Seth MacFarlane's Oscars: Hilarious or Hurtful? Meghan O'Keefe

This past weekend, Seth MacFarlane hosted the Academy Awards. When his reviews came in, they were less about whether he was a good or bad host, and more about whether or not he was a good or bad person.

MacFarlane told many self-deprecating jokes, but he also made a point of going after women, homosexuals, Jewish people and foreigners. MacFarlane’s performance at the Academy Awards should not have been shocking. Those are the types of jokes MacFarlane is famous for doing.

Even though he’s not my cup of tea, MacFarlane is totally allowed to make those jokes. It’s called freedom of speech. People are also allowed to find his jokes funny. There’s this tricky thing about freedom, you see. If you believe that everyone deserves a voice and that everyone deserves to have their own opinion, you also believe that people have a right to be stupid, mean, offensive, grotesque, disgusting, misogynistic, racist and any other hateful thing they want to be.

Seth MacFarlane has the same right to sing a song about boobs as I do to write an essay about Jeremy Renner’s butt. I mean, one of the reasons I write silly odes to Jeremy Renner’s butt or Channing Tatum’s abs or Aaron Tveit’s everything is because we live in a culture that has historically sexualized women as objects and denied women the right to sexualize men in return. So, when I do it, I feel like I’m leveling the playing field and when MacFarlane does it, it feels to many like he’s just continuing the age-old saga that men are people and women are objects to be controlled.

But, fair’s fair, guys…

It sucks. I know it sucks when a comic makes jokes that only target people and groups that are oppressed. It can feel like bullying and straight up bullying isn’t only unfunny, it’s also inhumane. I know. It sucks. It sucks. It sucks.

Oscar night was also marked by a faux pas from The Onion, a popular satirical website, which posted a tweet that referred to Quvenzhane Wallis as a c-word. They have since apologized for it, sparking some really smart dialogue from comedians who try to explain why the Onion’s joke was potentially benign in tone and writers explaining why the tweet was really about the insidiousness of racism and sexism.

The only thing I want to say on this is comedy is subjective and that satire is really, really, really hard to get right. I know from experience. Years ago, I did a character bit that was intended to be a satire of gossip columnists and the end result is far from a great piece of satire. It’s just video after video of me saying horrible things about celebrities. Did I mean any of those things? No. I meant to make fun of the kind of person who would say such things, and not to make fun of the celebrities themselves. Does it look like that was my intention? Not at all. Why? Because I was a baby comedian which means there was no context for what I was doing–the audience didn’t know me well enough to know it was an act I was putting on–and because as a baby comedian, only a third of my jokes actually landed.

What I’m getting at is that sometimes the offensive joke wasn’t meant to be offensive. It was just meant to be a joke. And if the joke doesn’t land, it can come off as being just offensive.

Sometimes an offensive joke really was intended to be flat out cruel and offensive. Other times, it was just misguided comedy writing.

MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” song, for instance? Ignoring the fact that the actresses rolling their eyes in the audience were pre-taped and in on the joke, the song was initially set up as proof of MacFarlane’s comedic inadequacies. If the song had been taken off air ten seconds into the “We Saw Your Boobs!” refrain, the punchline would have been that MacFarlane is a sexist idiot who doesn’t get that a song about boobs isn’t funny. However, by playing the whole song through, that punchline was completely lost. It made it seem like MacFarlane and the producers of the show still thought the song was funny enough to be in an Oscar monologue, and I personally think that was their big comedy writing mistake.

Well, including references to scenes where women were raped was also a big mistake.

I’m not trying to defend MacFarlane or The Onion. MacFarlane’s a big boy and The Onion’s written by big boys and big girls who make their own creative choices. They succeed and suffer accordingly.

I’m also not really interested in getting mad at MacFarlane or the Onion or any of the comedians who go up every night and sometimes get it wrong.

I’m angry because for every person who was offended by these jokes, there were even more laughing.

A lot of people who watched the Academy Awards this past weekend thought MacFarlane hit it out of the park. They saw nothing wrong in sexualizing women who were performing in rape scenes. They saw nothing wrong with MacFarlane’s xenophobic intro for Salma Hayek that mocked not only her, but also Spanish stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem simply for not claiming English as their native tongue.

Maybe there isn’t anything wrong. Maybe those are just jokes. But comedians who do politically incorrect humor only rise to international stardom because society lets them. If the majority decides that the best comedy is sexist or racist in tone, what does that say about our society?

