The Oscars: what did you think?

The Atlantic

The best moment of Seth MacFarlane’s Oscars hosting gig may have come late in the night when, in announcing Meryl Streep, he said “our next presenter needs no introduction” … and then just walked away.

If only he’d kept his mouth shut more frequently.


But then William Shatner was beamed in for a Family Guy-esque experiment in the meta. Captain Kirk had come from the future to reveal that the headlines the next day would proclaim MacFarlane the worst Oscar host ever, unless he changed his routine. Cut to a clip—from the future, see—of MacFarlane performing “We Saw Your Boobs,” during which he essentially read off a Mr. Skin database of shirtless-actress appearances over time. The bit could have been a hilarious acknowledgement of MacFarlane’s past idiocies—if it had been, like, five seconds long. But no: We got a full minute-plus of breast chronicling, followed by MacFarlane’s definition-of-homophobic insistence to Shatner that he wasn’t a member of the gay men’s chorus he’d just sang with.

From there, the jokes just got more and more… well, what’s the word? Calling them offensive gives them too much power, which isn’t to say that black people shouldn’t have felt uncomfortable about MacFarlane pretending to mix up Denzel Washington and Eddie Murphy, or that half the population needn’t have squirmed when MacFarlane called Zero Dark Thirty’s plotline an example of “a woman’s innate ability to never let anything go.” What the jokes were, really, was stupid, boring, and empty: humor that relied less on its own patently sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. content than on admiration for or disgust with the host’s willingness to deliver it. So much of comedy is about the shock of recognition, of seeing some previously unacknowledged truth suddenly acknowledged, but the only recognition MacFarlane offered was that some people say dumb things about other peoples’ gender/racial/sexual identities. Which, of course, should not be shocking at all.


It shouldn’t be hard to come up with a sensible position on this. Everything, including punchlines about the Jews cutting non-Jews out of Hollywood, snickers about women faking the flu to lose weight, and cracks that there’s no need to try to understand what Salma Hayek’s saying because she’s so hot, is “OK.” It’s a free country, etc. But that doesn’t mean those jokes aren’t hurtful, obvious, or dumb. It doesn’t mean they don’t make the world a worse place. Humor, after all, can be an incredible weapon for social progress, but it can also be regressive: The more we pass off old stereotypes, rooted in hate, as normal—as MacFarlane did again and again last night—the longer those stereotypes, and their ability to harm people, will be in place. If only Captain Kirk had told us whether we’ll have moved past this nonsense by the 23rd century.

Did you watch? What did you think? Should the church speak up?

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Category : The Lead

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  1. Ronald Caldwell

    MacFarlane gets my vote as the worst host ever. I admit to watching only the first part of the show because the “jokes” were incredibly offensive. What took the cake for me, and the “Off” button was the outside-the-bounds remark about John Wilkes Booth being the only one ever to get into Lincoln’s head. Even the audience could not believe what they just heard.

  2. Didn’t see it, stopped caring a long time ago. But Seth MacFarlane? Really? Have none of those people ever seen Family Guy?

  3. Rod Gillis

    Read this article about Denzel Washington and the Oscars last week in Bloomberg

    “In different ways, the three stars all represent similar audience yearnings — above all, the desire for moral significance. Even when they take on ambiguous or immoral roles, these stars always inhabit a universe where right and wrong have weight and consequence.”

    Kept an eye on the Oscars last night while reading posts on Episcopal Cafe.

    ( :

  4. My take: “McFarlane revealed the racism and sexism that exists throughout the system that pats itself on the back and calls itself liberal and enlightened.

    “McFarlane is just the front man for a much larger system. A system that convinces women to undress in the name of art and then sings a puerile little song saying, “We saw your boobs!” A system that claims Quentin Tarantino is starting an important conversation about slavery and then jokes about how Daniel Day-Lewis would try to free Don Cheadle from slavery.”

    More ranting: Why, yes, Hollywood, we DID see your boobs

    Laura Toepfer

  5. Ann Fontaine

    Commentary on young girl star and how she was treated. here

  6. Cynthia Katsarelis

    Thanks, Ann, for the link. Awful the way Quvenzhané was treated. I didn’t think I was naïve, but I am indeed shocked.

  7. Rod Gillis

    Realized from scanning the news this morning that I missed most of Seth MacFarlane’s bits last night, including, it seems, the most controversial ones. The jokes I did see him deliver, I just didn’t find all that funny.

