Whoever drew this needs to take a long look at themselves. Not cool.
“Let’s honor the Kent State shootings by turning a Star Wars quote into a pun.”
In college, I was really upset with my decision to go into journalism. I was completely disillusioned and really just over all of it. And it was right around the same time Roger Ebert started heavily blogging and writing online due to the lose of his ability to speak. I immediately followed his blog and twitter.
He was like a daily reminder that misanthropic people that weren’t satisfied with the way things were could not only make a living being that way, but change peoples’ minds. He was a writer that could win arguments, he had that rare ability to lay complexity out so simply that your head would spin.
And it always seemed to workout that when I was the most down in the dumps about writing and criticism and the importance and value of taking things about writing about them a new tweet or post or review of his would pop up.
I will miss him deeply and I will miss those reminders from him that not accepting what’s given to you and the value of shouting until your hoarse in the throat about what’s bad or good is worth something.
Keaton tries to read, falls victim to newspaper.
There’s already been a lot of talk about Seth MacFarlane’s successes and failures as host of the 85th Annual Academy Awards. The Atlantic deemed his racist, sexist humor “banal.” The New Yorker called him out for misogyny, specifically when it comes to the workplace. Elissa Schappell called a spade a spade, writing in Salon: “On a night meant to honor and reward the best performances of the year, MacFarlane let the female Oscar nominees in on a secret: We don’t see the work you’re doing. We’re too busy staring at your tits.” Over at Vulture, Margaret Lyons told us “Why Seth MacFarlane’s Misogyny Matters.”
I live-tweeted the event, as I am wont to do, and I thought I was diplomatically ruthless, calling attention to disparity and sexism while also celebrating victories, however small. And yes, I did make fun of things like the disproportionate amount of attention paid to Chicago. At the end of the night, I was more upset about The Onion’s wildly out-of-line tweet about nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis than anything MacFarlane did or said.
But then I logged on to Facebook today. Among the fashion recaps and reminders of the event’s overall unoriginality—jokes about how gay and Jewish the entertainment industry is? Really?—was a friend’s post suggesting those of us who were offended by the blatant misogyny, homophobia, racism, sexism, and other –isms should get over it because MacFarlane is known for this type of humor. We should all just lighten up. I responded that I wasn’t buying it; it’s not okay to be inappropriate and misogynist just because that’s what you’re known for. (Is it ever okay?) So what if people expect you to conform to the lowest common denominator? Surprise us. Rise above. Exceed expectations.
This led to a useful thread about the limits of humor: Can we only laugh at appropriate jokes? What’s the definition of appropriate, in that case? In this (admittedly brief) thread, I commented that no, of course we can’t only laugh at appropriate jokes, but I said I draw the line at rape jokes. I also said I wasn’t accusing MacFarlane of making rape jokes, but rather pointing out my personal limit—important at the time, I felt, because the issue of consent had been raised in reference to the “We Saw Your Boobs” number. (Essentially, that the actresses’ participation in the bit was a form of consent. They were in on the joke.)
That was before I learned MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” bit was, in fact, just that—a rape joke set to music. As Schappell (and others) have pointed out, we saw Halle Berry’s breasts in Monster’s Ball, Hilary Swank’s in Boys Don’t Cry, and Jessica Chastain’s in Lawless in scenes “in which they’re being raped or gang-raped.” And we saw Scarlett Johansson’s “on our phones” thanks to virtual rape—she was a victim of cybercrime.
And then later he made a joke about Roman Polanski’s sexual assault of a thirteen-year-old.
To be fair, MacFarlane is not the only one to blame here. Writers, producers, directors, an entire production team contributed to the broadcast. Just as they would want to share in the glory of its successes, they should answer for its failures.
But MacFarlane is the most visual of perpetrators here. At any point he could have said, You know what, I’m not going to sexualize a nine-year-old. Or even, I’m not going to sexualize a rape scene. But he didn’t. He didn’t, because we—the collective American society that was his intended audience—didn’t expect him to. Judging from all of the MacFarlane apologists, we got exactly what we deserved by tuning in to watch him.
Is this new? No. At this time last year, Dallas (TX) Independent School District used Title I funds to send more than five thousand fifth-grade boys on a field trip to the movies. Their female classmates remained on campus, a decision made based on “available space at the movie theater,” according to DISD spokesperson Jon Dahlander. The all-boys excursion cost approximately $57,000, without accounting for the funds required to pay substitute teachers to take the place of those who accompanied the moviegoers. Regarding its decision to allow its boys to see Red Tails, a movie about African-American military pilots in World War II, the district told the Dallas Morning News they “thought boys would enjoy the combat movie more than the girls [would].” They did give the teachers who remained at school with the girls the option of showing Akeelah and the Bee.
Three days later, on February 12, 2012, R&B artist Chris Brown, who was convicted and sentenced to five years probation and 1,400 hours of community service in 2009 for assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna, made his return to the Grammy stage. Responding to three performances that sparked a social-media frenzy, fans tweeted and Facebooked their support with updates such as “I’d let Chris Brown beat me up anytime,” and “Everyone shut up about Chris Brown being a woman beater…Shiiiittt he can beat me up all night if he wants.”
Why was there such a public outpouring of support from girls and young women for a man convicted of domestic assault? Why did they value a man’s feelings over their own well being? To answer these questions, we need look no further than three days prior, to Dallas, Texas; young women think and behave as though they are secondary because we tell them from childhood that they are secondary. These two events are not unrelated.
