John Walker's Electronic House

Those Oh-So Terribly Offensive Oscars

by on Feb.25, 2013, under Rants

Intrigued by the FURY that appeared in both the Guardian and the Telegraph this morning, over Seth MacFarlane’s hosting of the Oscars last night, I had to watch what they were so upset about. The Guardian was LIVID at one particular moment by MacFarlane, when he sang a song called “We Saw Your Boobs”. They wrote,

“Few people would imagine ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ was a good subject for a song. Turned out, Seth MacFarlane was one of them. And he belted the words out over and over again, listing a host of actors whose breasts have been seen on screen… Every refrain was more excruciating. It was a truly bad start to the ceremony, made weirder, not smarter, by William Shatner being beamed in via video link in full Star Trek costume, warning is this song might cause offense.”

Clearly no one has explained to the anonymous author what a “song” is, thus their confusion at the repeated “refrain” and the chorus of the song being sung “over and over again”. Meanwhile the Telegraph‘s film critic Tim Robey frothed,

“Within minutes of his first routine — the one that needlessly insulted Jean Dujardin for his low profile since winning last year, and threw in a dismally unfunny remark about the torture in Django Unchained resembling what Rihanna and Chris Brown would call “date night” — he was laboriously trying to bypass criticism. William Shatner, doing Captain Kirk, called in with a message from the future to help MacFarlane fix the broadcast as it went along: a bold but self-defeating gambit. He was shown a headline – “Worst Oscar host ever” – from tomorrow’s news. More feeble jokes. Two inexplicable dance routines. Somehow these got the headline modified to “Pretty Bad Oscar Host”. Eventually he reached “Mediocre”. Nothing happening on stage remotely justified the upgrade.”

Later he refers to MacFarlane has having demonstrated “the profound contemptibility of women”.

So what actually happened? Well, none of the negativity referred to.

Shatner’s role during the routine was to be broadcasting from the 22nd century, as Kirk, warning MacFarlane that his performance goes down as the worst in Oscar history, and blames a song he’s about to sing. He then shows the song, on tape, via the big screen on which he appears. On tape. Pre-recorded. As in, not in front of the audience. The song – incredibly silly and brief, but brilliantly finishing with the Gay Men’s Chorus Of Los Angeles – lists films in which we’ve seen the boobs of famous actresses. During the song, the camera cuts to some of these actresses in their seats looking horrified, while everyone around them is looking concerned or shocked. And it’s from this, presumably, that so many of the critics have drawn the conclusion that the audience didn’t find it funny, and that people were offended. Except, well, the pre-recorded bit. Because with live audio, you could hear the audience laughing, at the same time as the shots of the angry actors were shown. They were faked. They were women, named in the song, being part of the bit, having pre-recorded their angry reactions to be shown on the tape, shown to the audience.

And as if this weren’t obvious enough to those so desperate to be offended on a famous lady’s behalf, one of the women to whom MacFarlane had been so contemptible was Charlize Theron. She was shown looking angry and humiliated during the song (the bit on the video being shown to the audience, for any newspaper critics reading), and then APPEARS WITH HIM ON STAGE IN THE NEXT SONG.

The roasting gags get great laughs, almost always from the targets themselves. The “needless insult” to Dujardin saw him chuckling away heartily, looking very good-natured about the mild tease. The only person lacking a sense of humour was, shockingly enough, Ben Affleck, although the rest of the audience thought the fun poked at him deserved a big applause.

MacFarlane then went on to sing some Hollywood musical classics, his familiarly wonderful voice absolutely perfect as ever, while Theron danced extraordinarily. (And a sock puppet version of Flight, which everyone inexplicably forgot to mention.) Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt then come on and perform some exquisite dancing with the host, and the whole affair becomes extremely classy. Mixed with some naughty jokes. It was a great performance, and the audience was clearly loving it throughout. Presumably the papers were just banking on no one in the UK having stayed up to watch it.

11 Comments for this entry

  • Geoff 'Shivoa' Birch

    I didn’t stay up to watch, but it seems more than a couple did not find the show funny with pieces like quickly sprouting to provide a perspective that seems at least tangentially similar to the ones provided by the papers you mention (although not going for any angle about those included in the roasting during any numbers but rather looking at an award show in the same way that you or I might look at games awards and a potential failure to try and be inclusive as a failure to respect the breadth of the audience of the media). Maybe it was an incredible event, fun for all including jokes with some bite; I’ve generally heard not great things about the last few years and so haven’t given it the time to generate any personal viewpoint but in the reflected comments of friends who did watch it didn’t sound like the amusement was recognised by all who tuned in and some people seems to have what sound like valid concerns about the tone and repeated jokes.

  • Jambe

    But John, if you don’t blindly defend the chaste cloth-bound purity of all women everywhere across all of space and time, you’re not a True Feminist.

    … right?

