In Defense of Seth McFarlane
For starters, I can't believe I'm writing an article with this title. I generally do not like Seth McF's stuff. Like, at all. I think Family Guy, American Dad, etc. are, well, pretty crappy. So why on earth would I be defending this guy?
Because he hosted the Oscars last week, and the response was overwhelmingly vitriolic. People accused him in editorial after editorial of being a misogynistic asshole. I read many of these articles and was shocked: did they watch a different ceremony? It seemed the entire point of the night was completely missed. Nobody got the joke, even though it seemed so obvious to me. Seth McF wasn't making misogynistic jokes; he was making jokes about misogynists. Can you see the difference?
There is a certain type of comedy that is extraordinarily risky because it involves pointing out your audience's horrible prejudices. It involves laughing AT people, not with them. It is very difficult to pull off, because it involves making statements that you absolutely do not agree with in order to fish out of your audience the people who do believe what you said so that you can make fun of them. It's a bit like troll baiting, but you're trying to get the troll to think you agree with their horrible ideas instead of trying to make them angry. That way their prejudices are revealed and you get to laugh at them for believing things that only idiots believe.
This is one of my favorite types of humor. But here's the problem: in this style of humor, you can't make fun of something without using its vocabulary. You can't make fun of racists without saying racist things. You can't make fun of homophobes without using the words of homophobes. make fun of misogynists without saying misogynistic things. Because the whole point of the joke is to get the idiots to think you agree with them so you can call them out as idiots.
The movie comedy Starship Troopers is I think one of the best examples of this type of humor of all time. You didn't know Starship Troopers was a comedy? Watch it again. The entire movie might as well have been two-plus hours of the director, Paul Veerhooven (another creator whose works I generally hate), pointing at the audience and laughing at them. The movie is an enormous prank on the audience. He made a movie about and from the point of view of Nazis and did it in such a way that it would inflame the bigotry and jingoism in people who weren't in the know, and who would in fact think that the villains of the movie were the heroes. Watch that movie again and tell me that the humans are NOT the villains. This is called "satire." It isn't even terribly subtle.
In the very first episode of Under the Mailbox Theater, we did a similar sketch called "Majority Race Forum" that was about a couple of idiots who were extremely racist. Ours was even less subtle and much more overtly parody. One of the characters called the other a traitor for making a diagram and drawing the stick figures with a black marker. "Them stick figures is black!" one racist protested. "But the paper's white!" the other one said as a defense. Does that mean that I believe that whites are superior? Again, this is called "satire."
This is what Seth McF attempted to do with his Oscar hosting, and I thought it was riotously, hilariously effective.
Let's start with his opening routine: a frankly hilarious bit of satire where Captain James T. Kirk comes back in time from the future to warn Seth McF not to do his planned opening bit because it would ruin the Oscars and label Seth McF as the worst Oscar host of all time. The opening bit in the warning? A song about seeing actresses' boobs in movies. It referenced the first time that many Oscar-winning actresses showed their breasts in movies. It included Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry and Jodie Foster in The Accused, two movies where the characters played by those actresses are brutally raped.
Does anyone actually believe that anyone other than an idiot believes that the best part of movies like that is getting to see the actresses' boobs? The entire point of the song was to point out how in Hollywood many actresses are just reduced to a couple of body parts, no matter how good their acting or how important and heartbreaking their role. There are always idiots of the "Show us your boobs" variety. And that song was meant to show them just how idiotic they are. Seth McF was ripping straight into the old-white-man Hollywood status-quo with brutal, mean furor. I thought it was incredibly ballsy and extraordinarily funny.
And the whole premise of the bit is how HORRIBLE an idea that song-and-dance routine would be (if it weren't being done satirically)! How did people miss that!?
There was also a furor raised in many editorials about a joke that said Quvenzhane Wallis, the 9-year-old nominee for best actress, had another 16 years before she'd be too old for George Clooney. Somehow many people saw this as making fun of Wallis. Really? Couldn't they tell the joke was aimed squarely at Clooney and the other old-white-men of Hollywood and their habit of routinely trading in their aging significant others for increasingly younger starlets and models?
He made a joke about actresses catching the flu so they could lose weight! How could anyone but an idiot believe that that would be a good thing!? And yet, how much of the pre-and-post Oscar shows were about examining every last detail of the actresses' bodies and makeup and hairstyles?
And misogynists weren't the only idiots being skewered that night. There was an extended sequence with a teddy bear talking about how Jews run Hollywood. Does anyone other than an idiot actually believe there is a Jewish conspiracy in Hollywood? The night was full of jokes along these lines, skewering the old-white-male gaze so prevalent in Hollywood by pointing it out and laying it bare for everyone to see, so we can all laugh at the idiots who actually agree with what was being said.
Some of the jokes were of course better than others (I didn't think the "who cares if you can't understand Salma Hayek" joke was very successful, but I got what it was trying to say), but such is the case with any 4-hour telecast. But to me the message was loud and clear: Hollywood is an horrible, misogynistic place. After all, only one woman has ever won best director, and only 4 or 5 have even been nominated. So let's point that out and make fun of those idiots who believe that women are only worth their looks and their boobs and their youth. Only with acknowledgement can we maybe start to work to move past it. And that's the real gift of this type of humor. Even though its point was somehow (and I still can't believe it) completely missed by so many people, at least it got them talking openly about the misogyny in Hollywood.
Postscript: After I wrote this article but before I published it, I discovered to my joy that I was not alone in my thinking of last week's Oscars: This excellent article in The Advocate says many of the same things that I just said (and makes an excellent point that Seth McF probably didn't write hardly any of the jokes himeslf), only much more eloquently. But then again, I ain't gettin' paid to write this, so shut yer traps and get back in the kitchen and make me a damned sammitch, woman! That's all women are good for, after all!