It says that our society is still sexist and still racist.

If we lived in a world where everyone was treated with respect and not judged on their gender, race, social class, nationality or sexuality, then guess what? Jokes that mocked people because of those things would never be funny because they wouldn’t make any sense, and comedians who told those jokes couldn’t have a career.

As an audience we have the power to tell the comedians when something’s not funny. It’s called dead silence.

Seth MacFarlane can be who he wants to be. The Onion can tweet what they want. They have that freedom.

We have to decide to want to be a better culture first and foremost.

Then, maybe we can all finally be in on the same joke.

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  1. Based on the Oscar’s allowance of such jokes to be told, they obviously assumed that the audience can find those “offensive” jokes funny. In which, indeed some DO. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with this post especially about the freedom of speech point because after all, it is true. I just wonder, what other jokes that could be told that aren’t so “offensive”, “sexist” or “racist” but can be as equal in entertaining the audience? Isn’t comedy usually based on sarcasm, and “making fun” of people and things in life? I am not saying being offensive in jokes are at all OK but where would ‘comedy’ go then?

  2. I think the difference is that MacFarlane tries really, really hard to be preachy and offensive in his commentaries of things. I am basing this mostly on Family Guy, but I love a good raunchy joke. But I don’t find that show that funny and it’s only raunchy if you compare it to normal TV. I think of MacFarlane in the same line as those silly shock jocks on pop stations who want to be like the big name guys but just end up making lame prank calls and making the same joke about Lindsey Lohan everyone else does.

    As for the Onion, that was totally out of line.

  3. To be honest, I went back and forth whether I would write a comment about this article in particular or not. I just find it really strange how you went on a rant on how sexist and racist Seth MacFarlane was at the Oscar’s (actually, the joke about not understanding what Salma Hayek, Javier Bardem or Penelope Cruz say when they speak I thought it was actually funny, and I’m Mexican, and I got it was just a joke).
    What I don’t get is how the author of this post is so offended about MacFarlane’s ‘sexist’ jokes, when no one on this site made a post or a mention about a certain episode on Girls from the first season where Hannah was sexually assaulted by her boss. As a person who has personally been on such a situation, I was offended by how she reacted, by the way her co-workers dealt with it, and also by what her friend, the slutty one (I refused to keep watching the show after that so I don’t remember the name of the other characters) suggests her to do, sleep with her boss. Nothing about THAT on HelloGiggles. Quite the oppossite, since the site basically praises Lena Dunham as the next mesiah or something.
    Or, (and I think this one is a bit harsher from my part, but whatever), what about the episode on 2 Broke Girls in which Caroline can’t manage to arouse the guy she was dating, and Max tells her she has to act like she was low class and slutty because the guy was intimidated? The worst part: it worked. How is THAT a good message to girls watching the show? Of course, not a single post about that here, either, but I guess that’s because one of the founders of this site writes for the show, so it’s no biggie, right? And probably the argument of “well, it’s a show that has to appeal to the masses” will surface, so…
    Anyway, I find this site being too double standard lately, and I don’t find that appealing to what I like to read. I know this doesn’t affect or worry HG much, but you’ve just lost a reader. Good Luck and best wishes. Bye.

  4. You started off by saying he had every right to make these jokes and we had every right to laugh at them because of free speech, but you went on to completely condemn anyone who dared to have a sense of humor about it. He made fun of EVERYONE, okay? That’s what he does. And personally, I thought he was funny.

  5. of all the feminist-esque commentary on the oscars night this one has been my favorite so far. 1) it addresses the onion which the other articles i’ve read have only addressed seth. 2) it acknowledges seth’s freedom of speech 3) it acknowledges that satire is often a hard type of comedy to pull off and even the best comedians often miss the mark. with all that said I have very mixed emotions about seth as a host. Did i think he was funny? absolutely. but i am fully aware of my sense of humor and how I laugh at everything from poop jokes to intellectual jokes and everything in between. I can also see why many women and even men were offended and outraged by his performance. I would also like to point out that to me “actions speak louder than words” and Seth is known for his work in the gay rights movement as well as other social justice issues (See Harvard Humanist of the Year Award 2011). Just fun fact of the day. either way well written piece. And i feel the pain of my many friends who found him to be highly offensive.

  6. I agree that “we have to decide to want to be a better culture”, and it’s definitely not for lack of wanting that we’re not. It’s because money and corporations control preeeettttyyyy much everything. Everything. And most people with billions of dollars, most of those in charge of billion-dollar corporations are selfish, greedy, and – wait for it – are MALE.

