What do you remember about the 2013 Oscars, hosted by Seth MacFarlane? Was it the Best Picture winner? (Argo.) Jennifer Lawrence falling up the stairs when she won for Silver Linings Playbook? Or was it Seth MacFarlane, who started off the night on an ugly, hostile note with the song “We Saw Your Boobs”?
It was a performance that had Amy Davidson from The New Yorker writing, “Watching the Oscars last night meant sitting through a series of crudely sexist antics led by a scrubby, self-satisfied Seth MacFarlane. That would be tedious enough. But the evening’s misogyny involved a specific hostility to women in the workplace.”
She pointed out, correctly, that the “joke,” as it were — even in the context of being from a dumb skit that also featured William Shatner calling “from the future” so he wouldn’t mess up — wanted to have its cake and eat it too. With lyrics like, “Meryl Street we saw your boobs in Silkwood… Angelia Jolie we saw your boobs in Gia/ They made us feel excited and alive,” MacFarlane positioned this group of women and their work — a high-achieving, often Academy Award-winning cohort — strictly in the context of his sexual pleasure. It was gross, and it deserved the kickback that it received. On a night that was supposed to celebrate everyone’s achievements in film, “We Saw Your Boobs” (and MacFarlane’s subsequent sexist jokes) denigrated women’s.
But according to MacFarlane, in a new Glamour interview to promote his crooner-classics Christmas album, the media just didn’t get it. We neglected to consider the “satirical” context. Misogyny is “a pretty serious accusation,” he says now. “[The song] was presented as part of an alternate universe where everything at the Oscars was done incorrectly, [but] the media ignored the context entirely. Comedy and satire being treated with more outrage than actual sexism, racism, or homophobia makes no sense at all.”
But do you remember that satire? That high concept? No, you don’t. Do you remember how MacFarlane seemed as if he was “adorably” taking down a slew of women by reducing them to mere body parts? Yes. It wasn’t funny, even by the limited, 12-year-old boy standards of the MacFarlane oeuvre. It didn’t say anything interesting or profound about the role of women in film, or the roles that have, for better or worse, defined their careers. He’s also deflecting, here — in what world is sexism magically not sexism when viewed through the lens of “comedy”? Is sexism in comedy less important — or less real — than sexism in other venues? Because it’s not as if comedy is a sexism-free world where women are equally represented with men writer’s rooms, or subjected to heckles that cross the line into harassment.
MacFarlane goes on to explain that he’s misunderstood as a misogynist. “My manager is a woman, my publicist is a woman, my accountant is a woman,” he informs us. “My producer, who runs all of the animated television series and presides over everyone, is a woman.” So his answer is, basically, “I couldn’t possibly be sexist, I know three women!” (It also, in its setup, eerily echoes a widely quoted passage of Flavorwire’s own Matthew Klickstein interview from October…)
But MacFarlane’s art — the message it sends to the world — is resolutely misogynistic, with attacks on feminists, characters who are denigrated for being fat, and supposedly hilarious uses of the word “rape” as a punchline as the norm. As our TV critic Pilot Viruet observed in a piece about The Simpsons/Family Guy crossover, “Bart does one of his usual prank phone calls to Moe. Then Stewie follows suit by calling and saying, ‘Hey Moe. Your sister’s being raped,’ before hanging up. That’s the entire joke — no setup, no punchline, just the word ‘rape.'”
In an interview that should’ve been a puff piece regarding Christmas songs and crooning, MacFarlane seemed to have quite the chip on his shoulder regarding sexism and misogyny; sure, he may perpetuate these ideas, making tired jokes based on tired gender, race, and class stereotypes, but he’s not really a bad guy, so it’s all OK, right? Maybe instead of protesting too much in the pages of Glamour, MacFarlane could try and transform his work into the highbrow satire he so emptily maintains that it is.