    Women are frequently casually and deliberately sexualized in modern culture, but wrt what was described, the negative reaction to MacFarlane’s bit seems to be a misinterpretation of what he was up to (namely, lambasting himself and his own track record of puerile satirical humor by turning the same upon the audience, perhaps highlighting the inanity of the whole affair).

    But I only have John’s account by which to judge (I’ve never watched any of these awards shows because I don’t give half a rat’s about awards).

    That’s not to say negative reactions to MacFarlane aren’t understandable. I just think they’re missing the point. There’s also the problematic implicit idea that all joking or levity about sex, gender, anatomy, etc is always demeaning, unnecessary, inappropriate, etc. We won’t make society more egalitarian wrt sex, sexuality, beauty, gender, etc by making these topics seem intrinsically ill-mannered or taboo.

  • Evert

    I dunno, I heard about it and thought it sounded a bit skeevy. Then watched it this morning and thought it looked a bit skeevy.

    I only watched the couple of minutes of the song itself. John makes it sound like it fitted in well with the rest of the material, and I trust his judgement. But not being a frequent watcher of award shows (because I find them themselves boring, though with ones like the Oscars I am a little interested in who wins) I cannot judge how “appropriate” it was. Though surely the organisers know what they are going to get with Seth MacFarlane (and then presumably cleared the pre-taped song).

    To be honest, I did not really find it funny (except for a couple of the reaction shots and the extended gag about Kate Winslet) – not due to offence, simply didn’t find it funny. Though it seems typical of MacFarlane’s humour (again not a fan).

    Though I was pleasantly surprised by his voice. Never would have guessed he was that good at singing. It was a good match for the Oscars (had that “old Hollywood” vibe). Was that his genuine singing voice or someone else’s dubbed over? You seem to imply that he has previous good form in the singing department that has previously passed me by.

    Also, from what I picked up on twitter, it seems the Onion wins the “Worst misjudgement of the night” award.

  • Dan Milburn

    As you’re no doubt aware by now, the negative reaction was certainly not restricted to members of the British press.

    I certainly haven’t got the impression that anyone was unaware of the staged shots of actresses being upset by that song. There’s one sentence out of both pieces you quoted that *might* suggest that, but that is, as you admit, your presumption. And of course the fact that some of the women named in the song were in on the ‘joke’ does not mean that other people aren’t allowed to think it was sexist. I’m rather surprised that you’re suggesting otherwise.

  • SteveE

    Full disclosure – I am not a fan of Seth McFarlane’s work and think he is hopelessly overrated. Not because it’s offensive, just cheap, tiresome and not half as clever as he thinks he is.

    John – I can’t help but notice that you’ve focused on a specific element of the reaction to the “boobs” song (actresses involved being offended) but have avoided the more substantive question.

    Journalists who can’t tell pre-recorded from live material, and who therefore fail to get what the joke is supposed to be deserve to be mocked. However, I can’t help thinking that the fact McFarlane references 4 actresses whose breasts were shown in scenes of rape is worthy of some more serious comment? It seems to me at very best ill-advised given the plethora of examples he could’ve used. If Jodie Foster *was* offended, it’d be hard to argue that she didn’t have a pretty good reason, just not the lazy one people have ascribed.

    I’m also quite surprised that the song didn’t finish with a verse of “we saw your dick” which would’ve made it noticeably funnier and avoided much of the easy criticism.

    Oh, and Evert, I disagree about the Onion. It’s a perfectly good joke though certainly one that might have been better suited to a somewhat smaller audience.

  • mister k

    I thought this’d be about the Onion’s tweetgate. Apparently it was a different joke that people got offended by.

  • John Walker

    @SteveE – There’s one small problem with this line of logic: They *weren’t* being raped. If MacFarlane were making a joke about seeing a woman’s breasts when she were actually raped, it would be beyond abhorrent. But they were actors, being paid money to film a scene for a film they were in. It’s pretty epically dreadful to try to pretend that there’s any equivalence.

  • SteveE

    “Pretty epically dreadful”? To do something that nobody here is doing?


    OK then. Message received and understood once again.

  • Evert

    “Oh, and Evert, I disagree about the Onion. It’s a perfectly good joke though certainly one that might have been better suited to a somewhat smaller audience.”

    I wasn’t talking about the joke itself (which I actually thought was quite sharp). Just the reaction to it the following morning. I realise this is just anecdotal, but I saw more people complaining about the Onion the following morning then the boob song.

  • mrstrellis

    I’ve only just seen it. I am quite surprised that anyone would think the actresses would be shocked or upset. It’s not as if the exposure of their boobies would be a surprise to them, since they exposed them willingly, for a film. For a very successful film (mostly) watched by a lot of people.

    It’s puerile, of course, but hardly shocking, least of all to the actresses involved. Unless we must pretend that we haven’t seen Anne Hathaway’s nipple nops in Brokeback Mountain. Which we have. And Heath Ledger’s winky.

    PS I loved Jennifer Lawrence’s reaction shot.