All over the internet, facebook, and the twitter-sphere, I’ve seen smatterings of approval for Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar performance, and a whole host of angry online writers and posters decrying his performance as sexist, racist, and highly offensive.
While it’s sad that I have to make this kind of a disclaimer, here it goes: I am not anti-women. I am not anti-feminism. I am certainly not racist, sexist, or any kind of negative “ist” (unless you are referring to “bacon”-ist- in which case yes, I most certainly am, and I’d argue that’s a good thing.) I am, of course, a woman, and my husband will tell you that I am one of the most opinionated, loud mouthed, fire breathing feminists out there when it comes to things that will genuinely influence my rights as a woman (I’m looking at you, Todd Akin) or take away the rights of minorities and the disenfranchised (like the Supreme Court’s recent reconsideration of the Voting Rights Act.)
And, I’ll fully admit, I was genuinely entertained by the Oscars this year. And yes, damnit, I’m a woman. So what? At the very worst- perhaps you can conclude that I’ve got bad taste. Fine. I’ll take it. I’m a lover of frat-boy humor, Family Guy, South Park, and National Lampoon spin offs. I also love French foreign films, Lord of the Rings style fantasy, Star Wars, and comic book adaptations. What can I say- I’m a complex creature.
I have to say I am most certainly not surprised at the backlash over Seth’s performance. I could see it coming like a bra-burning freight train from the very first note of “Boobs” to the implication that Salma Hayek doesn’t need to be understood because she’s “just so attractive.” (Hey ladies- did you take note that a man- Javier Bardem- was included in that list?)
Was I offended by Seth MacFarlane? No. And yet somehow this will probably bring on all sorts of condemnation that I am “anti-woman” or “anti-minorities” or anti anything that was criticized by MacFarlane at the Oscars.
The thing is- I’m not here to try to convince the angry mobs to change their minds (especially seeing as I am usually a part of the angry mob.) I am certainly not trying to convince them that they are wrong, because that’s not what this is about: black and white, right and wrong. (Plus, I know as well as anyone, especially considering how stubborn I am, that shouting at the rain is useless.) I do think what his criticizers fail to realize is that the very fact that they are able to have a loud and powerful voice of condemnation of a white, male comedian means that, in fact, Seth probably didn’t throw women’s and minority rights back 50 years with the wave of his hand and the tap of his shoe. I certainly don’t think he added any more bricks to the proverbial male dominated power structures. How could he… when we live a country (thankfully) where any metaphorically added bricks can be so easily torn down the next day? One of the most amazing things about American society is that we can speak our minds. I wouldn’t want to quell the discourse surrounding Seth’s racy performance for anything- it’s what makes our country such a marvel. But I think it’s also fair to take a step back and look at the difference between comedy, entertainment, and things that genuinely have a negative impact on our society (and perhaps not be so quick to shut out those who have a differing opinion than we do.)
We are not liberal, or conservative, or misogynistic, or condescending, or sexist, or racist… simply because we enjoy an entertainer. Comedy is a part of the human experience. We are human beings, and sometimes things like comedy can’t necessarily be controlled (and perhaps shouldn’t be). Comedy can be rude, offensive, enlightening, and satirical. Comedy opens up the spaces for discourse on topics previously dominated by hegemonic thinking and unbreakable power structures (come on- the very fact that we are having these conversations points to comedy’s usefulness- however offensive- at breaking through hegemonic power structures.) The point of comedy is that the potential for offense is everywhere. And it is because that potential is everywhere that these conversations can exist.
I wouldn’t even want to imagine a counterfactual world where Seth MacFarlanes didn’t exist, because in what way would these discussions be had? Without offensive assholes like Seth MacFarlane- the patriarchal and misogynistic power structures I do so vehemently oppose would still be there, but we wouldn’t have comedy as a tool for exposing these structures for what they are, having conversations about them, and promoting more awareness of those who are disadvantaged at the behest of a white male dominated society.
But I suppose I am veering dangerously close to devolving into an academese filled rant about theories that most people will probably tell me I don’t understand.
My point is this: entertainment, music, laughter (sometimes at the expense of others) is a part of the human experience. Seth MacFarlane is a self proclaimed “equal opportunity offender”- and while we may have picked out his rants against women and minorities as particularly tactless on Oscar night… no one in the room (not even himself…especially himself) was spared the scrutiny of his sophomoric wit. Not white, male George Clooney. Not white, male Tommy Lee Jones. Not white, male Daniel Day Lewis. To say that his routine will somehow have a statistically significant (and substantially negative) influence on perceptions of women and minorities is to actually downplay the power and significance of his criticizers (of yourselves!), and moreover the power of an increasingly pluralistic model of opinion sharing and influence. You may have laughed at his jokes, hated his jokes, thought the whole thing was a total drag, but no matter how much we criticize a comedian for being tasteless- we have to acknowledge that their work allows us to have these conversations. Because let’s face it- at the end of the day we’re all on the same side: do you really think MacFarlane wants to do anything other than to make people laugh? And do you really think his primary goal is to exploit and degrade women and minorities? Do we really believe that for a second, Seth MacFarland, the creator of Family Guy and Ted, has some secret white male power agenda? I think he probably wants the same things that a lot of us do- progressive politics, fair treatment of women, minorities, and gays, and well… to laugh. And if you’d like a little proof of that: see here.
We have to remember that laughter is a common part of the human experience, as common as music, eating, breathing, and sleeping. It is necessary for our existence. If you want to criticize his performance, that’s just fine. It should be encouraged. But don’t do it at the expense of those who actually did enjoy it for it’s entertainment value, or those who enjoyed it simply because they wanted an escape. It can be surprisingly frustrating to wake up after a nice Oscar evening to look at your facebook and twitter feed and suddenly feel guilty about being a woman who enjoyed something like Seth MacFarlane’s hosting (and also very much appreciates Family Guy.) But after a while, I realized that I probably shouldn’t feel so guilty. After all, while some of the criticisms were warranted, I think there are a lot of people out there who are simply looking for something to be offended by so they can get up on a pedestal and talk down to others. (I’ll admit, I’m completely guilty of this… often…case in point…now? Sorry, friends) But instead of mounting the proverbial soap box and shutting out anyone who wasn’t willing to fall in step with the feminist foot soldiers- why not continue to engage in more fruitful conversations with them? Isn’t that what discourse is all about?
At any rate, before we take ourselves too seriously (and I fear I’ve already gone too far)- I think it’s perfectly fine to allow ourselves to laugh a little, even if its at the expense of the million dollar baby dolls of the silver screen: the dashing George Clooney, the incomparable Daniel Day Lewis and the stunning Jennifer Lawrence. Entertainment is meant to push boundaries. Comedy…comedy is meant to push boundaries (even if it’s not in a direction that we approve of.) If the whole entertainment world were PC- I’d suspect it would be a fairly boring place (and probably have gone into financial ruin by now). We should acknowledge our criticisms, but also embrace the conversations that rat-bastard comedians (and I use that term lovingly, because lord knows I adore Family Guy) like Seth MacFarlane allow us to have. I’m not denying that Hollywood does have a sexism and racism problem… still! In the 21st century! But in our efforts to change these standards, let’s embrace the beauty of two differing viewpoints engaged in common conversation, something that often happens as a result of the very comedic flop we decry in the first place.
And finally…please…from one progressive to another: don’t hate me, criticize me, or speak down to me… for just enjoying the Oscars. Instead- maybe just have a healthy conversation with me. We need to get used to the fact that we don’t live (nor should we) in a world that is politically correct.