I am really pissed off about Seth MacFarlane's performance as Oscars host. To be specific, I am pissed off about the response to Seth MacFarlane's performance, which has put me in the unwanted position of having to defend Seth MacFarlane.
Was MacFarlane crude? Sure. Were some of his jokes tasteless? Yes. At the same time, though, after reading many critiques of his performance, I can't help but think some people are taking the whole thing way too seriously and ratcheting up their indignation to protestething-too-much levels.
First, what were people expecting? It's Seth MacFarlane, for God's sake! The man's major claim to fame is "Family Guy," which--love it or hate it--is one of the most consistently offensive (fans will say "irreverent") shows on television. Indeed, MacFarlane's reputation preceded him to such an extent that, unless he had stepped totally out of character and comported himself as the second coming of Cary Grant, he was all but doomed to receive the very condemnatory reviews he has, in fact, received. But looking at what actually transpired last night, I have to say that, really, MacFarlane was if anything too well behaved. Indeed, his major problem may have been self-imposed restraints that did nothing to mollify his critics while having the effect of essentially divesting him of potential sources of jokes.
Let's start at the beginning: One of the, shall we say, memorable moments occured during MacFarlane's opening shtick. He is visited from the future by none other than Captain Kirk, who warns him that, unless he quickly reconsiders his plans, he will go down in history as the worst Oscars host ever. What "will" he do that is so bad? Well, for starters, he will perform an elaborate song and dance number entitled "We Saw Your Boobs," in which he rhapsodizes over all the times major actresses have appeared topless.
Now, much has been made of the fact that, in several of the movies named in the song, the women appear topless during rape scenes; I admit to cringing slightly when he name-checked Jodie Foster in "The Accused." But the song itself does not mention the context of the toplessness, and the main targets of the joke are not the women but the sort of adolescent simpletons who get all geeked out over seeing boobies. (Stop looking at me!) I would also point out that the whole set-up of the bit was that this song was supposed to be outrageously tasteless. I admit that even if something is intentionally tasteless it is still tasteless, but we should at least acknowledge that part of what makes the joke "work" (to whatever extent it does work) is MacFarlane's attempt at self-deprecation: "I'm such a clueless, immature jerk that I would actually have thought this was a good idea."
A joke he made about Kim Kardashian's facial hair also sparked outrage. To which I say, Seriously? People are seriously offended on behalf of Kim Kardashian? This is a woman who, born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, chose not to do something worthwhile with her life, but to cash in to the tune of several million dollars by releasing a videotape of herself having sex with a semi-famous singer. She's off-limits? An attack on Kardashian is not misogyny: It's common sense!
One of the most indignant critiques about MacFarlane's misogynistic performance stated, "MacFarlane loves women! As he said about Salma Hayek, it doesn’t matter if we can’t understand a word the native Spanish-speaking actress is saying — we’re just staring at her sweater puppies anyway." Except here's the whole joke (paraphrasing): "We've reached the point in the show where usually Javier Bardem or Penelope Cruz or Salma Hayek comes out and says something that we can't understand a word of, but it doesn't matter because they're just so damn good looking!" Is that misogynist? Kinda racist, maybe, but not misogynist.
Then there was the infamous Rihanna joke. By way of introducing "Django Unchained," MacFarlane quipped, "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." Tasteless? Well, yes, but from a comedy standpoint, I would argue that the bigger problem is the joke doesn't really make sense. Better would have been something like this: "This is Quentin Tarantino's movie about a man fighting to get back his woman, who's been subjected to unthinkable violence. Oh, and Quentin? Chris Brown's lawyers are backstage. They want to talk to you about unlicensed use of his image."
MacFarlane also drew boos for this one (paraphrasing): "You know, Daniel Day-Lewis is not the first actor to get a nomination for playing Abraham Lincoln. Raymond Massey was nominated for 'Abe Lincoln in Illinois.' But I think the actor who most successfully got into Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth." Now, I would argue that that is a perfectly well-constructed joke. Not only that, but any number of comedians have probably made similar jokes and/or could/would have made the joke at last night's ceremony. You think Robin Williams wouldn't have said that? Or even the much-venerated Billy Crystal? If Crystal had made the joke, though, everyone would have called it edgy.
What other sacred cows did MacFarlane attack? The fact that there are many Jews in Hollywood? Gasp! The fact that musical theater has a somewhat "gay" image? Shocked, shocked! I recall Neil Patrick Harris doing a whole (hilarious) song and dance number at the Tony's about how Broadway is "not just for gay people anymore!"
And what about the jokes he DIDN'T make? There was ample material: He had a nine-year-old Best Actress nominee, but the most edgy thing he said about her was that her first name (Quvenzhane) looks like something you'd see on an eye-test; yes, he did say it would be "sixteen years until she's too old for Clooney," but that was at Clooney's expense, not hers. I don't recall him saying anything remotely tasteless about the other clear target among the leading ladies, Emmanuelle Riva, the oldest nominee ever. And, come on, if he wanted to go for pure over-the-top crudity, here's a fastball down the middle that he just let sail by: Adele's last name is Atkins? Guess the diet is named after someone else.
Yeah, same to you!
The bottom line? Last night's ceremony wasn't a Papal installation. It wasn't a 9/11 memorial service. It was the freakin' Oscars! And consider this: Everybody in that theater went absolutely apeshit during a performance from "Les Miserable" when a group of gorgeous millionaires decked out in tuxedos, evening gowns, and probably a million dollars worth of borrowed jewelry, sang a song glorifying the impending revolution of the lower classes. And people were offended by Seth MacFarlane's boobie jokes?