    (Males raised in super-rich families who couldn’t care less about the plights of others because they are intoxicated with their lifestyle – a lifestyle most of us can’t even fathom if we don’t witness it (unfortunately I have recently … really, you’re going to spend $3500 on a pair of jeans? REALLY!?) and they couldn’t begin to imagine what it’s like to be ‘of average – aka. 200 000 a year!? income’ and/or a woman.)

  7. So many people are fired up about his jokes, especially saying that they’re sexist and that we shouldn’t take it.. blah blah blah. It’s only when someone slightly gets their toes stepped on that you hear people crying about it, but ladies, we feed into the sexism just as much but there’s no complaining on our end! Do you see masses of women protesting Victoria Secret or anything that puts a women’s sexuality ‘out there’? NO! You all love and adore Victoria Secret because it makes you feel good, and pretty, and sexy! And you do you even want to feel those things? BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN AND YOU WANT A MAN (or woman) TO FEEL THOSE THINGS ABOUT YOU! Ladies, we do it to ourselves, but theres nothing wrong with who we are. We liked to be admired for our bodies and sexuality. Just admit it! Those women who did nude scenes and showed their boobs did it knowingly and willingly so who are you to jump to their defense? They don’t need you to. Just chill out and enjoy a laugh about the reality of life.

    • I agree with the sentiment; however, there is a reason why Billy Crystal was favored. He pushes the envelope and just because there is Freedom of Speech nationally does not protect you at the Oscars. The Oscars is/are an enterprise. Just like you wouldn’t say boobs or the c word at work, the same thing applies on a greater scale here. In addition, like Ariel pointed out about another poster, being desensitized does not justify this type of speech. And unlike MacFarlane, Victoria’s Secret, whose stuff I don’t use as to labor rights anyhow, is promoting lingerie. You can’t promote lingerie without showing it and some skin. I will say that their standard of beauty, another topic, creates controversy about body image. But to generalize and say we like being appreciated for our bodies does not condone the sexist and machist behavior on the Oscars, on the Onion (which I personally challenged) as well as other media outlets. Sad that in this decade, women have to challenge other women about our own rights.

    • You ALL? Really? Way to make generalizations here. Also, I pity you for your internalized misogyny. This is so sad.

  8. I really like this post.

    If we lived in a world where everyone was treated with respect and not judged on their gender, race, social class, nationality or sexuality, then guess what? Jokes that mocked people because of those things would never be funny because they wouldn’t make any sense, and comedians who told those jokes couldn’t have a career.

    I think that is in reference to both male and female comedians and people may be missing that memo.
    I could not be a Seth or Zooey fan for the same reason.

  9. I wouldn’t say I’m a die hard fan of Seth MacFarlane’s work but I watch his shows on a semi-regular basis and personally, I think he toes the line between comedic genius and highly offensive. So sometimes he misses the mark. It happens. But rarely does it seem like any of his offensive comments are said with malice. And I think that is an important distinction that needs to be made when it comes to defining whether a comment is meant to be sexist or racist, or if it is indeed satire. MacFarlane is a comedian so OBVIOUSLY it is satire. The jokes he made as part of his Oscars hosting duties were approved by the show’s producers and although I agree that a couple of of them were not in good taste (I wouldn’t necessarily call them racist or sexist either), for the most part I found myself laughing my ass off and thought he was a great host.

    As far as all the controversy goes surrounding MacFarlane’s performance goes, I really think people need to lighten up a little when it comes to satire. Think beyond the part that you find offensive, because there is (usually) suppose to be a joke there (and equally as often a lesson). If you don’t find the joke funny, so be it. Move on. Don’t get on you’re high-horse and bash the comedian for it. Take for example the “Boobs song”. I thought it was genius. The actresses were all in on it. And it’s true- if you’ve seen the films listed in the song, you’ve also seen the boobs of every actress named. I don’t see why anyone should find it offensive. In every film named in the “Boobs song”, the boobs appeared in an appropriate context. The actresses didn’t get ‘em out just because it would help sell tickets. Film is art imitating life. In real life no one keeps their boobs 100% under wraps for 100% of the time. In the appropriate context, human nakedness (male OR female) is not something that should be considered offensive. Now if MacFarlane was to have named films that clearly exploit women’s sexuality for the sake of it, it would be an entirely different story. Of course, no such film would be relevant to the Oscars…. But I digress. The “Boobs song” may not have been highbrow comedy, but the humour was clearly designed to be accessible to a wide audience. And since it has stimulated so much discussion, I’d say it was successful.

