Feb 27 2013

Revoke My Feminist Card, I Think Seth MacFarlane is Funny

Published by at 10:00 am under Editorials,Movies,Television

sethoscars

So, I don’t think I’ve made any bones about it on this site or elsewhere; I’m a feminist. Maybe I haven’t officially come out of the closet about it, but here I go. Being a feminist on the internet sometimes feels like the most dangerous game, and unfortunately we’re not living in a world where someone can say they’re a feminist without substantial blowback. All that said, I have a sense of humor. About myself, about others, about others’ perceptions about others. I think the joke “How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, and that’s not funny,” is hilarious.

Seth MacFarlane hosted the Oscars this past Sunday, and I thought he did a fine job. I laughed at many of his jokes. I thoroughly enjoy Family Guy, and American Dad even more, and my pleasure at both of these shows is a cause of deep and all consuming shame. Because I know I’m not supposed to do it. I know that feminists hate him, and even worse, intelligent people can’t abide him. I am a member of both camps. I am, however, seriously endeared towards the man.

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Here’s the thing about Seth. I see him. In a true Avatar-like sense. In an Elfquest recognition style way. That’s right, I’m letting my old-school geek flag fly. GET ON MY LEVEL.

Seth MacFarlane wants to be Gene Kelly. He is a complete musical theatre nerd, and he wraps himself in “cool guy” jokes and frat boy humor to help camouflage it. He will do years of edgy (read: racist, anti-semitic, sexist, or generally classless) comedy in order to get to a point where his Fox producers will let him do an animated version of The Music Man‘s Shipoopi number in full, completely unironically, with no satirical commentary laid on top of it. His fans see said musical interlude as absurd comedy, but I see it for what it is: a three minute fantasy of a MacFarlane protagonist (voiced and sung by MacFarlane, natch) being Harold Hill (the titular music man), played out in a time when sincere musical numbers no longer have any cachet in pop culture. It is, in a word, adorable.

I also think his aforementioned “edgy” humor is legitimately funny. One of the hardest things about being a feminist is coming to terms with the fact that one can enjoy things that are sexist while still having the awareness to critique them. Once I say I’m a feminist, I feel like I have a responsibility to represent a higher cause, a greater good. Liking something or someone universally derided by feminist groups is a sure-fire way to not being taken seriously by anyone. It’s a constant source of anxiety. I like to think I’m a woman who has the courage of her own convictions, though, and thus I’m stating unequivocally that I think Seth MacFarlane is funny, and I think a lot of his sexist jokes at the Oscars were funny.

What follows is a list of sexist (or otherwise offensive) MacFarlane Oscar jokes, whether or not I thought they were funny, and the thoughts running through my head while I was laughing.

We Saw Your Boobs

httpv://youtu.be/ap3_1bM40L4

My verdict: Funny.

Thoughts: Oh look, it’s representations of all the guys who spout “Tits or GTFO” in every internet interaction ever dancing around acting like the personification of the juvenile masculinity they’ve never overcome. Some men can be ridiculous, slavering over boobs like dogs over choice cuts of meat. This is funny because it’s true. Not right, but true.

Describing the youth of Quvenzhané Wallis: “To give you an idea of how young she is, it’ll be 16 years until she’s too old for Clooney.”

Wallis

My verdict: Funny

Thoughts: George Clooney is an overripe poon hound quickly approaching his expiration date. His girlfriends are often young enough to be his daughters (though in his defense, he’d be a young father). This is funny because it’s making fun of George Clooney.

Unrelated because it came at different part of the show: Quvenzhané Wallis making muscles while her name was announced as best actress nominee is a win for all eternity.

“This is a story about man fighting to get back his woman who has been subjected to unthinkable violence, or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it—a date movie.”

django-unchained-2012-movie-wallpaper-for-1920x1200-widescreen-11-488

PS. Wtf on the Leo snub, Academy?!

My verdict: Not funny.

Thoughts: Rhianna and Chris Brown’s relationship hurts my soul and I pray everyday she gets out of it. Also, I’d really wish society and the media would stop giving any amount of f***s about what Chris Brown does, because he’s a royal piece of you-know-what. But actually, thanks Seth, for reminding me to never give him any amount of support or money.

Sound of Music Bit

Von Trapps

Sadly, I couldn’t find a video of this. In it, Seth introduces Christopher Plummer, recalling his famous role as Captain Von Trapp from The Sound of Music. The intro reenacts (replete with orchestral cues) the famous scene where the family is introduced at the Salzburg music festival, repeatedly not making their entrance until a youthful Nazi runs in and shouts “They’re gone!”

