Editorials, Everything Else — February 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm

AN HYSTERICAL REINFORCEMENT OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARADIGM, OR: MY GOD, THE OSCARS SUCKED

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I am not, by and large, an angry person.  I’m actually a very happy person.  You should see how I smile when the first bars of Psycho play.  So when I seem angry here, I’m usually just annoyed, or snarky, or trying to be sarcastically amusing.  I’m not really angry.

Except now.  I am really angry.  Mildly less so than yesterday, when the pain was still fresh (and before I began to understand Jennifer Lawrence’s awesomeness).  Should I be angry at an awards ceremony that has proved time and again how incredibly useless and meaningless it is? No.  Should I have expected anything better from the people who waited thirty years to award Martin Scorsese, who never awarded Hitchcock, and managed to snub Richard Burton? No.  But I am.  Not at the awards themselves – they were pat and predictable and wholly uninspired, but for the most part deserved.  I’m angry at the whole ugly mess of the thing, the unfunny jokes, the borderline misogyny and racism.

Hollywood is a town full of talent, so why in the name of all that is good on this planet could they not put together a halfway coherent production? Why did stars faces shine under the lights like mini-beacons? Why did everyone seem like they had only just been informed they were going to be presenting? Why did the jokes alternate between banal and offensively unfunny (seriously? John Wilkes Booth?) Why were the most exciting moments when Bassey sang Goldfinger and Barbara Streisand sang The Way We Were, yet the big, endless production numbers of shite musicals made me long for a commercial break just to STOP THE PAIN? Why did it go on for three and a half hours, yet cut off speeches? What the hell was Michelle Obama doing there? I DON’T UNDERSTAND.

jennifer-lawrence-press

The Oscars were not this bad last year.  Last year may have been a bit boring, but it was not inexplicable.  As the show went on, my Twitter feed began to fill with WTFs and my heart with sadness.  Then with anger.  These people were making a mockery of the medium I love.  They were destroying it from the inside out by the sheer idiocy of their production.  I could not feel the joy at seeing Daniel Day-Lewis awarded for a great performance – and give a very cute acceptance speech – because my soul was being poisoned by the endless returns of the cast from Chicago.  This was Hollywood at its most self-satisfied, its most self-congratulatory, but it had even lost the element of entertainment value.

What troubled me (and a lot of other people) the most  were the misogynist undertones of so many of Macfarlane’s jokes.  They’ve been remarked on already (Women directors! Boobs!), but were all the more bizarre because this was a year of strong women.  Another Katherine Bigelow film nominated for Best Picture. A whole host of actresses nominated for playing strong women (Jessica Chastain, Sally Fields, Jennifer Lawrence, Quvenzhané Wallis).  But at every turn the Oscars reduced them to body parts, skin color, jokes.  Macfarlane’s humor, whether his fault or not, paved the way for The Onion to think it was acceptable to call a Wallis – a nine year old girl – an offensively sexist name.  And what was supposed to be edgy, self-aware, entertaining, was simply crass.

I never expected the Oscars to be so crass.  Macfarlane – who I liked and was rooting for right up until the boobs number – only highlighted one of the problems with contemporary Hollywood: we have reached the point where saying “I’m joking!” has become a catch-all excuse for saying any racist, sexist, classist or xenophobic thing you want to.  Reducing Oscar-winning actresses to whether or not we’ve seen their breasts, mixing up Denzel Washington and Eddie Murphy (because all black people look the same, and that’s racist, and so it’s funny!), not to mention the throwaway lines about Hollywood orgies – those were all simply not funny.  It has nothing to do with lightening up, or taking a joke – a joke needs to be funny.  I begin to wonder if the conspicuous lack of cutaways as the show went on was because the stars were either falling asleep, or face-palming.

85th Annual Academy Awards - BackstageI was beginning to recover my equilibrium for the big final awards.  Then some kind of mad surrealism took over with the appearance of Dustin Hoffman and Charlize Theron.  Jennifer Lawrence! Yep, expected that.  Daniel Day-Lewis! That too, but he was at least charming.  Ang Lee! Oh, he’s lovely, good for him.  Then Jack came out and I, along with the rest of the Twitter-verse, went: JACK! Then there was a moment.  Jack seemed a little confused.  The First Lady appeared.  Why did the First Lady appear? Why is she on that big screen? Who are those people behind her? She’s presenting the Oscar? But she’s in Washington, she can’t … what … who … Argo? And that’s when I finally face-palmed. It was like watching a Bunuel film without the political payoff.

So the Oscars this year was a combination of the boring, the offensive and the inexplicable.  Musicals are a great theme for an Oscar show, but why ignore some of the better more recent ones? Bringing on a popular comedian is good too, but not when he laughs at his own jokes.  The whole thing was so tasteless and confused that I honestly felt sorry for the stars who were awarded.  They were overshadowed by the spectacular level of dumb.  It’s a shame that ceremony made such hash out of race and gender, given the political dimensions of many of the nominated films.  I can only hope that this is the last gasp of a dying breed in the industry, the final hysterical cry into the white male dominated past.  The actors, actresses, writers, directors and films have moved beyond this.  About time the Academy did too.

