Thursday, February 28, 2013

Seth McFarlane, Satire and Take 2 on The Humorless Feminist

Last July I wrote this post about Daniel Tosh and rape jokes.  It was about how some jokes CAN be harmful and how unfair the "humorless feminist" label is.  I'm going to jump off a couple of points from that post in this one, but this is different.  This is about another male comedian I have very strong feelings about.

I'm not a huge fan of awards shows in general--except for the Golden Globes, which are basically the Drunk Oscars--but I did consider watched the Academy Awards this year.  That's mostly because I loved Argo and Christoph Waltz's performance in Django Unchained so much.  But then I saw that Seth McFarlane was hosting and I basically rolled my eyes so hard they got stuck.  THAT was The Academy's way of trying to attract a younger audience and more ratings?  If I wasn't certain that the film industry was basically a club for white men, I certainly know it now.  And McFarlane delivered on exactly what was expected of him.  He delivered sexist, low-brow humor that got him huge ratings.  So, good for him, I guess.

I really hate Seth McFarlane.  The first season of Family Guy wasn't so bad, and the show occasionally has clever bits here and there.  I am sure that McFarlane started out writing satire, but eventually realized that subtle humor like that was not as successful as just outright being shocking and gross.  Because, as I said in the Daniel Tosh post, that's what this generation wants--they want to be shocked as much as possible, and considering how much our entertainers have catered to that desire in recent years it takes a lot to clear that bar anymore.

So McFarlane decided to do a song called "We Saw Your Boobs" at the Oscars.  Bar cleared?

I debated long and hard about whether or not to embed the video of the song here or post a transcript, but I decided to go with the video for two reasons.  One, it's important to see the reaction shots, an two, I didn't really want to Google Image search "we saw your boobs reaction shots" at school in order to prove my point without the video.  So, here it is.  If you haven't already seen it, don't say I didn't warn you that it sucks.  Also it's incredibly catchy and ti will get stuck in your head and you will want to smack yourself in the forehead with a hammer.

So this happened.  And yes, just to cover ALL my bases, I get that this was part of a device where McFarlane was poking fun at HIMSELF for being controversial and over-the-top.  But what a convenient excuse to do exactly what was expected!

Now let's get into the nitty-gritty.  This is why I find this video offensive.  There are several reaction shots from the actresses who are mentioned in this song--namely Naomi Watts, Charlize Theron and Jennifer Lawrence.  The first two women I just listed look incredibly annoyed that this is happening.  Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, grins and waves coquettishly when McFarlane sings that "we haven't seen your boobs at all."

It's been pointed out that the reaction shots were most likely pre-recorded, which almost makes it worse.  That means there were three options--one, these actresses were annoyed but figured they'd better go along with the joke for the sake of not getting called out, they were genuinely annoyed and showed it, they have internalized this idea that they, as women, need to make fun of themselves and do what is told to them in a universally-known tough business for women..  Or, possible as well, they genuinely thought the joke was funny and decided to go along with it.

Even if they were in on the joke and thought it was funny, those reaction shots reveal the sad double standard of Hollywood and our culture.  Women are expected to show their boobs in Hollywood and get a song written about it when they do.  On the other hand, that song also comes off as publicly shaming women for possessing and showing their feminine bodies. As evidence for this claim, I point to Jennifer Lawrence's reaction.  She seemed pretty happy that no one had seen her boobs.

Also, two more really terrible things about this song: one, some of the instances listed in this song where female actresses showed their boobs were explicit rape scenes where I'm almost 100% certain that the nudity was not meant for titillation (no pun intended), and the line "Scarlett Johansson, we saw them on our phone."  Her phone was hacked and private photographs were leaked.  And it was a long time ago.  And Seth McFarlane had to shame her about it again.  That, folks, is class.

Now I want to talk about satire.  Because the "satire" defense has been used a lot, in relation to McFarlane and pretty much anytime a joke is offensive.  Satire requires some irony, and it is typically subversive and is supposed to be social commentary.  I hold up South Park, surprisingly, as a good example of this.  South Park is a show in which the characters that are supposed to be terrible are the ones doing terrible things, and we see this through the eyes of the everyman characters of Stan and Kyle.  Cartman is often the vehicle through which satire goes--we know that Cartman is deplorable so when he does anti-Semitic, racist, sexist, classist things, it's expected and the other characters point out how terrible it is.  South Park is over the top, also, using fantastical and ridiculous scenarios that would never actually happen to prove its points about society and politics.  Is it offensive?  Yes.  That does not mean it can't be satire and can't be productive in some way.

Family Guy isn't that.  Peter Griffin in the everyman character, and he's also the terrible one.  Actually, most of the people in Family Guy are terrible.  Again, I can believe that the show started out as satire, but quickly devolved into just being shocking for the sake of being offensive.  Go look up the Family Guy episode about domestic violence.  Or the episode about trans people.  I honestly believe that South Park exists to make fun of people who hate minority groups while Family Guy actually hates them.

And "satire" isn't just a catch-all term for any offensive joke anyone makes.  A lot of them AREN'T ironic.  A lot of them are just offensive for the sake of being offensive.  And even if these jokes are supposed to be satire, they aren't over-the-top enough for people to look at them as anything but part of the dominant narrative.  Thus, things like the "We Saw Your Boobs" song do more harm than good.  This is, of course, working under the assumption that it was supposed to be satire and therefore pointing out something negative about our culture.  The "We Saw your Boobs" song just reinforced those double standards in media, it wasn't turning any stereotype on its head or using any irony.  It was just a song about actresses flashing their breasts in movies.  Even if it was intended as something else, that's how I'm willing to be the majority of the Oscars' apparently enormous viewing audience saw it.

And yet again, I am the humorless feminist.  Well, you know what?  Throw that label at me, I don't care anymore.  Because this shit is harmful.  You can say "it's just a joke" as much as you want, but again, it's an acceptable joke in a world where these are acceptable beliefs to hold.  And until that's not the case, you have to fight the tiny battles and nitpick and do whatever you can to show how unacceptable it is that women who did films about rape have "hahahaha, boobs" jokes thrown at them while male actors get off scot-free both not having pressure to get naked and getting naked if they choose to.  Am I a killjoy?  Well, I'm sorry I ruined your little jokes, go ahead and oppress me some more.  Oh wait, you're already condoning that oppression.  
And yes, it is exhausting having this conversation over and over again.  This humor is seen as acceptable because the culture is acceptable.  But maybe he did succeed after all--I mean, I did write this blog post.  And i am one of hundreds, probably thousands, of bloggers writing about this.  Perhaps that was McFarlane's scheme all along, and I just didn't know it.  Maybe he is smarter than any of us.
I seriously doubt it, though.  

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