I think of myself as a person who can take a joke. My sense of humor ranges from the dorky (I laugh at Shakespeare, so sue me) to the stupid (have you seen this video yet? If not, you’re welcome) to the extremely inappropriate. I’ll laugh at things that aren’t meant to be funny. I have a twisted sense of schadenfreude. Hey, it happens.
But the number of times today I’ve heard phrases like “stop taking everything so seriously,” “it was just a joke,” and “just get over it,” in response to statements I agree wholeheartedly with is stunning. Is it my fault? Has my time working for feminist websites and trolling The Vagina Monologues on YouTube deprived me of the ability to laugh?
But I doubt it.
I’m talking, of course, about the train-wreck black-tie affair that was the 2013 Academy Awards.
I’m going to be totally honest with you: I did not actually watch the show live. I had other things to do last night (by which I mean I finally got around to watching the Downton Abbey series finale. All of the feels!), but this morning I opened my browser to check who took home those weird little golden statues. No surprise about Anne Hathaway, and it’s always nice to see someone as awesome as Jennifer Lawrence get a little recognition. But what I didn’t expect was the explosion of coverage over Seth Macfarlane’s hosting job.
Okay, yes. It’s the guy who brought us Family Guy. I didn’t expect him to sashay in like Tim Gunn and tell us that we’re all fabulous and no matter what, we’d make it work in the end and we should believe in ourselves no matter what. (Side note: Tim Gunn for Oscars 2014!) But this thing was broadcast on national television. My grandmother was watching this show. Could we at least try not to offend every single person on the face of the planet?
I could cast my net wide and call out Macfarlane on his inappropriate jokes about domestic abuse, slavery, eating disorders, child molestation, and rape until the cows came home, but that’s been done plenty of times since last night already, even in video montage form. But let’s just talk about that opening number for a second.
You know the one I mean. The song-and-dance version of (oh God am I really typing this sentence right now) “We Saw Your Boobs.”
Yes. A full two-minute Broadway-inspired number about all the women in the audience who have had topless scenes. Now, I’m not denying the truth of this. Female nudity in Hollywood gets a lot of screen time. Not nearly as much screen time as male nudity, despite the outliers like “Magic Mike” or “Brokeback Mountain.” Those movies are just that: outliers. When we read “Rated R for nudity,” we assume we’ll exit the theater having seen a few more lady parts than full-frontal males. Okay. Granted.
But just because something is true doesn’t mean it’s funny, or even okay. Take, for example, Macfarlane’s first target: Meryl Streep.
Is there a single human alive who hears the name “Meryl Streep” and immediately thinks “boobs”? Meryl Streep is one of the greatest actresses of modern times. She has been nominated for 17 Academy Awards and 27 Golden Globes. Her performance in The Devil Wears Prada haunts me every single time I open a fashion magazine. And suddenly she’s reduced to her body, or more specifically her breasts.
Would we reduce Daniel Day-Lewis to his prostate gland? People can act without needing to rely on their male or female organs. Actually, you can do just fine without them.
Is Macfarlane implying that the only reason actresses are allowed to fill the seats of the Dolby Theater is because they’re willing to take off their shirts to get a role? Is this any different than the age-old trope of the casting couch, or the female CEO who sleeps her way to the top? With all the discourse circulating around female objectification in film and advertising, especially after this year’s particularly horrendous Super Bowl, why are we glorifying the process of reducing women to a pile of body parts with a song-and-dance number?
Yes, Macfarlane can sing. But that doesn’t mean he should.
And this brings me back to the original point I had, that apparently I’m “taking this all too seriously.” Clearly the Academy knew what they were getting into when they chose Macfarlane. I highly doubt he leaped onstage and started ad-libbing sexist and racist remarks and none of the workers backstage could figure out how to turn his microphone off. The horrified faces of actresses in the crowd were even pre-recorded. Yes, okay, it was meant to be funny. But that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to be offended.
Why are we wasting our energy coining irritatingly catchy jingles about female objectification instead of doing something about it? In a world full of slut-shaming, body judgment, and media snarking, reinforcement of the status quo by the people behind the scenes is the last thing we need.
And yet, apparently I’m not allowed to criticize being made to feel like a plastic Barbie doll that can be posed in various positions and moved from scene to scene without being the stereotypical “feminist who can’t take a joke.”
You know why feminists can’t take some of these jokes? Because they’re harmful, not funny.
Sorry, Seth Macfarlane. I used to watch Family Guy, but I think I’ll be going on hiatus until you learn to make a joke I can actually laugh at again.
Unfortunately, no more Downton Abbey in the meantime… I’ll have to make do with residual feels.