Word was that the Academy wanted to freshen up the Oscars this year; shake us out of our comfort zone and eradicate the memory of the limp 2011 Hathaway/Franco hosting. The king of Oscar hosts, Billy Crystal, made a comeback last year but he was a bit fogeyish so, this time, there was new blood: Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy.
What did we get? A lot of near-the-knuckle jokes, some good and some bad. Predictably so, but when it was bad it was really bad. Mainly because, for MacFarlane, it seems his tried and tested comedy fallback is old-fashioned sexism.
MacFarlane’s opening monologue peaked with a musical number called We Saw Your Boobs, in which he and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (MacFarlane stressed he was not a member of the group) lauded the films where famous actresses have taken their tops off. “Meryl Streep, we saw your boobs in Silkwood/ Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive/ Angelina Jolie, we saw your boobs in Gia/They made us feel excited and alive…”
Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts looking horrified in the audience was a red herring: as the dresses they were suddenly wearing immediately gave away, they were a part of the pre-recorded segment, part of the joke, their reaction shots having been taken from other awards shows at moments when they happened to look cheesed.
Nevertheless, MacFarlane’s song was a huge cringe. The film industry’s biggest, poshest night of the year, in front of a global audience of 58 bajillion, and you open with a song about how films sometimes mean seeing actresses, heh heh, with their bits out? On the occasion when Hollywood is more than ever presented as a pinnacle of Western culture, your angle is… chortling comedy sexism? Are you 12?
The pressure on women to “go nude” at some point in order to make it in Hollywood is problematic enough. Websites and forums share clips of the moments when A-listers have been seen naked: never mind what the film was about or whether your acting was any good, sweetheart, we’ve seen your tits now. You’re done. MacFarlane’s song had exactly this sort of possessive, sneering tone.
It got worse, though. Brilliantly, MacFarlane managed to list Charlize Theron in Monster, Jessica Chastain in Lawless, Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry and Jodie Foster in The Accused as examples of when “we saw your boobs” – all movies in which the lead character is raped.
If there’s ever been a more misguided choice of amusing reference than the horrifying gang-rape scene in The Accused, I can’t think of it. Even leaving aside whether it’s offensive, that’s some cack-handed, laugh-killing comedy writing. The, er, big finish was a scintillatingly original and up-to-the-minute zinger about how Kate Winslet often appears naked in films.
Ah, but of course I’ve misunderstood. The song was a clever meta-joke: part of a segment in which William Shatner appeared as Captain Kirk, “back in time from the 23rd century to stop you from destroying the Academy Awards” and warning of the sort of lame, retrograde, faux-edgy bilge MacFarlane might churn out. So he didn’t really sing the song, he just joked about it being what we might expect him to do, the scamp. That makes a huge difference. Oh, wait! No it doesn’t.
Elsewhere in MacFarlane’s cutting-edge reinvention of the Oscars gig: jokes about Jennifer Aniston being a former “exotic dancer”, about controversial hunt-for-Bin Laden movie Zero Dark Thirty centring on “a woman’s innate ability to never let anything go”, about actresses crash-dieting before the ceremony.
Lots of stars got it in the neck from the host – if they were female, though, they were seen as much fairer game.