Editorials, Everything Else — March 2, 2013 at 3:00 am

THE WEEK IN SEXISM

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So, it’s been quite the week for sexism in the film industry.

Segments of the Internet went into an uproar earlier this week following Seth MacFarlane’s hosting gig at the Oscars on Sunday.  We got a song about boob’s some creepy comments about a 9-year old’s ability to date George Clooney, and a joke about Rex Reed thinking Adele was fat (which said more about what MacFarlane thought of Adele than it did about Reed).  Sadly, all of these jokes (plus women catching the flu to look good) were not even funny, which can serve as a balm on some of the hurt feelings.

shailene-woodleyOf course, then The Onion went ahead and made anything MacFarlane said about Hollywood actresses seem absolutely antiseptic by calling pre-teen Quvenzhané Wallis a completely-not-safe-for-work term.  It was ridiculous and unfunny and The Onion apologized.  Still, one wonders how much uproar there would have been had the remark been directed at Anne Hathaway.

Your opinions of these incidents may vary, but I’m actually more concerned about the small controversy surrounding some pics of Shailene Woodley as Mary Jane Watson in the Amazing Spiderman sequel that were posted to any variety of film news sites. Most of the sites just posted the pics as they would any news item and moved on.  I wish that were the end of it.

Commenters piled onto her looks, declaring the young actress “not hot enough” to play MJ.  A sampling of posts:

  • “Holy crap, she looks like a dog…”
  • “…she’s not even hot.”
  • “Kirsten Dunst looks like Miss. America compared to this Heifer.”

I could have picked dozens more and there are some more graphic, but you get the idea.  Woodley is wrong for MJ because she’s ugly according to some Internet trolls. I wish that were the end of it.

Let’s take a step back.  First, some of these sites did not just run the spy pics of Woodley on set.  They also ran images of Mary Jane from the comic.  For example, /Film ran a drawing of MJ in a pouty, breasts-heaving pose.  They literally could have picked any image from over 50 years of the comic and that’s what they went with.  They cannot be naive enough to not think they aren’t inviting people to make comparisons between a drawn fantasy that wouldn’t be able to remain balanced and upright in real life and an actual living, breathing human girl.

So then the trolls descended and writers got up in arms and beat their chests.  Commenters are wrong and evil (and allowed to comment with impunity on their site).  There is no taking of any responsibility by any of the folks who have nurtured exactly the type of film community that will attack a girl’s alleged hotness.  These are your page clicks and ad revenue, guys.

Some of the “defending” came off as even worse.  Some took the tact of saying once there is makeup and better lighting, she will look hot.  One, a reviewer I respect immensely, even offered that if people thought Mary Jane was supposed to be hot, they didn’t know their Spiderman history.  See, so Woodley will be hot with a little work done to her. Or maybe she doesn’t have to be hot at all to play MJ.  And remember, these are the defenders.

The nail in the coffin of this discussion came when a site ran what they later claimed to be a satire of the situation.  I say claim because satire should be funny and this was not.  It was a comparison between Woodley and the comic book character as drawn, feature by feature, with recommendations on how Woodley can bring herself up to the comic book standard.

Some did a legitimately great job of discussing the situation (like Katey Rich from CinemaBlend). But there was plenty of outrage out there that felt misdirected. Or wrong. Or coming from a place where they barely seem to recognize their role in the story.

Still, we all know that the outrage will die down. Until the next time.  Until we decide that Jennifer Lawrence is a bitch. Because this is the Internet.  And it’s our God- and Bill Gates-given right to trash anyone we feel like trashing on-line with a maximum amount of anonymity.

This whole situation may have flown under the radar for a lot of you.  I’m sorry to drag you into the bile of what on-line communities can engender if they are not careful.  I think it’s an instructive case and hope people can actually learn something from it.

I wish this were the end of it.  I really do.

13 Comments

  • I was just reading about the “completely-not-safe-for-work term” used to refer to Quvenzhané Wallis the other day. Interestingly the British papers who reported the incident do not consider the word in question an acceptable word to use or to print. However they are happy to use it as a quote within the “safety” of quotation marks. Does quoting someone else make an unacceptable word suddenly acceptable therefore meaning the context and not the word offensive? Does that mean all words could be made to be acceptable or unacceptable?

    As for Shailene Woodley, I must be missing something, admittedly, I only know her from The Descendants but my first thought was that she is pretty good casting.