    Speaking more generally about society, I am going to say that often people are too sensitive. How is it that everything can be offensive now days, when in the past it might not have been so? If you find something offensive when it’s clearly not intended to be, take a step back and think about if you are indeed offended or if you are offended because you feel like you should be offended or if it’s just that you are a little uncomfortable. So often I find that the latter two options are often the case. People are too worried about coming across as racist or sexist, even though that would normally not be the case. Similarly, there are people out there who are so hypersensitive about their own differences that they see everything as being offensive. As far as I’m concerned, these are psychological flaws that need to be dealt with by the two extremes, not the majority of us that fall in the middle. According to the law, men and women from all racial backgrounds are considered equals. We all have the same rights so why do people still find the need to get up on a soap box about it every time a piece of comedic satire misses the mark? Our ancestors were the ones that needed to fight for equal rights. We enjoy a life of equality and read about the fight for it in history books. I’m not denying that there are still some issues that need ironing out like equal pay and what-not. But if you really think about it, the only true equal rights issue that needs to be fought for these days is that of LGTB marriage. But that’s not really the issue here. And again I digress.

    At the end of the day, the whole purpose of comedic satire is to get you to laugh at something which, in it’s true context, would not normally a laughing matter. It’s suppose to make you feel a bit uncomfortable (and stimulate social awareness). If it doesn’t and you find yourself laughing at a racist/sexist/otherwise offensive joke for its literality, then there’s something wrong you, not the comedian/comedienne delivering the lines.

  10. I feel really weird about it, because I study gender in university (my dissertation is actually on how Twilight is basically a feminist’s nightmare) and I did not get offended by Seth MacFarlane. He’s essentially a frat boy and that’s what you get when you hire him. I laughed sometimes, there; I said it.

  11. Am I the only one who thought that Seth MacFarlane was really funny and was a good host? I am a female and I thought the boob song was hilarious, the singing was awesome and the Von Trapp family singers bit was probably my favourite part of the show. I enjoy his comedy and thought he was a good host, pushing the envelope as expected, sue me.

  12. I am not a fan of Family Guy or American Dad because their premise is to make shocking and offensive jokes, so I was apprehensive about the Oscars. I didn’t even realize there would be an uproar, because to me, he was on his best behavior! I found almost all of his jokes amusing, and though the “Boobs” song was immature, I agree with one of the other commenters that it pokes fun at the fact that WOMEN over-sexualize themselves during movies. Maybe I missed something, but his jokes seemed toned down to me and I actually laughed out loud a few times. Maybe “toned down” for offensive jokes isn’t what we are going for, but I didn’t walk out with a bad taste in my mouth.

    Yet to someone who LOVES the Oscars, it is also ridiculous to tell them to “turn off the TV and watch the speeches later”. Some performances were breathtaking and watching it live is something that a ton of people truly enjoy. I think it is sad that people were so hurt, but they have as much of a right to their opinion as Seth does to his. I think articles like this can change the landscape of comedy, and people who were hurt shouldn’t be told to ignore it and turn it off.

  13. I took the boobs song to be poking fun of the fact that we’re at this high class awards show celebrating the most artistic films of the year but at the end of the day its Hollywood and most people in America just want to see boobs and explosions, so Hollywood, being a business, gives them what they want and the most respected actresses in Hollywood at some point still have to show their “boobs.” And like someone else said, if someone like Sarah Silverman sang that song people would have thought it was brilliant, taking down Hollywood patriarchy. Seth comes across as a smug dude and I think that definitely is part of the reason why people don’t like him and didn’t like the song. The messenger is just as important as the joke sometimes.

  14. *song

  15. I think if Ellen (who is known for ogling boobs) had sang this sing most of you would be singing a different tune.

    • That is so true. She probably would have been applauded and (most) people would have loved her performance if she sang that song or told many of the jokes that MacFarlane told (although some people probably would have said that that was an example of a woman bringing down other women and thus making it acceptable for men to do it). This is a hypothetical, but stuff like that happens all the time (women being applauded for the same thing that men are shamed for), and it’s hypocritical. If feminists truly want equality then that goes for everything. If a woman can do it, so can a man; if a man can’t do it, neither can a woman.

