MacFarlane’s portrayal of actresses at Oscars was no joking matter

SETH MacFarlane’s set of reductive offensive stereotypes masquerading as risqué ribald humour at the Oscars has provoked huge controversy, but he could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about considering the latent chauvinism of the industry he was there to celebrate.

MacFarlane, who thinks fart jokes are the pinnacle of comedic invention, started the ceremony as he meant to continue, with a boorish musical number entitled; ‘We Saw Your Boobs’.

This excruciatingly cringey routine saw MacFarlane and a troupe of gay dancers prancing about the stage as the host listed all of the famous breasts audiences have been titillated by throughout the years. The identity of their owners was incidental in all of this. “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,” he crooned.

In any other industry, a multi-award winning veteran like Meryl Streep would be afforded some level of respect and a modicum of dignity. In Hollywood, at the Oscars, the host sings about her tits.

MacFarlane’s obvious delight at seeing breasts on the big screen didn’t even seem to be dulled by the fact that many of the actresses he name-checked, including Jodie Foster in the Accused and Charlize Theron in Monster, were playing rape victims while he was leering.

Some people may have gone away from those movies feeling disturbed about the violent rape scenes they contained. Not MacFarlane. All he remembers is getting a glimpse of the actresses’ breasts.

For the Academy, which organises the event and patently approved of this grubby little ditty, to casually legitimise the depiction of rape as a way for randy viewers to get their rocks off tells you all you need to know about the disgusting degree to which women are objectified by the film industry.

The likely explanation for this glaring oversight is that no one even thought about the context of the nudity in advance of MacFarlane’s crude chorus.

The only thing that was deemed relevant was if breasts had flashed on the big screen for a second or two — whether or not the female characters were being violently assaulted at the time was immaterial.

In the event, MacFarlane didn’t even confine himself to breasts he had seen in movies. He also crowed about the fact that nude pictures of Scarlett Johansson had been leaked online by a hacker, enabling him, and millions of others, to ogle them on his phone. The fact that a man has been arrested by the FBI and charged with hacking, wiretapping and aggravated identity theft for targeting Ms Johansson, and a number of other female celebrities, presumably causing them great personal embarrassment and grief, didn’t derail this comedic juggernaut either.

No, the only important thing was that these women have breasts and we’ve all seen them, no matter whether revealing them to the lascivious masses was their choice or not. On this side of the pond, we have police investigations into hacking scandals. At the Oscars, they endorse the practice by singing approvingly of the personal material that has been leaked.

The presence of gay dancers, who don’t like breasts, gyrating alongside MacFarlane, was supposed to elevate the routine from one of creepy perversion to tongue-in-cheek slapstick, but that particular safety net failed to deploy and rescue it from accusations of puerile sexism.

While the song will doubtlessly go down in the annals of history as one of the most ill-advised musical numbers to ever be staged at the Oscars, more depressing was the revelation that many of the featured actresses, like Naomi Watts, were in on the gag and their horrified expressions, which flashed on screen throughout the number, had actually been prerecorded.

The confirmation that some of the biggest female stars in the industry willingly partook in their own debasement in front of a worldwide audience of 2bn viewers leads one to wonder what kind of indignities lesser known aspiring actresses, who have yet to make it, are willing to endure.

Elsewhere, throughout the car-crash ceremony, MacFarlane also made a fat joke about one of the most successful musical artists on the planet, Adele; made thin jokes about the skinny actresses; introduced Jennifer Aniston as a former exotic dancer; said that Latinos like Penelope Cruz or Salma Hayek were unintelligible but that didn’t matter because they were easy on the eye; joked about domestic violence and said a movie which depicted a tenacious female lead in pursuit of a terrorist was ultimately about “every woman’s innate ability to never ever let anything go”.

MacFarlane’s frat-boy shtick — that all women, even the beautiful unattainable rich ones, are nagging slut harridans whose only real purpose in life is the sexual gratification of men — was relentless.

The nadir came when MacFarlane conjured up an image of a nine-year-old nominee, Quvenzhané Wallis, as George Clooney’s future girlfriend. “To give you an idea how young she is, it’ll be 16 years before she’s too old for Clooney,” he drawled, before throwing the actor a mini bottle of booze for his troubles.

FOR MacFarlane, even little girls who achieve the distinction of an Oscar nomination are worth nothing more than a punch line in his bawdy comedy routine — and her age just means we’ll all have to wait a little bit longer before eventually ogling her boobs. While MacFarlane’s archaic cave-man attitudes to women are repellant, they are reflective of a majority view of women in Hollywood: Women in movies are there to be seen and not heard.

The Bechdel Test for gender bias in film asks three simple questions: Does a movie contain two or more female characters who have names, do those characters talk and, if so, do they discuss something other than a man? Incredibly, of 2,500 movies recently profiled, less than half pass this test with female characters often cast as mute eye candy to assure audiences that the leading man isn’t gay.

In an interview in the New Yorker last year, a successful female screenwriter explained in stark terms how to create the minority of box-office female stars who do exist. “You have to defeat [the character] at the beginning. It’s a conscious thing I do — abuse and break her, strip her of her dignity, and then she gets to live out our fantasies and have fun,” she said. “It’s as simple as making the girl cry, 15 minutes into the movie. Relatability is based upon vulnerability, which creates likeability.”

Evidently, nobody likes uppity, self-confident women, so these willful characters have to be knocked down a peg or two to ensure they remain at all times cognisant of their subservient place — a task that MacFarlane took to with gusto at the Oscars.

Like it or not, the depictions of women on the silver screen reflect the societal mores of the day and, by that depressing measure, feminism has a considerable job of work yet to do.

MacFarlane may be smug, but he’s not alone. The evidence can be found in your local cinema.

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