The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Satire or hurtful? Jokes at the Oscars.

Nine year-old Quvenzhan√© Wallis at the 2013 Oscars, the youngest actress ever to receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

With the Oscar season done for another year, we can immediately start predicting next year's nominees, as well as next year's host. Personally, I also hope for an improvement on how women–particularly those in the spotlight–are viewed and talked about.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't find Seth MacFarlane funny. I've never been amused by Family Guy, and I find his humor insulting, as well as predicable and repetitive. But he is "edgy," and rumor has it that the producers of the Oscars wanted someone to draw in the all-important younger demographics. And lots of people do find Seth MacFarlane hilarious, so I can understand why he was asked to host the Oscars. I can also understand why he took the job; no matter what you think of the awards ceremony, hosting the Oscars is a huge gig, and being offered the role of host is something you don't turn down without a great deal of thought first.

Poking a bit of gentle fun at the nominees and others in the crowd is fine and even a time-honored tradition: Bob Hope was making jokes about people in the industry in the 1940s. Mean-spirited and hurtful barbs, however, are rarely funny and not appropriate for what is supposed to be a celebration of talent and those skilled in their craft (I know others argue that the Oscars are self-serving, but I personally enjoy the pageantry and celebration). Seth MacFarlane, instead reduced women to their breasts, made an awkward and vaguely inappropriate joke about 9 year-old Quvenzhan√© Wallis being close to the right age for George Clooney to date, implied that Jennifer Aniston used to be a stripper, and made a horrible quip about the violent Django Unchained being a "date night" movie for Rihanna and Chris Brown. And lest you think all his inappropriate jokes centered around women, MacFarlane joked about John Wilkes Booth shooting Lincoln (the audience booed) and made a Jewish joke which the Anti-Defamation League said was "offensive and not remotely funny. It only reinforces stereotypes which legitimise anti-Semitism."

Some people defend the choice of MacFarlane as host, saying he was satirizing how the media views women and celebrities, or that women need to learn how to take a joke (or both). I have a problem with that; satire can often be subtle, but if so many people missed the point–as the scathing commentary on the Internet implies–then the satire was either too subtle, or more likely, it missed the mark (For an in-depth look at MacFarlane's performance as host, read Katey Rich and Kristy Puchko's commentary here). While movies and the media expect women to look and act a certain way, and hold them to higher standards than men–hence MacFarlane's joke about women throwing up to fit into their dresses–that satire about double-standards didn't come across. Instead, we just heard about a bunch of movies in which you can see topless women (some of the topless scenes mentioned involved characters being raped), making light of domestic violence and assault, and describing Jessica Chastain's character in Zero Dark Thirty as "a celebration of every woman's innate inability to never ever let anything go." And he made a sex joke about a girl. Even if the joke was supposed to be about Clooney, it was a sex joke about a little girl. None of those things read as satire. Whether Seth MacFarlane is personally misogynistic, anti-Semitic, or anything else, his "jokes" did in fact propagate those things, teaching children that it is ok to be hurtful to one another, and that women really are only there for the pleasure of men.

Perhaps next year Tina Fey and Amy Poehler can host the Oscars.

-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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