  16. You get what you pay for. Whoever hired Seth McFarlane to host wasn’t expecting cutesy sucking up to the nominees/winners. He did what he is famed for doing, what he has made his name doing. Whether it is right or wrong is another story. Personally, I think including references to scenes where women were raped was the majorly offensive incident.

    Anything else mentioned? That’s Seth McFarlane. Vote with your remote, if you don’t like him, switch off.

    • We shouldn’t have to. I live in Hollywood and went to see quality movies. The Oscars is and always has been about rewarding great films. So no, I vote with my dollar and feel that I and many women were shortchanged. Easy to be smug when the Oscars are only a year. Compare MacFarlane to Carson, Berle and Leno even. Big diff.

    • The fact that he included those scenes is irrelevant. It was acting not the real thing. And he didn’t say “haha you were raped” he said “haha we saw your boobs in a movie.”

  17. BTW…. anyone here see New Girl featuring our favorite musician/actress/ female on the planet?? She made a sexist joke the other night… apparently for all those who are upset at Seth didn’t notice it coming out of a beautiful woman’s mouth… She said and I quote ” I’m getting that mouth on my mouth and don’t you try to stop me……What am I going to do? I GUESS I’LL JUST HAVE TO USE MY EYES, HAIR, BOOBS, LEGS, AND ADORABLE PERSONALITY, :::giggles::: fool”…. The people overly sensitive to Seth’s jokes need to bash New Girl as well because the comment makes women a sexual object and not a human being with feelings…. Misery can always find the negative in a comment… positive people find the good in the same comment.

    • How is that a sexist joke? (side note, I think the words sexist and racist are way overused. Both mean to treat somebody differently, generally negatively, because of their gender or race. Ugh.)

      That joke was saying how stupid/visual men are. Women can get pretty much whatever they want if they own their sexuality and use it to get things from men. That’s not saying women CAN’T do things other ways, it’s just saying that men think with their genitals and hell yes, strong liberated ladies, use it to your advantage!

    • I couldn’t agree more. I love me some Zooey but its the whole concept of if she can say it so can he.

      • Totally agree with you two! Equality is equality. We can’t just pick and choose when we want men and women to be equal and say that men can’t do this because it’s offensive but it’s funny when women do it.

  18. I’ll admit that I found his Christopher Plummer/”Sound of Music” bit pretty hilarious.

    “Sir! Sir! …They’ve gone!”

    Crying.

  19. I don’t care what anyone says,I thought Seth was perfect!

  20. ALMOST everyone offended are democrats… SNL makes these jokes they are funny. If a girl made the jokes its funny….If a guy makes the jokes that tickle an immature part of a person, hes a sexist piece of garbage. Has anyone complaining seen family guy by any chance? This is what he does and he is famous and making a lot of money because people find it funny. There is not an ounce of sexist, racist, and whatever else here…. People complaining or overly sensitive and looking for something to complain about. 20 years ago people weren’t this sensitive and whinny….This couture has gotten very wimpy and petty. If you don’t like the jokes… don’t watch or pay attention to the people known for them.

    • Although i completely agree with i think to bring politics and say the offended are democrats is a bit strange. I was not in the slightest offended and i am a democrat.

    • Wow Kevin that actually is not true. But hey keep the delusion alive.

    • democrats dont like him….really….really…have u seen his shows, They r very 2 the left & I’m pretty sure he is democrat & most ppl who watch his shows r democrats. Ppl r mad cuz he is just more in ur face w/ no sugar coating @ all. The Academy knew this going in & they got wh@ they payed 4.. But my question is. wh@ does politics have 2 do with not liking him. I thought he did great & I laugh the whole time & I”m pretty sure “We Saw Your Boobs” I almost cried laughing. but we all know th@ ppl where gonna say he took it 2 far. Not because they r right or left, because a lot of ppl don’t have th@ sense of humor. & if ppl don’t know his comedy well then they prob didnt know he is joking or was worry th@ lil kids where watching (he’s not kid friendly) Dont try 2 color code this blue & red. It makes u look bad.

    • Yeah! If you don’t like racism and sexism, just don’t pay attention to it! RIGHT ON, MAN!

      • Typical ignorant reply. Let me tell you how this works. The Oscars are vaguely like the Super Bowl. It is an awards show. So you’re saying that artists shouldn’t defy inappropriate behavior if it’s part of the show versus say commercials? Is that what you tell your partner and or children?

    • I am a democrat and I loved Seth McFarlane’s performance (and him in general) was hilarious… Not all Dem’s are super uptight and PC…

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