 

 

8 Comments

  • I’m a fan of crude and offensive humor. In fact, some of the stuff on Oscar night made me laugh pretty good and overall, it was fairly enjoyable. So, thats not my problem with the show.

    Rather, my problem is with them turning it into a circus act more or less. I mean, this is the Oscars, not the MTV movie awards. Turning it into a circus act just ruins the show’s integrity (well, what integrity it has left given the politics behind it).

    I fear it’s only gonna get worse over the years as well. I called it back when they let Sacha come dressed as his Dictator character. That was a big step towards turning it into a circus act. It’s just going to avalanche from there, I think.

  • I have to agree, the entire night showed less than zero taste. I’ll admit, I’ve never been a fan of McFarlane’s humor. I get that some find the crassness amusing, but I would have hoped it would have been toned down for this event. From the booby song on, I felt myself cringing over and over. Repeatedly my husband and I looked at each other asking,”that was supposed to be funny? Wasn’t that just offensive?” Worse it wasn’t just the hosts humor, cutting off a speech with the theme from Jaws? Really? The show was a loser all the way through. A shame since there were so many worthy movies and actors to be acknowledged- they deserved better. And so did we.

  • I like Seth MacFarlane, and I think he’s very good at what he does, so I laughed gladly many times. However, the boob number was a bit… uncomfortable. I wanted to laugh, but I kept thinking “this is the oscars, not family guy”. I don’t see him nor his jokes as intentionally/hurtfully misogynist or racist, it’s just what he does and everyone knew that, so I really wasn’t expecting less. If anything, I thought it’d be worse in that department; considering his shows, oscar night was nothing. But I understand it’s a touchy subject that divides opinions. And that said, some jokes were pretty tasteless, particularly the Kardashians’s one. It was pretty mean.

    I thought the musical numbers were very entertaining, but I agree that they didn’t properly grabbed the theme. So many great musicals, old and new, and all they do is reenact numbers from Chicago, Dreamgirls, Les Miserables, and mention The Sound of Music, plus a couple of songs in film? A disgrace, on that point I’m completely with you. Oh and what Alison noted: the Jaws song… I found it funny the first time, and god knows it was effective, but it was also really rude.

  • I might be giving McFarlane too much credit here, but I chose to interpret the Boob Song as exposing the inherent sexism of the Academy. So many of the movies mentioned were Oscar winning performances, many of them great performances, but it seemed to me highlighting the fact of the Academy being dirty old men looking at these performances and giggling with glee at the young actresses topless.

    There is so much more emphasis on the fact that in order to be a “serious” actress you have to do “tasteful” nudity, there is no pressure on men to do that… at all (this year in The Sessions, Helen Hunt is naked 50% of her screen time, but when she shows John Hawkes his body in the mirror (an important and moving moment) it was very much undercut by the fact that they didn’t actually show him, I have not salacious interest in seeing a naked polio survivor, but it was also kind of the point of the film). Women are rewarded for getting naked, and I think that has less to do with the “bravery” associated with being nude on film (seriously when you look like these women do it isn’t brave to take off your clothes), than it is with dirty old men liking naked women. The Boob Song may have been part of this sexism, but it was exposing it as well.

    As for the other things… I got nothing… Except I was proud of the fact that I predicted all but one of the Technical Awards (cinematography), so that was fun.

    And Chicago? Seriously, and I even liked that movie.

  • Wow, this is an interesting debate here.
    I too belong to the people that didn’t take Seth McFarlane all too seriously, and Nannina’s interpretation of the boob song really is spot on. Shows like Family Guy, South Park and so on (which is just McFarlane’s “hood”) show the problems in society by becoming them, kind of. And that can seem pretty real at times, but that’s pretty clever – if people understand it.
    Not that I want to insult YOU, I personally was offended when I heard the boob song too… people just have to give things a little more thought.

    Of course I could be totally wrong and McFarlane meant everything he said. Nevertheless, his Argo joke at the beginning was great.

    • See, here’s the thing. I don’t think Macfarlane was being ‘serious’, nor would I have particularly objected to the boobs song were it not for three factors. He succeeded in reducing serious actresses to body parts and he referenced several films in which the ‘boob shots’ were also rape scenes. Finally, if it had only been that song that had sexist undertones, I would not have been so troubled. But the entire show was reactionism masquerading under the blanket of “I’m only joking.”

      The difference between the Oscars telecast and Family Guy or South Park (which I love, by the way) is that those shows usually have an ‘aha!’ moment, where the inherent irony of their situations becomes apparent to the audience. Hence, South Park can do an entire show about “Scrotey McBoogerballs” and still make it topical by pointing out the fallacies in the way we interpret literature. The Oscars show exhibited no such ironic awareness that I could see, maybe because Macfarlane wasn’t allowed to go far enough in his comedy. It was also so inexplicable in other ways that I honestly went to bed angry.

      • Well, what was your take on the Show Your Boobs song being part of the “terribly received” version of the show? I took that to mean the song was supposed to be quite tongue in cheek because they prefaced it by saying it was bad/in poor taste. I thought the gist was funny, but I also agree that the mentions that involved rape scenes should’ve been left out.

  • Yeah, this is why I never watch the Oscars.

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