In October of last year, students at predominately white Waverly (NY) High School reenacted the Brown–Rihanna scene as they imagined it for a homecoming pep rally. In blackface. It was preapproved by the faculty. That’s right.
See, Seth MacFarlane and the Oscars production team aren’t the only white guys who invite us to laugh at domestic violence.
Research on gender bias in schools has shown the harmful effects of subtle sexism. For instance, we know that around the onset of adolescence, girls begin to privilege boys’ feelings over their own. They stop speaking out in class; they raise their hands and wait to be called on. This may mean better grades than boys, as girls are rewarded for preferred classroom behavior, though it might not mean better test scores.
But what happened in Dallas was not subtle; it was overt. What happened in Dallas and in Waverly was sanctioned. And it is not okay.
American girls and young women will continue to undervalue themselves until we, as a society, elevate their status. And that begins with fighting back. With telling Seth MacFarlane and the production crew of the 2013 Oscars that it is not okay to rely on homophobia and misogyny to get laughs. It is not okay to denigrate women’s achievement to make yourself look better.
I might not be surprised that you did it, but I’m begging you, Seth: Surprise me. Be better than that. Don’t joke about how a self-imposed flu “worked”; joke about the industry that reinforces the need to literally make oneself sick in order to fit into a dress. Instead of using racist and xenophobic lines—How do you tell Denzel Washington and Eddie Murphy apart? Who cares if you can understand Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz as long as they look good?—to garner laughs, question a movie-going audience that doesn’t support more diverse casting. (To wit: Daniel Day-Lewis’s suggestion that he play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl Streep play Abraham Lincoln.)
Because clearly, as Dallas and Waverly (not to mention The Onion) show, these things have real-life implications. If we want to address the lack of diversity among the awardwinners (and don’t even get me started on the Scientific and Technical honorees—all white men!), we have to acknowledge the disparity and recognize how we as a society reify that. Only sixteen percent of films feature female protagonists. As you can imagine, the stats are worse when it comes to writers and directors. But when this is how we treat those women and girls who have managed to succeed—when we ridicule them and sublimate them—we shouldn’t be surprised if other women and girls don’t promote and celebrate themselves. That’s not the kind of behavior we reward, after all.
Let’s be better, America. We owe it to the next generations.
So let me just get two things out of the way before I get really, really deep in detail about one specific aspect of the Oscars intro last night:
1) it was super, super-long and self-indulgent. Even by Oscar standards. It was like half an hour before anybody got an award and I laughed maybe twice. Seth McFarlane being delighted by himself is ok when sublimated into a half-hour cartoon, it’s not really tolerable when mugged at the screen by a guy in a suit for the same amount of time. It isn’t actually funny, and thus fails the first test: the test of comedy.
2) in the thick of the “We Saw Your Boobs” song, which must have lasted five minutes all by itself, this line jumped out at me: “Jodie Foster in ‘The Accused’”. And I thought to myself “wait, isn’t her nudity in that movie part of a *rape scene*?” It threw a really sour note into what was supposed to be light-hearted.
But the in-depth thing I want to talk about is the “reaction shots” to the song, pre-taped by game actresses who were playing along. The substance of these reaction shots highlights just what’s so awful about McFarlane singing this song: mortification from most of the actresses and a little fist-pump of triumph from Jennifer Lawrence when he says we haven’t seen hers.
The song, the reaction shots and Seth McFarlane’s general attitude are all based on a commonplace and awful trope: that sex is a contest, and that men win and women lose when sex or nudity happens. It’s an archaic, prudish, creepy concept that derives from twisted notions about female purity and women-as-property.
McFarlane thinks if he has seen a woman’s breasts, he has won and she has lost, and he is now entitled to gloat about it. Women whose breasts Seth McFarlane has seen are meant to feel humiliated and degraded by that fact, even though it’s expected of actresses to show their breasts to get work. Meet the expectations placed on you by your industry, talented actresses? Too bad you’ve now injured your own dignity such that Seth McFarlane can mock you about it in front of a billion people. Even if your character is naked *because she’s being raped* (see point 2 above), it still amounts to a victory for Seth McFarlane to have seen your breasts.
McFarlane presents the whole skit as something he shouldn’t do, which makes it even worse, because he wants to get credit for the cleverness of his idea while also pretending it is beneath him. Which is completely candy-ass and cowardly.
The sexuality-as-contest-between-men-and-women thing is bubbling underneath so much that is awful: rape culture, workplace harassment, slut-shaming, abuse-themed porn, pick-up artist culture, etc., etc. It sets aside women as a separate thing from a person, and makes them into an object that is “ruined” by sex or nudity.
In a culture with a healthy attitude about sex and sexuality, McFarlane’s song would have no sting at all, because nudity in film would be a completely different sort of animal: it wouldn’t be compulsory for actresses to draw that “I am pure and don’t get naked”/”I am fallen and thus am only good for getting naked” line, and there wouldn’t be shame associated with having been naked on screen. There would be no sting in McFarlane smugly taunting women whose boobs he’s seen.
We don’t, yet, live in that culture. And when Seth McFarlane plays “sex is a contest and YOU LOST, Kate Winslet” for laughs, it’s depressingly clear how far we are from it.