Seth MacFarlane: Sexist or Satirist? A Review of The Oscars

Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane hosted the Oscars this past weekend. As might have been anticipated, his presentation was not well-received by all.  The Oscars ought to have expected risqué material from MacFarlane, considering the content of his hit show, The Family Guy.  If you wish to hear one person’s response, feel free to read it here.

Jonathan Swift: Like Seth MacFarlane, he was a misunderstood satirist.

Jonathan Swift: Like Seth MacFarlane, he was a misunderstood satirist.

Such a response, while perhaps reasonable and certainly understandable, fails to consider the element of satire.  Satire, as we know, is often misconstrued.  Jonathan Swift, for example, raised quite a stir with ‘The Modest Proposal’ by suggesting that working class people sell their babies for food.  Some misunderstood him, and I think that with MacFarlane’s Oscar presentation, that is also the case.

Since MacFarlane opened the show with a song called ‘I Saw Your Boobs’, I think that would make for a good starting point.  There is no doubt that Hollywood is a hyper-masculine culture, and that it is difficult for a woman to break through as a writer, director, or producer.  In the song, MacFarlane lists a number of films where actresses have bared their breasts.  As the camera pans the audience, it is clear that the likes of Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts are not impressed.  As for me, I see this as a parody of the masculine gaze.  MacFarlane includes a number of great classics.  The Accused, a powerful and challenging film about a gang rape, is not mentioned for its social commentary, but because it includes a scene where Jodie Foster’s breasts are revealed.  Likewise, Silkwood, a classic film and a critique of capitalism that champions the working class, is mentioned only because bare breasts appear, in this instance those of Meryl Streep.  Monster’s Ball, a great film dealing with issues of prejudice and race, is remembered only because Halle Berry exposes her breasts (which she also does in Swordfish, for those of you that are interested).  MacFarlane has chosen, for the most part, films with important social commentary, and that highlights the issue at hand.  The nude woman is celebrated by a hyper-masculine Hollywood.  He is not condoning this attitude, but rather exposing it.  Through his approach, he lampoons the male mentality.  There are websites dedicated to sharing movie clips in which famous actresses appear nude.  This is common practice, and not unique to MacFarlane at all.  He is not endorsing this mentality, but highlighting its flaws.  He is showing us how sex drives the industry and how social commentary is often overshadowed by sex.  There is a reason why the rape scene from The Accused is available online at any number of sites, yet the film in its entirety is not.  There is a reason why, when I type Marion Cotillard’s name into the Bing video search, it suggests I also look up “Marion Cotillard sex scene,” and why, when I do, any number of videos pop up.  Actually, the same scenes pop up over and over.  The video is available on countless sites.  Does the viewer sincerely believe that MacFarlane is aligning himself with this mentality rather than attacking it?

Halle Berry in Monsters's Ball:  Many forget Berry won the Oscar, but do remember that sex scene.

Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball: Many forget Berry won the Oscar, but do remember that famous sex scene.

There is a problem here.  Women like Theron and Watts were clearly uncomfortable with the comments, yet they still rely on and exploit their beauty.  I am not passing judgement, nor am I saying that they are encouraging such behaviour, but the reality is that none of the beautiful women at the Oscars showed up in pyjama pants and a hoodie.  They show off beautiful, expensive dresses that emphasize their curves, their cleavage, and other physical assets.  There is more to an actress than how she looks, but there is an inconsistency here that MacFarlane uses to challenge the viewer. Do some women in the industry encourage their own exploitation?  Interesting historical note here: A man named George Lansbury forfeited the seat he held in parliament in support of the women’s suffrage movement, willingly emasculating himself and rescinding the authority he won via a false election process. He believed that because women had not been properly represented, he had won a false election.  He gave up power, and I again note, emasculated himself for the women’s movement.  I think it would be a brave thing for any man or woman to make such a statement by declining an Oscar.  There is a saying: If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.  One could argue (though I am not) that by being participants within this sexist system, actresses and actors alike are condoning and encouraging it.  Marlon Brando once turned down an Oscar in protest of the mistreatment of Aboriginal peoples, while Jean Paul Sartre refused a Nobel Prize as he wanted to avoid what he perceived as being made into an institution.  It would be nice to see a few more folks challenge the problems that plague their industry, as opposed to celebrating themselves.  But alas, that golden statue and the recognition it brings is very tempting. Who would be superhuman enough to turn it down?  Is it fair to judge MacFarlane and not judge the people in the audience who are supporting the system he is satirizing?

George Lansbury gave up his seat in parliament for the women's movement.  Is there an actor or actress who would give up an Oscar for the same reason?

George Lansbury gave up his seat in parliament for the women’s movement. Is there an actor or actress who would give up an Oscar for the same reason?

Then, there are also the jokes about weight.  MacFarlane draws our attention to Rex Reed, who has infamously criticized Adele for her weight.  I think Adele is fantastic.  She is a beautiful woman with sexy curves and a gorgeous voice.  She is also a talented songwriter and performer.  Rex Reed calling her “fat” is disgusting.  MacFarlane’s bringing it up at the Oscars is interesting.  The irony is, Rex Reed is not at the Oscars, but Adele is. Adele is there for her talents, not her looks (though she is an amazingly beautiful woman). Reed’s standards of beauty could not hold Adele back from success. Considering that Reed was on the outside looking in, it seems that he is clearly the fool in this instance and MacFarlane is making a point about that.

The very beautiful and very talented Adele accepts her Oscar.  Rex Reed, who has never received such an award, was not invited to the ceremony.