Verdict: Funny

Thoughts: This is cheating, because I don’t think anyone found this offensive. However, it stands as more evidence that Seth MacFarlane loves musical theatre like a feminist loves complex female heroines. Also, it was my favorite thing that happened in the history of any awards show. Confession: I’m a bigger theatre geek than Seth. Hint: I spell “theatre” like “theatre.”

“I would argue, however, that the actor who really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.”

Lincoln

My verdict: Funny, though maybe not LOL worthy.

Thoughts: The offense-taking on this joke is something I don’t understand. It’s an easy joke, and an obvious one, so I can see how it can be considered lazy. But an actual “I’m so thoroughly offended by this” response? Is 150 years too soon? You know who’s not spinning in his grave? Abraham Lincoln, because he is bones and dust and therefore cannot care about a guy making a joke like this a century and a half after his death.

So keep on keeping on, Seth. Keep making your jokes steeped in irony and I’ll keep laughing and feeling bad about it later. Keep sneaking in your musical numbers, and keep your dream about being a true song and dance man alive. I used to listen to Frank Sinatra in complete earnestness, too.

I see you, Seth MacFarlane.

I see you.





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18 responses so far

  • J. Morales

    Personally, I think we need to tone all the offense and outrage down. It’s a free society, sometimes people are going to say things that offend you, especially comedians. Personally, I don’t care for Seth’s humor or Family Guy so guess what, I don’t watch them. I don’t get all huffy-and-puffy about it and I don’t try to get the guy off TV. As a society we seem to make an art out of getting offended and it is really starting to get old.

  • Postal

    I think there is more than just the anti-feminist accusation against Seth going on here. I get the feeling that there is a bit of snobbery going on. That many in Hollywood have this “he just does a crude cartoon, he’s not one of us, his fans aren’t like our fans” mindset. And since its not acceptable to to actually say those things and not come off like a total a-hole, instead they take the feminist route. I think they wouldn’t care about his anti-feminist jokes so much if they didn’t hate him already. That is simply a convenient line of attack.

    And I agree that he can come off anti-feminist. But his comedy seems to take on just about every subject as crudely as possible. If one were to assume he really believes in the jokes he is making, then you would have to assume he is a misanthrope rather than a misogynist.

    I also think there is something of a generation/geekdom gap. His comedic references are to so many things that WE get and older/non-geek appreciating people don’t. You either get it or you don’t and there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. There are people who don’t think Seth is funny but probably think romantic comedies are. I would rather sit through old Oscar re-runs than watch that garbage.

  • Teri

    I totally agree. I was actually surprised at all the backlash Seth received after the Oscars because I laughed more than I remember doing during any previous ceremonies. I think I can’t get angry/offended (oh how I hate that word) at his humor because he is an equal opportunity offender. No one is off limits for MacFarlane, whether during this gig or on Family Guy, American Dad, etc.
    So, continue to fly your feminist flag high while chuckling at MacFarlane’s racist, sexist, offensive humor. I like knowing I am not the only one :)

  • John

    The thing that stuck with me the most is the end of the Boob song where he says Jennifer Lawrence didn’t show her boobs.
    Maybe I’m way way off here, but I can’t help to see this as pointing out the oversexualisation of woman in the industry where it seems an actress has to get naked at some point to get or keep attention. Okay, I know Lawrence did a number of sexy shoot for some magazines and she’s barely starting out in the movie business, so maybe the opportunity to get naked hasn’t presented itself (I really doubt it!). But the fact that he’s clearly pointing out that she didn’t show her breast is hammering the message down everybody’s head that most of the time, when we see an actress breasts in a movie, it really doesn’t serve the story. (I’m thinking Halle Berry in swordfish, the same year she won an Oscar…).

    Anyway, I just think that there was a feminist message buried in all this, intentionally or not. Let just all remember that MacFarlane is far from being a stupid man!

  • Yousef S

    Sara, respect for the article. Much like the other comments, I was very surprised by how much condemnation there was of Macfarlane’s performance.
    I can understand why some people are offended by some of the jokes, but the overall backlash does strike me as unthinking and overblown (there are people interpreting the Quvenzhane joke as inappropriate because of the implied relationship between a minor and George Clooney- how the hell did they get that????)

    In any case, I also think Macfarlane is somewhat misunderstood/underrated.

    Thank you for so eloquently putting forward the argument. Well said.

  • stev0

    “Maybe I’m way way off here, but I can’t help to see this as pointing out the oversexualisation of woman in the industry where it seems an actress has to get naked at some point to get or keep attention…Anyway, I just think that there was a feminist message buried in all this, intentionally or not.”

    I think you’re absolutely right. We’ve invested A LOT of power in women’s bodies; women gain legitimacy in ‘perfecting’ their form. And damn do they hold sway over the masses. Seth challenged that authority and people got frustrated (such acts never fail to cause a stir).

