Spectacular Satire? Seth MacFarlane and Boobs at the Oscars

Seth MacFarlane: practically a Nazi

Seth MacFarlane: practically a Nazi

There’s a lot going around today about the fiasco that was Seth MacFarlane’s hosting performance at the Oscars on the weekend. Most notably this has focused on his “We Saw Your Boobs” opening number that had him sing out a list of all the women’s boobs that have appeared on film. And as salon.com covered today, many of these references refer to films in which women are exposed during rape or other violent scenes.

I had a few mixed feelings when I saw the clip. These included: an initial reaction of confused laughter and OH MY GOD I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS IS REAL*; amazement that the broadcast also showed the uncensored disdain of the women mentioned as they listened from the audience*; agreement that Anne Hathaway’s boobs in Brokeback Mountain were memorably great; and disgust at the likes of Hilary Swank’s boobs being noted considering it was in the context of Boys Don’t Cry. All in all I found the whole thing both upsetting and spectacular for what it illustrated.

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Naomi Watts and Charlize Theron react to the song*

It’s too easy to critique MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy (arguably a whole other kettle of satire or problems depending on how you look at it), as the douche who sang a rapey song about boobs. I’m sure he’s going to cop some hate mail and death threats over this incident (that seems to be the common response to offence in these days of identity politics). But how did this actually happen in the first place? Given the notoriously male-dominated arena that is the Oscars (not to mention the fact that no women directors pretty much EVER get nominated), doesn’t this whole episode kind of say in big blaring letters- Hollywood: Reducing Female Actors to Boobs Since 1929?

Anne Hathaway: wonderful boobs, incredible actor

Anne Hathaway: wonderful boobs, incredible actor

Rather than look at MacFarlane as an individual sexist they just happened to let run the gig why not see it for what it shows up? The women mentioned were clearly not ok with this reduction of their acting to their body parts, and nor should they be. The internet has leapt up and started talking about just how not okay it is.

I’m not heralding MacFarlane as some kind of comic genius, but I think we need to look a bit deeper.  And I don’t give a shit about intention, but clearly whether he intended it to be satirical or not, that song caused a lot of offence and probably on the flip side of that a lot of laughter not based on how absurd the premise is. I’m not saying “lighten up”- the specific references in the songs were horrifying. But surely this means we could be focusing on this aspect: wow, how fucking insane is the idea that women are only good as boobs in films. So insane in fact, we might laugh…

*NOTE: Since writing this post I have been made aware that the segment was not “real” in so far as the song was framed within the context of “imagine if…” (much like movies that end poorly with “it was aaaall a dream”) and that the reactions of Watts and Theron were thus pre-recorded. The points of this article however, stand, particularly considering how easily this material is accessed on the internet out of “context” and the reaction it has garnered as a result.

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6 thoughts on “Spectacular Satire? Seth MacFarlane and Boobs at the Oscars

  1. Totally agree with noblecaboose; before people criticize they need to do more research! So many people have complained about that part of the Oscars, either without even watching the whole thing or misunderstanding it completely. That’s what made the scene even more enjoyable, the fact that some of the most famous actresses in the world are fine to go along with a joke like that and laugh at themselves and the business they’re in – if they’re able to not take things so seriously and have a joke once in a while more respect to them i say!

  2. This article: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13534645.2010.486666 says some hugley relevant things about humour in a far more developed way than my post. e.g: “The idea here is not to champion a humorous attitude as some kind of new age tool, which would assist the individual in adjusting to the world and thereby increase personal well-being. If it challenges the rigidity of our perception of the world and our construction of our ideals, humour is already doing something far more pragmatic and worldly than this.”

  3. So, I didn’t watch the Oscars, but from what I’ve read the entire bit was pre-taped. Including the actresses’ reactions. What a lot of critics don’t seem to acknowledge is that the ‘victims’ in the audience were in on the gag. The entire piece was framed with the guest appearance of Bill Shatner giving MacFarlane a ‘glimpse of the future’ – his song being an example of Seth MacFarlane being the ‘worst oscar host ever’ – and trying to save him from embarrassing himself. Losing the greater context of the song, i.e. taking it out of context and putting it on the internet, means losing the point: THIS IS WHAT GOING TOO FAR LOOKS LIKE. I don’t know if it helps, after all, he did do the gag even if it was framed with “Wouldn’t it be awful if I did this?” Seth MacFarlane’s comedy used to be funny to me, but when I see how many people think they’re in on the joke when they’re the ones who are supposedly being mocked (as in, “Haha Peter Griffin is awesome! He’s just like me!”) it makes me question whether his kind of transgressive comedy is actually doing more harm than good.

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