Let’s be clear about the terms of the debate here: women are comparatively powerless in Hollywood. The key executives with green-light power are overwhelmingly male. Exactly five of this year’s major studio releases will come from female directors. And women account for barely a quarter of the speaking roles in big-budget movies. But they make up the majority of the population and buy the majority of movie tickets, and, as Fey joked right out of the gate, they take up a giant swath of the awards-show audience. So on Sunday night, for exactly three hours (actually, for something like 15 minutes, when you add their bits up), two women got on national television and semi-subversively sent up the industry’s representation of their gender.
And it was all too much for poor Kyle Smith. Look, you can’t tell anyone what is and isn’t funny (as evidenced by his classification of the night’s single funniest line, “And now, like a supermodel’s vagina, let’s all give a warm welcome to Leonardo DiCaprio,” as “wince-inducingly awful”), but when two female comics make the evening a sly satire of representation and your takeaway is “Ewww! Too many ladies!,” then I’m sorry, you’ve got no business reviewing hand mixers on Amazon, much less parsing mass media for a New York daily.
It’s not just that Smith misses the point when it comes to the hosts; his befuddlement at the rest of the evening’s “strange, mainly feminine” energy lays bare the ugliness of his worldview. Aside from implicitly regarding the femininity of the night as a negative, it doesn’t take much in the way of interpretation to figure out that this is someone who has real problems with women — from his objection to the misunderstood premise of Poehler’s Masters gag (“it isn’t challenging for a woman to find someone willing to sleep with her,” Smith bleats, a bit of throwaway frustration that calls for a good six months of psychiatric unpacking) to his jarring characterization of Cate Blanchett as a “tautly wound control freak” (presumably a judgment borne out of all the time they’ve spent hanging out) to, best of all, his insistence that “Only reigning dude Matthew McConaughey saved the evening.” Yes, that’s right, only the man’s man whose wife calls him “my king” rescued the night from all those pesky girl-cooties.
In passages like that, Smith’s anxiety broaches the windmill-tilting of the “men’s rights movement”; it’s even clearer in his parenthetical “retort” to the jokes about roles for aging actresses: “Hey, tell Bruce (Dern) how easy it is for old men to find work.” Tell ya what, Kyle, why don’t you ask Bruce himself: he’s been doing several pictures and TV shows, year in and year out, since about 2006. Or ask Jack Nicholson, or Robert De Niro, or Al Pacino, or Dustin Hoffman, or Michael Caine, or Morgan Freeman, or Robert Redford, or Michael Douglas, or Robert Duvall, or Anthony Hopkins, or Tommy Lee Jones, or Ian McKellan, or Christopher Walken, or… well, you get the picture.
But Smith is a very specific kind of white guy, one who’s gotten so accustomed to media that reflects the world as he sees it that when anything re-frames that image, it’s deeply frightening and/or repulsive. And hey, I don’t wanna turn this into Dudes Solve Feminism; I’m a white guy too, and while I don’t get Smith’s fear of diversity, I at least recognize the prism he’s used to. But let me offer you this small comfort, Kyle: no one is expecting you (or any of the other victims of this “feminized atmosphere” over at NewsCorp) to turn into a feminist. Frankly, I doubt they’d have you. But if you are going to comment on mass media in the year 2014, you might have to recognize that said media isn’t just serving an audience of people who look and think exactly like you, and isn’t just speaking from that perspective. In other words, you may have to evolve a little. And if you can’t, you should sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.