  • JessKitty

    Maybe I’m backwards, but I never looked at most boob jokes as offensive to women, unless they associate having boobs with a lack of brains or ability to function.

    A friend of mine used to find this the “most offensive joke.”

    Q:Why do women have boobs?
    A: So men will talk to them.

    I took the joke to be, “Oh, those silly, foolish, men, unable to talk unless they have something to amuse them. Or, as an empowerment issue. “If it’s so easy to get a man’s attention, why did we let them be in charge for so long?” I never really thought it offensive, and told in the right circumstances, I found it funny.

    On the other hand, we have my “most offensive joke”

    Q: What do 10,000 battered women have in common?
    A: They don’t fucking listen.

    My friend doesn’t understand why I can find the first one funny, and the second one offensive. The difference is that the first one is a bit insulting on both sides. Men are silly, women have boobs. The second one implies that a woman being beaten is somehow amusing and even more so, DESERVING of being beaten, simply because they ARE women.

    But, my friend can’t seem to grasp the difference. ANY joke to her that has the word, “Woman” in it is inviting her wrath. The problem with that attitude is that soon you even forget why something is offensive, you just know it’s a trigger word. All her friends know, “Don’t make women jokes” or “Make women jokes” just to get the appropriate response from her. Which, I don’t think is what she means to do, but it’s what ends up happening.

  • Parker Jammstein

    Watch Blood Crieth Unto Heaven . It’s the stage play episode of American Dad and it indicates that while MacFarlane’s humor can be sophomoric and idiotic, he is quite capable of pulling off legitimate entertainement. I had no complaints about his hosting gig. Yes, it did seem that they decided to include every goddamn idea he had in the broadcast. But he was edgy. He made Tommy Lee Jones laugh. Love him or hate him, the man could also pull off a musical number. I was okay with it.

    Here’s an idea to piss everyone in Hollywood off next year: Have Anthony Jeselnik host. He’d lay waste to EVERYONE.

  • Branovices

    I consider myself a feminist, and an intellectual (or an academic, at any rate.) I also find Seth and his cartoons pretty funny. Not everything, and sometimes I get a wee bit offended, but I take the good with the bad because it’s rare to find a show that makes me laugh so much.

    At any rate, I don’t really see him as anti-feminism. He probably likes the second joke JessKitty mentioned, as I do, not because women are deserving of beatings, but because it is so ridiculously offensive that it becomes funny.

    Well, as long as you can be pretty sure the person telling it isn’t an abusive, sexist monster.

  • trashcanman

    Okay, everybody calling themselves feminists all the time implies a level of stupidity in our culture that upsets me and let me tell you why. The english language was constructed in such a way that the suffix “ism” and “ist” when added to a word implies the superiority of the base word. Hence “racist” means believing in the superiority of your race, “capitalist” means believing in the superiority of money/capital, and “feminism” implies, of course, female superiority rather than the actual equality implied by “humanism”. Now in our current political climate, we are trained to regard things as either good or bad rather than looking at the meaning of the word, hence a woman will naturally see feminism simply as “good” and a republican will see liberalism as naturally “bad” even if they do not even understand the meaning of those words. Welcome to 1984. Newspeak and Doublethink are now our political reality. People no longer have the verbal capacity to express their actual feelings and beliefs, it’s just a bunch of repeated words and phrases that have since lost their value in speech. So please bear in mind that being anti-feminist and being anti-feminine aren’t the same thing. I espouse love and respect for all females (all PEOPLE, actually) who are worthy of it, but I don’t think we should worship them nor be forced to tiptoe around women, lest they unleash their first world problems rage upon us because of some imaginary oversight. If you treat all people with equal respect, feminism simply has no function, and no place in your brain. And yeah, Seth McFarlane is funny. Not as funny as ‘it was my “privilege”stories, maybe, but still pretty funny. >:D

  • Lantaar

    I have to say it is quite refreshing to see an actually intelligent take on this, both from Sara and the other commenters. I honestly never understood why certain people can get so angry and offended about a comedian’s act and in this case a guy, who proudly claims himself to be an ‘equal opportunity offender’. Then I realized the people who wrote those articles probably belong to a group of people, who like to get angry on grounds of some -ism, yelling it all over the place, like some magic word in order to get things that are beneficial to them, without having an actual discussion about the subject. Let it be the ‘angry black man’ with racism (which is already a stereotype itself as it has been done so many times) or the angry woman yelling feminism. Unfortunately these are the people who get their voices heard, because the are the ones yelling the loudest. I really want to say to just simply let them have their little temper tantrum in the media, while the actually intelligent people have a real discussion about these kind of issues, but unfortunately letting them do so could influence others to behave the same way. And since these kinds of people don’t tend to be rational, sou one would have to out-yell them, but then he’she could easily become the same kind of person he/she’s trying to oppose. It’s kind of a catch 22. Still I wish more articles were like this and not like the crap, like on jezebel. Oh, and MacFarlane is funny. On some level, some of his jokes might crossing the line here and there, but they’re still funny.

