Nobody is/was surprised by Seth MacFarlane’s performance last night at the Oscars. He is the guy who you (let’s face it I) would only secretly make out with, but keep that right to the grave and deny with every fiber of being- he is smarmy, sweaty, and thinks he’s hilarious, the worst of all personality and physical flaws wrapped up into one punchable face.
But the problem is not Seth MacFarlane, at least not alone. This is not some standup show at an open mic night. This is a professional production - where every action, joke goes through a heavy vetting process. It’s prime time on family friendly ABC - there is a whole line of gatekeepers waiting to sign off on every moment - and already nervous about the issue of liveness.
Everybody knew what they would get in having MacFarlane (which apparently is nothing without the ability to animate postmodernly between references. That guy had no material.) and MacFarlane had to have known that he’d be used the scape goat if controversy hit. Whatever people say or think, ABC wins. Numbers went up for MacFarlane (thanks 13 year old dudes) and people have been in a flurry about it - even those who read a blurb about it on a site they found through another site are interested in offering their opinion.
But the issue really isn’t with MacFarlane - it is with the writers he collaborated with, the producers who circle jerked as he told them his ideas, the corporate suits who got to think their kids may think their hip, everybody in that room who was complicit with applause, and I’ll even throw in those who didn’t take the time to maybe note the racism (her hard is only hard to pronounce because you’re too lazy to learn it), anti-semitism (Jews run Hollywood? Really…white dude?), homophobia (really, no homo?), ethnocentrism (the Academy every year, but really when are we going to stop noting the fact that even people in France are human?), fat jokes (calling out Rex Reed by calling Adele fat - c’mon)…it all just seemed like a parade that everybody just watched waddle by. Also, there were like 18 women up for awards…so it’s really an unfair battle.
Even Jordin Sparks had the ovaries to stand up in front of a room of MTV favorites and a billion teenagers to comment on Russell Brand’s jokes concerning the Jonas Brothers and virginity. Though I disagree with the JoBros and constructions of sex and virtuous virginity, I still have to admire the fact she interrupted the awards to call Brand on his bullshit (which really was a cheap shot…who gives a shit? Let them carry out the ruse and try to connive girls into anal sex like the good ol’ days). Even when Ricky Gervais punched everybody’s egos at the Golden Globes, people were willing to throw mini hissy fits when at the mic to condemn his meanness and everybody hooted and cheered. But make jokes based on race, sex, sexuality, and class and nobody utters a word. They may refuse to titter and sit with arms folded, which is protest enough, but to have nobody utter anything is off-putting.
It sucks because if anybody did, MacFarlane would come back on stage and criticize people for not finding him funny. This is one my biggest peeves, by the by, making it MY fault for not finding jokes funny. Because it assumes one person is objectively right and the other is an idiot. It happened one time during the telecast.
This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.
When people “ooed” the joke, he asked the audience if they were on his side. As much as I hate to do it - let’s diagram why this is a shit joke…just so I can feel better.
Rihanna and Chris Brown don’t even go here. They have absolutely nothing to do with the Academy Awards and though they’ve both been in films, they aren’t really in the industry -so really, they have been just trotted through the ringer for you to make a cheap joke. Also, it really minimizes the brutality of Django’s narrative - not to say that there is a hierarchy of domestic violence - but to just summarize the film as “unthinkable violence” really ignores the larger issues of power, rape, emotional violence, physical violence, race (considering Hildy is raped by her master and implied countless others)…and there are literally no similarities between the Rihanna/Brown violence and that in the film - except for the fact that MacFarlane is comparing black couples. And then we have a whole host of issues involving making a joke about domestic abuse and violence. It’s really just gratuitous and lazy joke telling.
We all get the joke. It’s not really that complicated, but I think it’s deserving in its criticism. It doesn’t accomplish anything - the joke isn’t some nuanced commentary.
I watched the awards with robotslovedinosaurs and we kept making eyes and during commercials discussing how the show embodied everything wrong with the culture of irony - how it really just becomes an excuse for saying fucked up shit and blaming others for taking offense. First of all, let’s get this PC shit out of the way. Just because I am offended by a joke, does not mean that “everything is so PC” - I hardly hear anybody but white, 19 year old dudes complain about how overly PC the world has gotten or 55 year old white dudes talk about the good ol’ days - well, shit has changed and few people are sorry that you have to be more careful about who you talk pussy with, but c’est la vie.
It must be really hard - but it was really hard for me in sixth grade to have a classmate talk to me about my tits, insinuating sex, feeling threatened and then being called a bitch because I didn’t get the joke.
The problem is not Seth MacFarlane, per se, but what happens when the age of irony is sanctioned by the public. It’s a convergence of points- the fact that we don’t have discussions about these topics. We don’t seriously open up discourses; instead, we try to “fix” or create instant solutions for incredibly tangled issues. We encourage firing people for comments or banning them from projects instead of saying “that’s fucked up…let’s unpack this baggage.” Nobody likes to be shushed - it just intensifies bad feelings and let’s face it, makes us want to be even louder or more grotesque.
We leave these things under the radar, undiscussed and festering. We have those like Seth MacFarlane (and there are more of him out there the Toshes, the Cooks) who make jokes regarding rape, race, violence, homophobia casual - and because it has been sanctioned (it’s on mainstream television, after all), it’s assumed that it must be alright. Yet, after the jokes are made and out there, there is no more control over how those jokes circulate. I dare ask…if this era of irony didn’t exist would the kids in Steubenville be so cavalier in joking about a raped teenager?
Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is ironic, because A) it suggests eating children, which is extreme B) it’s not a modest proposal as eating children is a bit of a scandal and actually a large undertaking. The problem with irony is that it assumes the teller is not what he/she offers - we have to assume Seth MacFarlane is not a racist, homophobic, misogynist, asshole - which he’s never really been able to disprove. This goes for pretty much everybody who hides behind irony.
There is something, however, nice about the fact that criticism has gone fairly mainstream and instances of irony are being questioned at a larger scale (though this happens in every sitcom, variety show, talk show…). I know it’s going to be short lived until the next time some idiot says something they probably shouldn’t have and feels forced to apologize. I really look toward the day when people decide to do something besides complain on blogs, Facebook, YouTube, text messages to friends (see what I did there?)- not only in the sense of deconstructing - but in holding more honest and public and more intimate conversations concerning topics which seem to make people feel nervous and uncomfortable. As a cynic, building intimacy within a culture that privileges individuality, anonymity, and insincerity seems pretty inconceivable, but its something to seek and strive for (lit ref. for RBF).