I also like the women. I like to see what they are wearing, their hair, the jewelry, the whole girly thing. It’s a sensory experience for me, the Oscars.
When I watched on Sunday, I was eager to see how a new host would change it up. I admit, I have a fondness for Billy Crystal – he’s always funny, he does great opening bits. I've liked some other hosts — Ellen, Steve Martin, two of Whoopi’s four stints. I didn’t like Letterman. I wanted to like Hugh Jackman, but couldn’t, and truly hated James Franco and Anne Hathaway.
I like Seth MacFarlane as a comedian and as a political animal. I like that he’s very strong politically on the issues of domestic violence and marriage equality. That’s not the standard for straight white guys, so when one who is in the public eye as much as MacFarlane speaks out on those topics, I take notice. I thought choosing him to play host was an edgy one for the stodgy Academy, but his humor is definitely geared to the demographic the Academy has been desperate to reach: the under-40 set.
When the ratings came in, it was clear they’d made the right choice: Ratings were the highest in years and there was a 20% bump in the key demographic. Go Seth!
But another demographic was unhappy. Not just unhappy, but angry. A close friend sent me a blistering New Yorker column by Amy Davidson referring to MacFarlane’s “ugly, sexist, racist Oscars.”
Whoa! Did she see the same Oscars I did? Because the presentation I saw was a veritable paean to women. Women were showcased in a way I can’t recall men having been. What’s more, gay men were showcased too and it’s long been de rigeur in Hollywood to pretend there really aren’t queers in Tinsel Town. Admit it — seeing the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles on the Oscar stage was pretty fabulous.
MacFarlane did what good awards hosts do — he ripped the status quo a new one. He dissed Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism and when the audience had an “Oh no!” response, he said, “Oh, you're on his side?” Right back at ya!
The awards were slated as a tribute to music in the movies, which led to a series of song-and-dance routines to open, including a satirical parody sung by MacFarlane called, “I Saw Your Boobs.”
The song referenced what many Oscar-winning actresses are forced to do for the movies: show their breasts, regardless of the circumstances of their roles. Among the actresses mentioned were Jodie Foster in The Accused and Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry, two films in which the characters are brutally raped.
Even though the women shown during the song were in on the joke (their reaction shots were obviously pre-recorded) this song became the focal point of the day-after attacks on MacFarlane. Missing, we thought, the entire point of the song: that in Hollywood, women — even when playing victims of violent crime — are reduced to the sum of their body parts, not the sum of their movie parts. But a man singing about “boobs” just had to be bad and sexist and wrong. There couldn’t have been a satirical point being made.
There was also the joke MacFarlane made about George Clooney, one of many Hollywood men regularly dating much younger women. Clooney is 51 and his current girlfriend, Stacy Kiebler, is 31. MacFarlane joked that the youngest nominee for Best Actress, Quvenzhane Wallis, who is 9, had another 16 years before she’d be too old for Clooney.
In Davidson’s and others’ transliteration of what MacFarlane actually said (which is why I thought perhaps they’d just heard about the Oscars and not actually watched them), the backlash alleged that MacFarlane dissed a 9-year-old when in fact he’d taken on a Hollywood full of first wives dumped for younger models of their former selves by addressing its most eligible and oldest perennial bachelor.
The night went on like this in the feminist revision. MacFarlane referenced the beauty of many of the women — all of whom had spent days and even weeks preparing their “look” for the presentation. The tabloid TV shows have been full of the cleansing, the diets, the workouts, the not-eating, the facials, the mani-pedis, the hair extensions, the Botoxing, the being sewn into dresses, the taping up of breasts, the cinching in of waists and derrieres. It’s been a main topic of entertainment discourse for weeks leading up to the awards: women’s bodies, women’s looks.
Is MacFarlane the villain for calling out the reality or are Hollywood — and American audiences — at fault for demanding physical perfection from female actors while men can look however they want?