  • I can’t wait until everyone eventually shuts up about all this supposed “sexism” from The Oscars last week. I’m tired of people finding things that aren’t there or not understanding what was happening. It’s pretty frustrating to be the only one who see it. (Ok, I’m NOT the only one, but sometimes it feels like it.)

    As for that chick playing Mary Jane, I think she’s cute so I don’t get the issue with that either.
    -Jason

  • Every feminist on the internet all ready thinks I’m a sexist so I’ll throw my two cents in.

    First, the shit Seth McFarlane is getting is over the top. Some things were a bit much but some things you need to just take worth a grain of salt. I laughed at some of it. Hell, I thought the “we saw your boobs” thing was funny. How about we do an internet version of “we saw your dick” and call it even?

    Second, I LOOOOVE Spider-Man. This whole controversy is lame. Everyone calling her ugly is lame. She’s a pretty girl. Do I love the casting? No. However, I hated the Dunst casting too and she ended up doing a good job.

    Ultimately, Mary Jane worked as a supermodel so the actress playing her should be quote-un-quote hot. However, I’m much more interested in someone who can deliver on the role. If she does that, who cares how hot she comes across. I like everything Marc Webb has done and is doing so let’s suspend disbelief on the casting until after execution. Then, we can applaud or boo it.

    PS. Everyone paying attention to these internet trolls is giving them exactly what they want.

  • Great article, Pat. You hit on a lot that has troubled me over the past week, beyond just the Oscars.

    My position on the Oscars show I think I made pretty clear, but we need to tone down the rhetoric on both sides. If Macfarlane’s performance had been funny, or ironic, it would have been all right, but it wasn’t. It was at best tasteless, and at worse misogynist. It’s the kind of casual sexism that begins to drive us back to the pre-1960s. But it is there, in the culture, and has to be addressed.

    Equality is not about reciprocal exploitation. The problem continues to be that older white men are in control of the discourse about women and women’s bodies – again the fact that many of the scenes Macfarlane references were rape/sexual violence. So we’re essentially saying that it’s titillating to watch a woman being assaulted, as long as we get to see her breasts. This kind of behavior in a media setting might be innocent in and of itself – I don’t believe that anyone is advocating rape – but it reinforces the concept of a woman as a sexual object there to be commented upon by the male viewer … and nothing more. That kind of thinking translates to real world relations between men and women. I see nothing wrong with appreciating male or female beauty and expressing that appreciation, but not when it carries the undercurrent of real sexual violence.

    The c-word, meanwhile, is not there to be reclaimed by anyone other than women, and then very very carefully. If The Onion had used the n-word in reference to Wallis, no one would have told the black community to ‘lighten up.’

    • The thing that everyone seems to be missing when it comes to the “Boob Song” is this.

      The set up to the song was Seth was warned he was going to do something so horrible offensive that people were gonna hate him. Then they show him doing that offensive thing. So then he realizes he SHOULDN’T do that offensive thing and does something non-offensive.

      You can argue that he shouldn’t have played the whole song and you have a point but I think what’s being missed here is the sense of irony. He was told if he did this, he would be slammed. And now he’s being slammed for a segment that, in essence, didn’t really happen.

      As for the whole “we saw your boobs during a rape scene”, well TO BE FAIR (god I’m gonna brace myself for this…) it’s not like he was showing pictures of REAL RAPE victims and said “We saw your boobs”. They were simulated FAKE scenes of rape. And the whole Scarlett Johannson thing I’m sure she was OK with because she came out and just accepted the pics were out there. Hell, she wanted to get naked in “The Island” so what the hell are we even arguing about?
      -Jason

      • You don’t see the problem with turning a simulated rape sequence into the object of banal titillation? That’s what we’re talking about. It trivializes an act of exceptional violence (and both Monster and Boys Don’t Cry are heavily wrapped up in gender politics.).

        The culture of gender is the problem here – it’s like saying that the African-American actors who played ‘Sambos’ in the 1930s were OK with that depiction of blacks because and, hey!, they appeared in the movies. So it’s not a problem?

