Sexism, Racism, and the Academy Awards

There are two things everyone's talking about the day after the Oscars, the first being Seth MacFarlane's bigoted approach to hosting. I thought it was kind of "genius" (in a warped sense of the word) to play off his jokes in a hypothetical setup. On one level it was like, "Wouldn't it be silly if I did this sophomoric shit at the Oscars?!" But in actuality, he was literally playing off that same material as his main material and actually succeeding. Some of the same people who wouldn't laugh at a topless actress song and dance were fooled enough by the premise to say chuckle "yes, such a thing at the Oscars would be absurd!"

I can't comment on too many specific jokes SINCE MY DRUNK FRIENDS KEPT TALKING DURING THE CEREMONY, but I remember when he intentionally "mixed up" two black actors who look nothing alike. It wasn't a commentary on how ridiculous society is in that respect, "black people look alike" was essentially the punchline. Blegh.

But as my friend Melinda pointed out this morning, let's not single out MacFarlane for an attitude that typifies the Academy on the whole. The Academy itself is predominately white senior citizen men. They represent an industry that is dominated - like most others - by a wealthy patriarchy. In that respect, MacFarlane didn't disgrace the Academy with his racist/sexist humor, he embodied it.

You know what's a sexist joke? Out of 100s of Best Director nominees over the decades, only four have ever been women. Want to know another sexist joke? Picking a hot, blonde 22-year-old who played a nymphomaniac as a Best Actress over the 86-year-old who movingly portrayed a real struggle or the woman who played a brash CIA agent/hero. Okay, one more: Amy Adams got a nomination for a minor, unremarkable role where her big scene involves her giving her husband a hand job while telling him it's okay to cheat on her.

How about a racist joke? There have only been TWO African American Best Director nominees ever. The last two African American actresses to win Oscars did so for playing either an abusive monster or a domestic maid who shits in a pie. Ultimately, even if the Academy started recognizing more actors of colors, it wouldn't change that it's still white patriarchy who get to tell the stories and - more importantly - profit from them.

A lot of us already recognize the farce, but we still engage with it anyway. We see the films, we have Oscar parties, and we pretend to care about the outcomes (I won my party's pool again, BTW, because I'm awesome at predicting other peoples' poor decisions). That's just being a member of this fucked up society. For crying aloud, I watched the ceremony in a room full of self-identified feminists, and there was STILL plenty of nitpicking about actresses' looks and outfits. I tried to spoof that when I saw Quvenzhane Wallis showing off her dress on the red carpet and remarked that she wasn't showing off enough skin.

Which brings me to the other topic everyone's talking about: The Onion's infamously deleted tweet: "Everyone seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhane Wallis is kind of a cunt, right? #Oscars2013"

It's not my favorite joke, but people need to cool their britches and stop appointing themselves satire police. Since when are smart people taking The Onion at face value? If someone had called Wallis a c-word for real, I would have thrown down. I don't generally like child actors, but Wallis gave one of the most amazing performances I've seen in years. In her public appearances, she has done nothing but come across as sweet, humble, and grounded. The joke is only a joke because she's universally adored. Matt Kirshen is saying some smart things on this topic that I would cosign.

Just like the comment I made about how Wallis should show more skin earlier in the evening, it wasn't actually a comment about Wallis. It was meant to poke fun at how Hollywood starlets are all but required to show a lot of cleavage or leg and dress up like sex objects. And how the viewers are socialized to dissect these women's looks and make nasty comments as they prance down a red carpet. Of course you don't start criticizing a nine-year-old's cute, age-appropriate dress for not being sexy enough.

In The Onion's case, I read the cunt joke as commentary on society's tendency to bash women. We so freely toss derogatory terms about females around that we need to be THAT shocked to even register that we do it. How many times have we heard Anne Hathaway called a "bitch" recently because she comes across as too polished? Or that Sally Field is a nightmare? It doesn't take much of anything to get us to turn on once cherished celebrities. In fact, I dare say that The Onion could not have called ANY other person in attendance at the Oscars for the joke to make sense. Once women reach a certain age, a number of people are bound to hate them, often irrationally.

Which is why it's sad that it's only a matter of years before someone will call Wallis the c-word and mean it. If you don't find The Onion's joke funny, or you don't approve of calling a child a name even in jest, then fine… but I'd suggesting saving your rage for the legitimate misogyny in the world and not the humor website with a proven track record that's trying to shed light on the same issues that irk you.


KirstB said...

Just came across this article that makes a similar argument to yours about the onion tweet:


the comment thread gets all ridiculous, but one of the top comments about intersectionality I think was right on.

And every time I read something about Seth MacFarlane was [offensive/sexist/fill in the blank], I've been thinking, you know, he didn't produce and write the whole show by himself. He surely had a whole team of writers and a whole hierarchy of people that supported and approved the content and tone. So yeah, jokes may be jokes, but the bigger context and system is so important.. so thanks for bringing up the context of the academy as a whole.

Kevin said...

Wow, thanks for sharing, that's the best article I've read on the topic. Granted, that might be conceited to say since she makes a lot of my same arguments, but she also makes them WAY better.

Some of the comments are good, but I had to stop reading them at a certain point because I feel like I've had this conversation 200 times already on Tumblr.