Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Seth MacFarlane’s sexist Oscar flop.

Jokes about breasts and domestic violence were an embarrassment at last night’s Academy Awards.

Mon, Feb 25, 2013, 14:37


In many ways, you’d almost be reluctant to dignify the idiocy of MacFarlane’s sexist and lame ‘jokes’ at last night’s Oscars, but it’s also important to wonder what on earth anyone involved was thinking.

Buzzfeed has a list of nine sexist things that happened at what is the most prestigious populist award ceremony in the creative calender, and it’s an eyerollingly depressing summary.

The opening number ‘We Saw Your Boobs’, a playground routine of idiocy that would be bottled off stage if it happened at 3am at a college Rag Week event, is the lowlight of this roll-call. The expressions the female actors who were targeted wore said it all – aside from Jennifer Lawrence’s undefeated chirpiness. Charlize Theron was so embarrassed she practically covered her face.

The song was many things, but above all it was stupid. These are the most talented, decorated and rightly famous women in Hollywood, yet MacFarlane and his cohorts saw it appropriate to reduce them to their breasts. What does that say about how the industry views women? What does it say to young aspiring female actors watching the awards? What does it say to the targets themselves, to their teams and families who have supported them to get this far, who have watched them graft their way to massive success? It wasn’t funny, and there was also no context. It’s not like this year there was some infamous boob moment in a film that would have even given a smidgen of permission for breasts to be part of the discussion. I don’t recall the presenter of the Oscars when Shame was knocking around singing a jaunty number about penises.

*edit* People have been pointing out that the opening number reactions and more were prerecorded – I was wondering about the different dresses – so the ‘reactions’ were in-ish on the act. I don’t know if that makes this actually more depressing. Nope, I’m sure that it does.

Remember, Hollywood’s film industry has a desperate record of representing women fairly. Female protagonists in films are rare. Female characters most commonly appear in big pictures to be sexualised, beaten up or murdered, as subservient sidekicks, comic relief, or fulfill the most common role: talking about the other blokes in the movie. Successful female directors are an anomaly and female cinematographers virtually non-existent on the red carpet. This is a context where the discussion around female members of the industry is an awful lot about dresses and a lot less about technical ability. Obviously Hollywood is all about image, you can’t forget that when most of the actors arrive on the red carpet wearing the visible pain that illustrates how they have caved to surgical pressure, and where Ryan Seacrest and E! wait with a microphone asking who they are wearing and a ManiCam where they place their nails for up close inspection of varnish and rings. It’s not an industry that respects women, and MacFarlane drove that point home with an incredible lack of dignity.

I’ve lost respect for MacFarlane, but I don’t blame him. Family Guy frequently veers towards outrageously risque comedy, the payoff usually being that the gag’s humour is greater than the offense caused. So the organisers knew what they were in for, as the Oscars again grapples to secure some completely unnecessary aspect they call ‘edgy’. But how many people did his jokes, routine, script and opening number actually go through? And why at no point did anyone think to question the idiocy of some of those scripted remarks?

When you reflect on the hilarious two-hander Tina Fey and Amy Poehler pulled off at the Golden Globes, the sophistication of their humour and empathy for those who were at the receiving end of clever punchlines, MacFarlane is exposed even more as a terrible choice of presenter with a disastrous outcome.

As for his ‘joke’ about the most high profile celebrity case of domestic violence in recent years, MacFarlane ‘quipped’ in reference to Django Unchained, “This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.” What can you actually say about someone who thinks it’s acceptable to laugh about that?

MacFarlane saved his most disgusting ‘zinger’ of the night for the sexualisation of a 9-year-old girl. Quvenzhané Wallis was nominated in the Best Actress category, and MacFarlane thought it appropriate to propose a sexual encounter between her and George Clooney, ”To give you an idea of how young she is, it’ll be 16 years until she’s too old for Clooney,” he said. I really feel for Wallis and her family having to bear the brunt of such a horrible statement. You’d think she might have had the privilege of being spared until her teens before being talked about as a piece of meat for a Hollywood leading man’s sexual appetite. MacFarlane obviously didn’t think so. What a gross violation.