  • Madison

    Fantastic piece, Sara. You make a great point – it’s possible to simultaneously take something seriously AND see the humor in it; it’s not mutually exclusive. The world isn’t binary, nor is comedy. Well done.

  • http://www.unrealitymag.com Paul Tassi

    Well shoot, if Madison came back to chime in, perhaps I did to.

    This is indeed a great piece and captures why this old guard of media critics and new era feminists are up in arms over him. The concept of ‘being offended’ is in itself quite stupid, and it all comes down to whether you have a sense of humor, or you don’t.

    Furthermore, I just don’t see the misogynism here. I see a man making jokes based on the sort of low-brow (yet usually still smart) humor he normally employs on Family Guy. I saw those little skits on Shatner as the same kind he uses on Family Guy. And wasn’t he making fun of…himself? The joke was that he’s “bad comedian” who relies on lowest common denominator jokes, hence the “We saw your boobs.” The actresses themselves filmed reaction shots to be a part of that skit! They got the joke, why couldn’t everyone else?

    Anyway, great take Sara.

  • Draugr

    “Okay, everybody calling themselves feminists all the time implies a level of stupidity in our culture that upsets me and let me tell you why. The english language was constructed in such a way that the suffix “ism” and “ist” when added
    to a word implies the superiority of the base word.”

    Not necessarily. Pretending that this is the case is being willfully ignorant.

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-ism

    “So please bear in mind that being anti-feminist and being anti-feminine aren’t the same thing.”

    I don’t think anyone is really pretending this is the case? in fact you could argue that being anti-feminist is being pro-feminine, as what is it be feminine is defined by traditional gender mores and you’d be interested in reinforcing those behaviors.

    “I espouse love and respect for all females (all PEOPLE, actually) who are worthy of it, but I don’t think we should worship them nor be forced to tiptoe around women”

    No reasonable person, feminist or otherwise, is requiring this of you.

    “If you treat all people with equal respect, feminism simply has no function, and no place in your brain.”

    If we’re all willing to be as obtuse as you, then I could see why you would come to that conclusion. This statement somehow implies that equity and feminism are at odds with each other, which isn’t the case. – Are there radical feminists? Yes? Do people like to pretend that all feminists are these people even though that’s far from the case? Also, yes.

    In classic trashcanman fashion, you took that strawman down like a pro.

    I think Mcfarlanes funny (though I think family guy has really sucked lately,) people getting offended are about as silly as those who watch south park and get offended – At that point they are watching *so* they can be offended. They are there to feel something just like everyone else, they just aren’t looking for laughter.

    @Sara
    “I also think his aforementioned “edgy” humor is legitimately funny. One of the hardest things about being a feminist is coming to terms with the fact that one can enjoy things that are sexist while still having the awareness to critique them.”

    To me, it seems like that’s only hard for others to understand – though I could see why you’d be a bit conscious about it.
    Some people just can’t seem to comprehend that just because you like something doesn’t mean you can’t be critical of it. You’d almost not be able to participate in any activity if the presence of something you disagreed with was precluding you from joining.

  • Lima Zulu

    Consider it revoked. Privileged society really needs to get it hammered into its head that microaggressions are still bigotry. Give absolutely no quarter.

  • Lima Zulu

    And yes, I get that humor is a societal construct. This is why comedians actually used to have talent.

  • http://saraclemens.com Sara Clemens

    Thanks for reading and for all the insightful comments, everyone. Way to be some of the most articulate commenters on the internet.

  • 280 dollars

    I am a woman, older than the much sought after TV viewer demographic, but I thought Seth’s comic delivery pretty much stunk. OVER-rehearsed, OVER “laugh at my own joke, then throw in a throw away line”, over and over again. I had no idea who he was, then was shocked when I found out he has something to do with Family Guy, which is pretty funny. Seth’s delivery was like all the bad 80′s comics combined. Sooooo predictable, with almost no pay-off.

    But I LOVED the We saw your Boobs song. It was so damned immature (thus very relate-able), and very risky. And I (average intelligence), knew he was slamming Clooney, and not the little girl, and if Rhianna STILL doesn’t have the sense to get away from Monster Brown, then she deserves some VERBAL up-side-the-head on the subject. But you’re right, Sara, it wasn’t funny.

    Sexist? Racist? Crossing the Line? If delivered right- it’s funny! But Seth was just monotonous.

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