    Did manage to catch the performances by Shirley Bassey and Barbara Striesand, which were really good–but I guess my age is showing.

    I was surfing in and out to see see how Lincoln and Argo would fare. Argo is bit of tempest in a teapot up here because it was alleged to have played down the Canadian caper. I’d be more concerned about the stereotyping of Iranians, but Ben Affleck seemed to acknowledge that in his speech.

    But the whole thing is like eating a big bag of potato chips, kind of fun at the time, but your’re immediately sorry afterwards. The entertainment business is even more sexist than the church–so none of what went on last night should surpise anyone.

    As Iggie Pop once sang, “We are played for suckers all the time”. Its all marketing.

  8. Genie Carr

    Actually, I had never heard of Seth McFarlane, and I wish I still had never heard of him. In the middle of the “boobs” song I pushed the “mute” button, and turned the sound back on when something looked interesting (or when I was surfing other channels). Turned the TV off at 10:00–that’s how much I cared, even though I had seen several of the “best picture” nominees and was interested in who might win. (and as for the boobs song, I think the shots of the women he mentioned–the looks of shock on their faces–tells the whole story.)

  9. tobias haller

    Glib, postmodern sexism is no more acceptable than crude, premodern sexism. Seth revealed the thin, mean, one-trick horse insubstantiality of his humor. I put it this way: Seth MacFarlane is so edgy he falls off.

    And the casual, clumsy, “cool” unpreparedness of too many of the presenters ended by making Jack Nicholson appear suave and debonaire in comparison.

    There were too few moments of real humor and class — and most of them came from classy people like Shirley Bassey and Barbara Streisand, Daniel Day Lewis and Christopher Plummer.

    The rest were wannabes who couldn’t.

  10. I’d never heard of Seth McFarland before last night, either, and I hope I never have to see or hear him again. His worst moment was his comment about Quvenzhané Wallis, a 9 year old girl. Please!

    June Butler

  11. David Fletcher

    One of the difficulties that I am having with this discussion is some presumption of innocence or naivete about Hollywood and the movie industry itself. MacFarlane is sophomoric, albeit very talented, and I will openly confess to laughing out loud at some of what went on, and cringing a bit at other times. I find it rather refreshing that Hollywood is prepared to be lampooned by inviting somebody like MacFarlane (who, let’s be honest here, repeatedly called himself on the bad or questionable material) to host the Oscars.

    But I have a far more serious concern, and that is an emergent puritanism that masks itself as either religiosity or political correctness. It took the English Church almost 400 years to overcome Puritanism the first time, and we are worried about boobies and perceived slights when violence is exalted in society and barely mentioned at all last night.

    Friends, lets get some perspective.

  12. I think the biggest problem is that it is one thing to tell jokes at one’s own expense, perhaps even at the expense of a racial, religious, gender, or sexual orientation group to which one belongs. It might even be permissible to poke some good-natured fun at shared stereotypes. The problem comes when one tells jokes at another’s expense or tells jokes that blatantly make fun of a group of people.

    If the Oscars are going to be a crass display of sophomoric humor, then go ahead and bill them that way, give them an R rating, and forget the glitz and glamor. But if they are supposed to be a classy, fun, lighthearted celebration of film that they are billed as, then Seth MacFarlane was clearly the wrong host. I don’t expect the social commentary that David references regarding violence in society (which is why I’m not a big fan of acceptance speeches as social commentary), but I don’t expect crass humor, either.

    At times I felt like I was attending a wedding reception where the Best Man was drunk–and no one could figure out how to get the microphone away from him. Pretty sad.


    The problem began well before MacFarlane. At best, I, who enjoy most of his cartoon work, can say that MacFarlane failed. If you are going to be edgy and offensive as part of your humor, at least be funny. He wasn’t. The bigger problem is that we care at all as a society about this dubious spectacle that we are willing to see millions spent on a bunch of mere celebrities backslapping and backbiting. It’s ridiculous! Almost as bad as our obsession with football. The premise is tedious and sophomoric, so why shouldn’t the spectacle itself descend to that level?

    – Mark Brunson

  14. Rod Gillis

    Re David Fletcher and “puritan” posters, Dave, what could be a better attempt at shaming liberals to liberals than the accusation of “Puritanism”? Hilarious!