        • I’m not going to delve into the sexism debate too heavily because I doubt my words would carry any weight here. What does bother me about this whole discussion is when people start to remark about whether something is ‘funny or not.’ Maybe I missed some sort of master class in hilarity but comedy (like all other art) is and always will be subjective. Saying “If MacFarlane’s performance had been funny, or ironic, it would have been all right” comes off like you are speaking for women everywhere, because you know exactly what perpetuates misogynistic culture. I happen to look at the bit like Jason did, like ‘this musical number about boobs would be a really terrible idea for the Oscars.’ So I cringed and chuckled through it thinking “oh god, this is a terrible idea, could you imagine if he had tried to pull this off as a legitimate joke?”

          Because it was prefaced as a tasteless joke that would fail, I didn’t find anything too offensive. The comedy is supposed to come from the fact that everyone but Seth would know better. The idea that the creator of one of the most politically incorrect cartoon shows ever made is hosting one of the most prestigious events in Hollywood.

          His humor and comments are present throughout the awards show and out there for debate. My problem is that everyone all of a sudden holds a comedian like Seth MacFarlane up to some bizzaro-world standard because he is hosting the Oscars instead of a comedy show. Did people expect something different? And if they did …why?

          There is without a doubt an issue with the media exploiting woman and I certainly can understand frustration with MacFarlane’s performance when picturing him alongside the media at a very watched event like the Oscars. I suppose I just think that comedians shouldn’t have to censor themselves or worry about who they offend. Should Seth have hosted? No, probably not, but as we all know, the Oscars try hard every year to tap into that younger demo and this year they looked at Seth to help them. I can blame the show producers for picking a poor host but not McFarlene for being a bad comedian. I think he was making jokes and not being sexist, that’s just me.

          Overall, I find E! reporters drooling over celebrities on the red carpet to be more offensive than an intentionally bad joke about boobs on film.

          Whew! Regarding MJ: “Everyone paying attention to these internet trolls is giving them exactly what they want.”

          Exactly what Kai said.

        • I just re listened to the song and nowhere is rape mentioned it it’s lyrics. The intent of the song was not to highlight violence of any kind. It was to be the worst musical number ever because it’s a song about woman being nude in movies. Not so much about what goes on in them.

          • Which is my bloody point. Several of the movies that it highlights were RAPE SCENES, whether the song openly acknowledges that or not. It was turning what were serious, important films and performances into banal forms of titillation (we totally saw your boobs!).

            Jokes are jokes and Macfarlane has every right to make jokes as an American citizen. I meanwhile have a right to point out that those jokes were largely unfunny and tacitly sexist (also racist, but we’re not talking about that right now). But we are reaching the point where simply saying “I’m kidding!” has become a catch-all phrase for reactionary sentiments. The Oscars do not get a pass on this one because they waggled their hands and went ‘kidding!’

            The Onion was ‘only kidding’, but they are still a major media outlet referring to a nine year African-American girl with a horrifically sexist term. Would we be having the same ‘it’s only a joke’ discussion if they called her the n-word? Because that too would have ‘satire’?

            With that, I’m done.

  • On the topic of the Onion tweet, my position from the start was that it was a attempt at satire that went horribly,horribly wrong. And i think once people see Shailene in character things will calm down…or should. Also since im already commenting, while the boob song overall didn’t bother me i do think he should have avoided using rape scenes. Would remove the ickiness imo

    But i do understand how having these incidents happen so close together would be upsetting

  • I tried to only touch on the Seth MacFarlane bit for a lot of the reasons people here are citing. Humor will always be subjective. For me, he was not funny. At best, the boob song punch line was all of the movies Kate Winslet gets naked in which wasn’t the funniest of observations and it took a circuitous route to get there.

    The other observation that he was commenting on what people expected him to do… I have a completely different view. Some of the comments act like he didn’t really do or say these things because it was a bit. I didn’t see the Shatner time travel piece as a way of letting him comment on people’s perception of him. I saw it as him having his cake and eating it too. He got to be the standard host (singing and dancing) and the offensive one (but it didn’t really happen!). If that really was the joke, the Oscars could have shown like five seconds of it to get the point across or even had Shatner reading from an article in which he talked about boobs. They did not. They turned it into a full musical number.

    I also don’t want this to be perceived as just about the boobs song. There was a much broader narrative at play here. And like I said in the article, had I (and seemingly others) found it funny, it would have been edgy comedy. But for the most part, it fell flat.

  • I was commenting in reply to the other comments, not just the article.

    But what I got out of your comment is that you didn’t find it funny. I didn’t think his whole turn as host was all that great but I think calling his material sexist is stretch. That’s what I’m getting at.

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