Of Boobs and Oscars

The internet is still buzzing about the recent Oscar telecast and host Seth MacFarlane's very un-PC sense of humor. After the fact, seeing the jokes in B&W, there is no denying that many were tasteless. But the majority of the outcry regards the jokes sexist or racist nature. I consider myself a feminist, and I watched the whole thing (OK I did nod off somewhere in the middle there for about twenty minutes), and I don't remember being outraged or offended. I even laughed, quite a few times. Bad feminist, or just not so touchy?

MacFarlane seemed happiest during the musical numbers, here with Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron, from Variety


On the sexist front, the main bone of contention seems to be his "We Saw Your Boobs" musical number, where MacFarlane sang through a list of famous actresses (many of them nominees that evening) who have appeared topless in the movies. It seems to have escaped many folks' notice that most of the actresses he mentioned in the song had pre-taped audience reaction shots. So they were not only in on, but willing to be a part of the joke. That they might even have a sense of humor about themselves. Does no one else watch the red carpet stuff? That was not Jennifer Lawrence or Charlize Theron live, people.

I suppose he could have done a short list (get it) of actors who have gone full-frontal, but isn't that sort of the teasing point of the song? Actresses are expected to strip on film. Their amazing acting abilities aside, there are not many who have not been asked to film a nude scene. Most comply. Is that right? Well, such a question certainly won't be answered by a silly song, but it makes this feminist curious — why isn't this question of expected female nudity on film being asked over and over again, instead of all the haranguing about MacFarlane. In an almost perfect illustration of how actresses are on display, Best Supporting Actress nominee (and later winner) Anne Hathaway showed up to the big show with a headlights-on number that challenged any viewer to look above her neck during her acceptance speech or any other time during the broadcast. She showed us her boobs and then some.


I think what bugs me most about the after-the-fact outrage is how naive some of it sounds. Jane Fonda, who presented the Best Director award with Michael Douglas near the tail end of the show, has publicly stated that MacFarlane's jokes contained, "Way too much stuff about women and bodies, as though that's what defines us." Ummm, Jane, this is Hollywood, the movies. Yes, women want to, and should be able to, have the opportunity to show that there is much going on inside of them, that we are smart and feeling beings, but it is also completely ridiculous to pretend that what one looks like is not 90% of the acting business. And that playing with one's looks, taking the body to extremes, as Anne Hathaway and many other male and female actors have done before her, is also very intriguing — to not just the public, but especially to the Academy at awards time.

As for MacFarlane's alleged racism, being a white girl I'm not in the best position to comment. The most inflammatory joke of the evening was probably his crack about Rihanna and Chris Brown, when he introduced Django Unchained with, "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." It was inappropriate, tacky, and really had no place in an Oscar monologue — he should have considered his audience. Actually, it would have been just as poor a choice to make at the Grammy's or anywhere else. Boo. I'd like to hear Quentin Tarantino's take on it. But mostly, like most clunkers and tasteless remarks, I hope to never hear it again.

McFarlane was an odd choice to host, for sure. The Oscars have been trying to update themselves for years, to no avail. As long as the show continues to insist on televising countless technical awards that the majority of the viewing public could care less about, it will never be able to be hip or thrilling to watch. All of the parsing of MacFarlane's jokes doesn't seem to be serving anyone. Little Quvenzhané Wallis's family have had to hear over and over again how her name was used as a stale punch line, "To give you an idea of how young she is, it'll be 16 years until she's too old for [George] Clooney." Hopefully all of this negative attention will not tarnish how she or her family feels about her status as the youngest-ever Oscar nominee. 

So many of MacFarlane's jokes seemed to be not just tasteless, but sort of old-fashioned. Did Don Rickles help him write them? But I doubt his career will be adversely affected. I do wonder — as damage control — is the Academy already looking to book Billy Crystal for next year?

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