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Defending Seth MacFarlane

Posted by: Jim Schembri | 28 February, 2013 - 1:22 PM
Seth macFarlane

The only thing more predictable at this year's Oscars than Daniel Day-Lewis winning Best Actor for Lincoln has been the multi-front tirade protesting the humour of new-generation host Seth MacFarlane.

Best known as the creator of animated shows such as Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, MacFarlane now apparently stands accused of any number of hate crimes - including misogyny, sexism and anti-Semitism - all over a few edgy jokes and a catchy opening song celebrating cinematic breasts.

MacFarlane was brought in to help the Oscars telecast pull in decent viewing audience. The show has struggled for viewers for years, but the MacFarlane gamble worked: more than 40 million people watched, representing a rating of 26.6, the biggest since Billy Crystal pulled 26.68 in 2004. This included an 11% jump in the critical 18-49 demographic. It was a leap of faith, sure, but it worked.

Yet when asked if he'd host again, MacFarlane declared via Twitter: "No way. Lotta fun to have done it, though." He put it down to the workload on his other shows, rather than to the negative reaction he got from various groups over his barbed brand of comedy.

As envelope-pushing and occasionally tasteless as MacFarlane's gags admittedly were, it's hard to put much stock in the complaints.

Up for much lambasting was MacFarlane's opening song "We Saw Your Boobs". This has been decried as sexist and misogynist, the latter being a term that is now in danger of losing any real meaning due to it being chronically overused and often misspelt.

It's true only women were mentioned in the song, leaving him open to accusations of sexism. Perhaps if MacFarlane had made reference to Alfred Molina's moobs (man boobs) in Spider-Man 2 he would have insured against such claims. 

But misogynist?

Firstly, the song "We Saw Your Boobs" is, in essence, a recitation of facts, listing those prominent actresses who have, in the name of their art, put their upper-chest region on display before the cameras. It is hard to fathom how merely acknowledging what has been willingly committed to film for posterity is offensive or demeaning.

And what actress would object to such a mention in song? After all, you don't appear semi-naked in a film then expect people not to talk - or sing - about it. Notably, the actresses mentioned have not come out complaining. In fact, three of those mentioned – Naomi Watts, Charlize Theron and Jennifer Lawrence – got in on the joke by pre-recording reaction shots for the number.

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Secondly, the song is not a put-down but a celebration, as the line "it made us feel excited and alive" makes clear when MacFarlane referenced Angelina Jolie's fine performance in 1998’s  Gia

Thirdly, the song could be interpreted as an anthem - a tribute - to feminist empowerment.

In the early 1970s new-age feminists expressed their new-found liberation by burning their bras, the symbol of their constriction and suppression.

Only a few days ago, those brave Italian feminists who railed against Silvio Berlusconi chose to do so topless.

And when Julie Andrews sought to distance herself from her wholesome image in the 1981 Blake Edwards movie S.O.B. she did so by baring her top. 

This is not to suggest that "We Saw Your Boobs" should replace "I Am Woman" as the go-to anthem for the 21st-century feminist movement any time soon. But it is an intriguing thought, especially if one imagines Helen Reddy singing it. 

MacFarlane's joke about the Lincoln assassination was on the line, but if people are going to get anxious and upset about that gag, where have they been for the past 50 years with all the jokes about President John F Kennedy and his fateful visit to Dallas?

These anti-Lincoln-Joke-Making wowsers were certainly nowhere to be seen or heard when Oliver Stone released his conspiracy theory comedy JFK in 1991, a hilarious film that put forth the notion that everybody in Dealey Plaza except Lee Harvey Oswald was in on the assassination.

The Anti-Defamation League reacted fiercely over the gag made by teddy bear Ted - star of MacFarlane's hit comedy Ted - about how being Jewish helps you succeed in Hollywood. They hated it, which begs the crucial question: had they heard of MacFarlane before?

MacFarlane has been doing this sort of comedy since Family Guy first aired in 1999. What were they expecting exactly? And where have they been? Surely the best and most sensible time to complain about him hosting the Oscars would be before, not after, the horse has bolted.

The hard truth is that the "clean" humour of former Oscar hosts such as Billy Crystal, Bob Hope and Johnny Carson was great - but it was of its time.

"Clean" humour was served up by Steve Martin when he did the Oscars in 2001 and 2003, and again in 2010 when he co-hosted with Alec Baldwin. The results were very mixed, with Martin recording a record low rating in 2003. Perhaps a Jerry Seinfeld could pull it off consistently.

But if your intention is to connect with people - especially young people - today, you have to speak their language and humour. And, like it or not, upbeat songs about boobs on film has an audience.

It’s important to note that MacFarlane didn't do those jokes cold. Everything has to pass through the producers for approval. So if anyone needs to be targeted for blame, it's the organisers.

It is a little difficult to swallow that MacFarlane won't host again because of lobby pressure. He's been resisting that ever since Family Guy began. He is not one to bow to complaints, and given that the show’s ratings success has been largely down to the viewers he pulled in, it's likely we'll see him back next year.

And with an even catchier song.

Jim Schembri's Oscars Wrap-up

Seth MacFarlane WINNERS: Australians drew a blank at this year's Oscars with Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts and Jacki Weaver all striking out in their quests for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively.

 

Movies with Jim Schembri

Jimmy S Jim Schembri is one of Australia's most respected film critics. Click here for all your Jim Schembri film reviews, top ten lists, interviews with Australian and Hollywood talent and much much more.

 

Blog comments Your Say

  • the warren report is the joke Jim a bad one that ethically nand morally ruined the country.

    jeff pascal Friday 1 March, 2013 - 5:03 AM
  • Dude. Two of the movies he referenced in "we saw your boobs" were movies where we saw te actresses boobs because the film contained a rape scene. Not an image of liberation, and not a good subject for humor - especially if its something 18-whatever year olds are then going to think is acceptably funny.

    Tim Thursday 28 February, 2013 - 6:18 PM
  • Jim, what a load of bollocks.

    the serial pest Thursday 28 February, 2013 - 2:54 PM

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