A Female Film Executive Defends Seth MacFarlane's Oscars Performance (Guest Column)
Here is my reductive, simplistic, (and, I attest, probably to others' dismay) decidedly feminist take on the dead-horse topic that is Seth MacFarlane's performance at the Oscars:
Don't shoot the messenger.
I will try to not even get into the very basic argument that MacFarlane delivered exactly what I would expect after having seen Ted, Family Guy and other performances he has given over the years. I don't know if you guys have heard of Ted, but it's the No. 1-grossing original, R-rated comedy ever. I would imagine some of you have seen it. I also would argue it's far more crude, foul-mouthed and bawdy than his performance Sunday night, and incredibly successful for it. I happen to be a fan of both the movie and MacFarlane, but his brand of humor is undoubtedly divisive and, apparently, far more palatable when delivered from an animated or CGI character. When it comes from the man himself, it's an outrage.
Perhaps it's simply the platform that was the problem. Sexist, homophobic and racist humor has been lauded in many other forms -- from the animated show Seth has helmed (hey, remember the Emmy-nominated “Down's Syndrome Girl” song?) to the popular Broadway show The Book of Mormon -- without anyone batting an eye, or at least not demonstrating anywhere near the levels of rage seen in the past few days. But the Academy Awards are a place where we have come to accept the status quo with an unflinching safety net. The telecast frequently responds to any sort of political or social commentary from presenters or winners by respectfully playing them off stage. It's not a place to push boundaries, even if they point to a much more serious issue. Keep it light, polite and opinion-free.
But, what really gets to me in many of the responses and comments I've read about the Oscars is something I would label "blind feminism." People who didn't even watch the Awards show, or who only watched the now-infamous "boob song" and turned it off, are slamming MacFarlane's performance as though the few articles focusing on his female-focused or racially charged jokes are enough of a recap to make a decision about his entire performance. He's a white man in a white-male-driven industry, and everyone now says he is a misogynist -- so it must be true. While some no doubt will stick with that assessment, let's take a moment and address some of the jokes MacFarlane made that weren't even mentioned in these articles, namely, those that involved white men. Take, for instance, the joke he made about fellow celeb Mel Gibson. MacFarlane quipped, regarding Django Unchained and its use of the N-word, "I'm told the screenplay was loosely based on Mel Gibson's voicemails." To which the audience responded with loud boos. MacFarlane's reaction: "Oh, so you guys are on his side?"
And here's where we get into the thick of it. Comedians have long held the incredibly challenging task of holding a mirror up to society and forcing us to confront the truths we would collectively rather sweep under the rug. I, for one, laughed heartily at Sunday night's award show, and probably for one fundamental reason: As a female executive in the movie business, I felt that MacFarlane's jokes were grounded in very serious truths. Watching the "blatant sexism" of his performance doesn't even hold a candle to what I have witnessed on a day-to-day basis in this field. This is a business in which actors are regularly judged for their financial value, not for their creative merits. I have sat through development meetings in which actresses older than 34 are cast aside as "too old," those who have had babies or families come with "baggage" and whether or not they are willing to get nude on film plays into their chances of getting an offer; these same traits are not deal-breakers in their male counterparts, or even mentioned, for that matter. I have had debates with co-workers in which I had to explain why a female character shouldn't be topless when it has nothing to do with the plot or character arc. I continuously joke that I have only ever won the Oscar pool when I successfully don my "80-year-old white guy hat" in order to make my selections. And, whether we'd like to admit it or not, awards ceremonies generally have seemed to favor actresses who have had some form of nudity in their films. Let's recall the 2008 Yahoo Movies feature cleverly entitled "Get Naked, Win Oscar," featuring 24 actresses whose nudity coincided with a golden statuette.