    The problem is that the reaction to Seth MacFarlane was a response to, among other things, blatant sexism.

    Puritanism and anti-sexism are on opposing sides of patriarchy. Puritanism was very patriarchal, while anti-sexism is opposed to patriarchy.

    I would suggest that it is Hollywood that is puritanical. The movies glorify male violence, but at the same time, by comparison with European or Quebec films for example,are neurotic about nudity. Movies like “Bad L.T.” are rare.

    The reason Seth’s sophomore schtick was calculated to be so “bad boy” is that it played against the overall prudish streak in mainstream North American films. Notwithstanding, his routine was aimed at women, something transparent to a lot of political commentators the morning after.

    Of course, we could be talking about Canadian English language films in which intense actors with central Canadian accents “out Herod, Herod” and everybody dies at the end like a Greek tragedy. But they do tend away from Puritanism on principle.

  15. C. Wingate

    Come on, fellows: you’re giving Puritanism a good name.

    My teenage kids, especially my daughter, found MacFarlane’s stunts tediously offensive. I gather that much of the readership here is as old as I am, and I at least can remember being in middle school in the 1970s and kind of raunchy gag gifts they sold in Spencer’s back then. It’s not edgy if it has been done for thirty-odd years. Also, I might point out that plenty of people saw a lot more of Radcliffe than his boobs, if they went to the right theater. No comment on that, of course, in the song. In light of the aforementioned daughter I have absolutely no problems with prudish impulses, though in her case I suspect that any male person who dares to consider her a sexual object is likely suffer severe hearing impairment at the least. Sure, Hollywood is in some sense terribly hypocritical, but his skewering was superficial and abusive. Far more telling, we thought in our house, was how Brave, with its message that the solution to a girl’s problems was (literally) to get her mother to let her hair down, won out over Wrecking Ralph. But that’s not a cheap shot taken at the expense an imaginary prudish society, so no danger of letting that uncomfortable truth be said, humorous or not.

  16. Kurt Wiesner

    Katie McDonough in Salon writes:

    “Hey, Seth MacFarlane, did you know many of those “boob” scenes you sang about were depictions of sexual assault?

    Seth MacFarlane has made millions off being an immature man-child. In fact, it was the success of his particular brand of gross-out offensive humor (served with a smile, of course) that got him the Oscar gig in the first place.

    So it came as little surprise, then, when base misogyny and racism dominated MacFarlane’s performance on Sunday. And while the musical opener “We Saw Your Boobs” has been called immature (true) and sexist (also true) — it wasn’t just a harmless roundup of spicy movie scenes. Four of the films MacFarlane crooned about featured nudity during or immediately following violent depictions of rape and sexual assault, stripped of their context and played for laughs. Scarlett Johansson found herself on the list because of a real-life violation: Her nude photos were stolen from her phone and leaked online.

    Oh, your privacy was invaded and your breasts were splashed across the Internet against your will? That is hilarious!”

  17. Ann Fontaine

    You really don’t get it do you Adam? Here is a blog that says it best:

    1. Next up, let’s welcome nine year-old first-time nominee Quvenhané Wallis by calling her out as a future lust interest for an old white man. Do I really have to get all women’s studies here and point out the history of old white men owning young women of color that this joke harkens to? You have to be numb to historical resonances not to feel the sting of that joke in your gut. Wake up, people.

    2. I have not heard one defense of this show that didn’t come down to “I thought it was great, so there must be something wrong with you” or “Guess you just don’t have a sense of humor, honey” or “What did you expect from Seth MacFarlane?” (I didn’t expect anything from him: I didn’t know who he was before the telecast and I consider him a spokesman for the movie industry’s sexist, misogynist attitudes. As such, he did his job impeccably well)

    Read it all

  18. Adam Spencer

    Your original post, Ann, asked what we thought about the Oscars. So I shared a link that expressed what I thought in a pretty complete way. You are welcome to disagree with what I posted, of course. But please don’t suppose that I’m some kind of hateful idiot who doesn’t “get it”, who’s blind to his own male/white/straight/middle class privilege and who’s never cracked a feminist theory book in his life. I “get” lots of what the angry blogosphere is saying. And I stand behind most of what they’re about. I just don’t see this particular issue the same way they do. And that is, because you asked, what I think.

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