And the Oscars Go To: Sexism, Racism, Homophobia, and Anti-Semitism

Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve looked forward to the Academy Awards. I know that the shows are long and sometimes tedious, but I love movies and enjoy seeing the fashion hits and misses. I still remember the year of the streaker and the various political protests presenters have made.

So I anticipated Sunday night’s show with pleasure, and I had no thought of tweeting, sermonizing, or blogging about it. (I did blog a few years ago, when Brokeback Mountain won and same-sex spouses started thanking each other publicly at awards shows.)

I admit I had to Google Seth McFarlane at the beginning of the program; I thought he was the weekend anchor from Saturday Night Live. When I saw he writes Family Guy, I knew we might be in for some frat-boy humor.

What I was not prepared for was being inundated with so-called humor laced with sexism, racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. There was a domestic violence joke, a gun violence joke, and an eating disorder joke. There was even the sexualization of a 9-year-old girl.

What’s worse is that MacFarlane knew exactly how offensive his material was. The skit with William Shatner beaming in from the future to prevent MacFarlane from bombing clearly showed that the writers and host knew much of the audience would be offended. This wasn’t unconscious cultural incompetence; it was actively trying to make us laugh by offending us. It rose to the level of conscious incompetence. I keep asking myself how this was allowed to happen in 2013, with a global audience of nearly a billion people.

What’s also remarkable is that the audience at the Kodak Theater put up with it. Yes, there were a few gasps and horrified expressions throughout MacFarlane’s performance. But instead of cutting to the audience during the revolting opening dance number about women baring their breasts in films (which the actresses presumably did because the role required it, not so we could stare at their bodies), the Oscars team showed pre-taped reaction shots from actresses pretending to be outraged. It’s as if the producers wanted to make the joke and get a pass at the same time—“these women are in on the joke, so it can’t be that bad.” The gay men’s chorus did not redeem the joke; instead, it underscored the sexism with the implication, “You did it, and we weren’t even turned on.” 

Perhaps the second most cringe-worthy moment of the night was MacFarlane’s introduction of Salma Hayek. The host quipped that this was the point in the night when Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, or Salma Hayek get up on stage and the audience doesn’t care that it couldn’t understand them because they are so beautiful. In other words, this was the moment in the evening to sexualize Latino actors and make fun of the fact that English is not their first language. I hoped for some protest to emerge and wished, improbably, that the Jaws theme would come on during McFarlane comments and play him off stage. I can only imagine what Michelle Obama must have been thinking as she watched the evening unfold, knowing she soon would appear.

I also kept thinking about the children at home who were watching the telecast with their families. It would have been a night of “teachable moments,” and I can only hope that parents took the time to talk about how important it is to treat all people with respect and that it’s never appropriate to make fun of people in hurtful ways.

Several commentators have pointed out that the show was exactly what we should have expected, and that we should have protested back when MacFarlane was chosen. But there was every reason to think that he would have risen to the occasion and used his considerable skills to create an entertaining show for everyone.

Shame on the producers. Shame on the writers. Shame on the news media that covered who won and what they were wearing without commenting on the outrageousness of the attacks on women and people of color or the offensive humor.

We deserve an apology. And they should make it up to us: #AmyAndTina2014.

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  • Lesli Meekins

    Where was the antisemitism?

    • Jon

      He did a bit about jews running Hollywood, again, pointing out that antisemitic morons exist, as Mark Whalberg did, IN THE BIT, which he was a part of.

  • Cheryl Hopper

    Definitely shame on the producers, for choosing that no-talent overgrown frat boy as host. What were they thinking? When I heard he was hosting, that guaranteed I wasn’t going to tune in. I’ve never been anything but utterly revolted by the so-called ‘humor’ in the shows he’s behind. Shame on the Academy!

    • nettwench14

      I totally agree! Most of his viewers are younger – which doesn’t give me hope for the future, I tell you!

  • nettwench14

    This is what i would expect from people that listen to Rush Limbaugh all day. I never liked Family Guy, never found it funny in the least. Maybe that’s why I didn’t even watch until Barbara Streisand got up to sing. Now Daniel Day-Lewis was funny. So glad I missed the rest, I would have been infuriated! Time for women to host the Oscars. Tina Fey is funnier that Seth all day long! So is Amy Poehler. Why haven’t either of them been asked?

    • Jon

      Because they just did the Golden Globes, and that would overkill.

  • Jon

    1 – you had to look up Seth MacFarlane, 2 – you think that all Family Guy is is frat boy humour, 3 – you never stopped to think that any of the humour that MacFarlane points out could possibly be a tongue cheek satire of American culture; a revulsion of what it has become.

    If you watched any of the things that MacFarlane has touched and maybe attempted to step outside of your biased cultural lens which effects only your own shock and revulsion at the things MacFarlane laughs at, perhaps you would see that.

    Truly, some of what MacFarlane does is for shock value. But as is the case for any shock value comedy or comedian that is worth their salt, there is substance; commentary. That said, some of humour simply will touch on the darker taboo of life/culture/psyche, and some of it is going to make some people uncomfortable. Others will laugh, others still won’t get it. It’s a paradox of perception and subjective reality. Enjoy your opinion – I’m enjoying mine of you at the moment, it’s only fair that you take yours, I guess).

  • Fern Manire Porras

    I agree with everything you said. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior is close to becoming the norm now, thanks to reality shows where men punch each other in the mouth, women pull each others’ hair and both sexes refer to women as bitches and hos. If it’s not shocking, it’s not going to sell today- and that is becoming more true every day. It doesn’t seem to matter how dignified the event is either.

  • Molly Nolan

    Maybe MacFarlane was attempting to satirize elements of American culture that sorely need it. If that was the case–epic fail. There are plenty of talented writers who could have made entertaining yet artful and biting commentary without being offensive. I have never had so much difficulty watching the Oscars. And after the first few minutes, never had less desire to do so.

    • Jon

      What the mainstream may need to counter something that is becoming the norm that is so base may be a clown to appeal closer to the lowest common denominator to illustrate the farce and translate it for those people. If you’re thinking high art, you have to realize you’re not in the majority. And the Academy Awards, Hollywood, etc. – that is, mainstream American culture isn’t exactly high art. Hollywood’s about sales, unfortunately. MacFarlane negotiates the divide pretty well, I think.