The very beautiful and very talented Adele accepts her Oscar. Rex Reed, who has never received such an award, was not invited to the ceremony.

There was the inevitable comment about Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis.  MacFarlane stated that, given her youth, she won’t be too old for George Clooney for another 16 years.  Was he sexualizing her?  To me, that was a joke about Clooney, not about Wallis.  Hollywood bachelors like Jack Nicholson, George Clooney, and Harrison Ford have made it commonplace to chase after much younger women.  To me, the comment is a lampooning of this trend, rather than a sexualization of Wallis.  It begs the question: Why are these men going after women that are so young?  In the context of the rest of the show, I would see this as consistent with satirizing the sexist bias ingrained in Hollywood culture.

George Clooney with Stacey Keibler (18 years his junior): It seems Clooney's reputation was the target of MacFarlane's joke, and not Quvenzhané Wallis.

George Clooney with Stacey Keibler (18 years his junior): It seems Clooney’s reputation was the target of MacFarlane’s joke, and not Quvenzhané Wallis.

In relation to Jack Nicholson, there was the “orgy” joke.  Yes, there are men who believe that once you are wealthy and famous, orgies are on the menu.  It is a fantasy (and, who knows, maybe a reality for some).  The joke might be identified as a reference to the tragic events that saw a young girl of 13 drugged and raped (I will add the word ‘allegedly’ here) by director Roman Polanski.  Is this funny?  No, it is not.  Nor is it funny that the Academy, despite Polanski’s leaving the country to avoid sentencing, would not only give him a nomination for best director, but would actually award him the Oscar.  Equally troubling is that a beautiful young actress like Emmanuelle Seigner would marry a man, 33 years her senior, knowing what he had allegedly done to that 13-year-old girl (on a side note: Seigner is 2 years younger than Polanski’s victim).  The Academy has ignored the evidence against Polanski. Rather than take a moral stand against his behaviour, they celebrated a man who ran from serious charges and refused to go to sentencing.  It seems to me like this is not simply a joke about orgies, but a not-so-subtle attack on the Academy for celebrating a highly controversial figure.

Roman Polanski and his current wife, who is actually younger than his sexual assault victim.

Roman Polanski and his current wife, who is actually younger than his sexual assault victim.

It is worth remarking that women were not the butt of every joke.  MacFarlane made jokes about men, too: “The quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh begins now.”  MacFarlane even made a point of objectifying a man in the same way women are often objectified when he noted that it wouldn’t matter what Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek or Javier Bardem would say because they are all so nice to look at.  In a two-pronged lampoon, MacFarlane brings to light America’s xenophobia and sexist notions that celebrate appearance above substance.  By noting that his work is being sold at grocery stores, he concedes that it is not on par with the works being celebrated. He shows his recognition of the value of the films being nominated.  He clearly has great respect for the work presented during the show, and he is able to laugh at himself.

Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem: they really are beautiful people.

Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem: they really are beautiful people.

Is MacFarlane a misogynist?  My guess is no.  I fail to see evidence that he hates women.  Is he a chauvinist? Or a sexist?  This is a possibility, but I see him first as a satirist and in that context his comments throughout the Oscars did not come across as either chauvinistic or sexist, but were merely lampooning an industry that is both sexist and chauvinistic and likely misogynistic in many instances as well.   Perhaps I am giving MacFarlane too much credit, or perhaps there are many out there who simply do not get it.  I’m going with the latter.

We should all boycott the Oscars next year for their patriarchal bias and refuse to watch until women have equal representation in all areas of film, or at least the voting body of "The Academy".

We should all boycott the Oscars next year for their patriarchal bias and refuse to watch until women have equal representation in all areas of film, or at least the voting body of “The Academy”.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

Comments

  1. Jolina Fields says:

    I really did not appreciate MacFarlane’s jokes. I don’t think I appreciate his sense of humor at all. It was the Oscars and I felt it was inappropriate to allow my 12 year old daughter to watch them because of it. I didn’t appreciate the gay jokes either. Maybe I just don’t get it?, but in that case, my daughter wouldn’t have either. There was a couple points where my daughter looked at me and said “why did he say that”, that’s when I told her, “maybe you should watch something in your room”.

  2. I can’t stand the bullshit of “these women dress up for the oscars so they’re encouraging their own exploitation!” Uh no, just because a woman dresses up doesn’t fucking mean she’s ASKING to be exploited. Not every woman dresses up for others. Have you considered that they love dressing up and looking beautiful for themselves?

    Stop victim-blaming. Men are wrong for exploiting women who dress up.

  3. I’m not ‘victim-blaming’, simply pointing out that it is complicated when the people being exploited condone the system that exploits them. I think the term for it is Stockholm Syndrome. And if you read carefully you will note that I asked the question: “Do some women in the industry encourage their own exploitation?” I do not blame the victim, I pose a question. I also write, if you took the time to read it: “There is a saying: If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. One could argue (though I am not) that by being participants within this sexist system, actresses and actors alike are condoning and encouraging it.” I clearly state that this is simply an argument one could make, and note clearly in parenthesis that I am not making this argument.

    Exploitation is a complicated thing, and there is exploitation going on in the film industry. Who is responsible? There is no one person who is directly responsible. It is a collective responsibility and women are not excluded from that responsibility. The system is working for and rewarding many people, women included, and until members of both sexes have the courage to stand up and refuse to participate in ceremonies like The Oscars, and refuse to work with production companies who allow this exploitation, the problems will continue to be perpetuated.

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