by Samantha Plotner
This past Sunday, Seth MacFarlane was the downside of an otherwise lovely Oscars broadcast. While he had a couple good quips (such as the one about Ben Affleck’s omission from the Best Director category) most of his jokes fell flat. MacFarlane’s brand of humor leans towards that of a 13-year old boy, which likely made him an inappropriate choice to host the Oscars to begin with. With him, you do expect some level of inappropriateness, but there is a way to make the non-PC funny, and MacFarlane missed that mark by a long shot.
|He may look cute and harmless, but MacFarlane did some
damage while hosting the Oscars.
Some bits could have been redeemed. The “We Saw Your Boobs” song could have been funny if it had lasted for fifteen seconds. But when it stretched into a production that embarrassed many of the actresses in the room, he crossed the line. Yes, there is a conversation to be had about female nudity in movies (especially that it happens much more for women than men) and even a way to joke about it, but that was not the way to do it. What also crossed the line? When Ted appeared and had an extended bit on being Jewish in Hollywood. It was overkill, a full two minutes of talking about how you need to be Jewish in Hollywood to succeed. The Anti-Defamation League (a group that deals with anti-Semitism and doesn’t jump on the “we’re offended” bandwagon lightly) released a statement saying the jokes were “sad and disheartening.”
Then there are the things no one should be joking about, namely domestic violence and assassinations. MacFarlane’s decent start ground to a halt as soon as he joked that Rihanna and Chris Brown saw Djanjo Unchained as a date move. In the lounge where I was watching, not a single person laughed, not even uncomfortably. One girl even asked the room, “doesn’t he have to get his jokes approved?” His joke about the last actor to get inside Lincoln’s head being John Wilkes Booth was also in poor taste. He admitted that that it might have been “too soon” when the line fell flat.
At the end of the day, what you say matters, even if you are a comedian. Using one of the most powerful women shown on screen in the last year (Maya from Zero Dark Thirty) to make a joke about “not letting things go” minimizes her. Especially since the character is based on a real female agent’s contribution to the most important clandestine operation of our lifetime. Making jokes about Jews controlling Hollywood only re-enforces that damaging stereotype. Even someone who is not anti-Semitic, sexist, racist, etc. can make a joke that falls in those categories. While yes, it is nice that in his personal life MacFarlane is a liberal who puts his money where his beliefs are, he does those beliefs no favors by belittling them on national television.
Comedy can push the envelope of propriety and still be funny. Comedians like Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler, or shows like The Office and MacFarlane’s own Family Guy do it all the time. But certain things should be off limits, and making the same joke too many times in a row takes it from funny to offensive. That was the core of the problem with MacFarlane. He wasn’t funny; he just made the audience uncomfortable and offended.
Samantha Plotner is a senior at Barnard College and Senior Editor of The Nine Ways of Knowing.