February 26, 2013 / News

“We Saw Your Boobs” at the Oscars – Seth MacFarlane’s Sexism, Biting Satire or Both?


Seth MacFarlane performed what is likely Hollywood’s most thankless job Sunday night — hosting the Oscars.  Right on cue, his bad reviews came in.  Buzzfeed, among many other publications such as Daily Beast, did a takedown of his “juvenile” material and his nine most sexist moments.  Not being familiar with Mr. MacFarlane’s work, I have no stake whatsoever in defending or attacking  him, but have a different take on at least some of the material he is being skewered for today. seth picture

First among the musical numbers that were lambasted was McFarlane singing “We Saw Your Boobs” to the most prominent and award-winning actresses in Hollywood, starting with Meryl Streep, who bared her breasts in Silkwood.  No one was spared, not Oscar winners Charlize Theron or Anne Hathaway.  Hit especially hard was Oscar Winner Kate Winslet, who he basically accused of baring her breasts in every movie she did. His vocals were augmented in this “upbeat” number via a rousing finale by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.  The skit even featured cutaways to some of the women, including Charlize Theron, who did a disgusted face-palm in reaction to him.

The thing is, these reaction shots were pre-taped, as evidenced by the fact that Theron was wearing a different outfit in her reaction shot than she was wearing to the event that evening.  These actresses were in on, thereby theoretically consenting to, the joke.  But whether one finds the skit to be in poor taste (and I did), misses the larger point being made by the material.  Meryl Streep, for example, is considered the goddess of acting.  The rest of these women are among the crème de la crème of show business and yet, the take away of all their magnificent performances over the years was, “Hey, we saw your boobs!”  McFarlane may be many things, but he is no dope.  He knew exactly what he was doing.

By performing this déclassé sketch, wasn’t Mr. McFarlane shining a bright line on the prurient attitude that we regularly complain of in the entertainment industry – and in fact, by the media as a whole?  That a woman’s achievement takes second place to her looks; that a voyeuristic bent seeks to demean women rather than celebrate their accomplishments and that some women, willingly or reluctantly, participate?  A woman’s beautiful performance could be cheapened, even nullified, because somebody pirated a two-second snippet where the actress was nude and then blasted it all over the internet.  All of this was made very clear by this sketch.

Was this undignified and irreverent?  Sure.  And that may not deserve applause, but it is hypocritical for media outlets to now act self-righteous and complain when his song directly followed ninety minutes of network coverage of all the female stars on the red carpet.  Every part of their appearance from their dress and choice of designer, hair, make-up, weight, height and demeanor was scrutizined and will be rated for weeks to come, with the unlucky ones to be raked over the coals for  a lot longer.  Just ask Anne Hathaway about her “inconvenient nipple protrusion,” wherein her beautiful dress has been criticized far and wide because of the darts sewn into the bustline.  Aren’t these fashion gurus grading, and degrading, these women, too?

Buzzfeed then complained that there was a “joke about domestic violence” – and here it is:

MacFarlane said of the film Django Unchained: “Django is a movie where a woman is subjected to violence, or as we call it, a Chris Brown and Rihanna date movie.”

I doubt MacFarlane’s comment was making light of domestic violence.  On the contrary, it was a slap in the face to the entirety of Hollywood and the music industry.

Last week, I wrote the following:

Images of Rihanna nestled close to fiancé Chris Brown at the Grammys last week were disturbing, considering he had previously punched her in the face, bitten and beaten her, even tattooing what appeared to be an image of the same on his neck.

…[O]ur celebrity driven culture tends to make heroes of, or at the very least, excuse famous men with unsavory, even violent, behavior.

And this…

Two recent studies reveal that overtly sexual images of women influence not only the way men see women but worse still, the way women value – or devalue — themselves, as if their worth is connected only to their physical appearance and the pleasure they can offer.  Is it any wonder that when Chris Brown got public grief for his treatment of Rihanna, girls were actually blogging about how “he could beat them up anytime.”  That Rihanna, or any woman, would return for the possibility of more of the same treatment is something passing understanding.

So was Seth MacFarlane making a joke at Rihanna’s expense, or at Hollywood’s?  Or society-at-large?  Didn’t he tell the truth?  Brown did beat Rihanna and yet she is still with him.  He is still making music and has not been made a pariah in his industry.  So is Seth MacFarlane championing Chris Brown or pointing a finger at how preposterous it is that this kind of behavior is tolerated, and that people look the other way…?

What of the comment that “the orgy was taking place at Jack Nicholson’s house after the telecast”?  Does the name Roman Polanski ring a bell?  This man sodomized a thirteen-year-old girl while at Jack Nicholson’s home, only to have Whoopi Goldberg defend Polanski’s actions years later by saying, this “was rape, but it was not rape rape.”  What does that mean, Ms. Goldberg?

Another on Buzzfeed’s list of flops by MacFarlane…

“The Prospect of George Clooney Getting with Quvenzhané Wallis Was Discussed”

Quvenzhané Wallis is a best actress nominee who is nine years old.  What MacFarlane said was:  “to give you an idea of just how young she is, it will be sixteen years before she is too old for Mr. Clooney.”

This was horribly inappropriate and the young Miss Wallis should not have had to hear that – nor should the American people, who might have been watching this program with their children.  But ultimately, despite how awful this comment was, is he not trashing George Clooney?  Mr. Clooney is in his mid-fifties, and yet every year shows up with a new “model” – literally.

No matter how wrong MacFarlane’s joke, I found it amazing that another man would actually dare to point out that these aging guys shouldn’t enjoy a double standard, and be excused for being with women young enough to be their granddaughters.  How many grotesque “cougar” jokes have we had to endure even if the woman in question is keeping company with a man only five or ten years her junior?

By the way, The Onion just had to issue a formal apology for someone on their staff tweeting about the nine year old Miss Wallis, referring to her as a ‘c*nt.’  Clearly, Mr. MacFarlane is not alone in thinking everyone is fair game.

MacFarlane’s crack that Jessica Chastain’s character in Zero Dark Thirty illustrated that “women can never let anything go” just pushed the same stale, stereotypical mantra, but since her character was responsible for the getting of Bin Laden, isn’t he turning the female stereotype on its ear?  Buzzfeed also accused MacFarlane of intimating that Jennifer Aniston was a stripper – but actually he was talking about her co-presenter Channing Tatum, who just made an autobiographical movie, “Magic Mike” dealing with his years as an exotic dancer, so that, at least, was a manufactured complaint.

MacFarlane did make a number of other sexist comments, including one about how no one could understand what presenter Salma Hayek was saying, but just want to look at her since she is so pretty.  Perhaps I am giving MacFarlane more credit than he deserves, yet if anyone is going to pretend that Hollywood does not function as a sexist factory churning out and using women as eye candy, that, too, is missing the point.

Did he make comments that were objectifying, sexist and tasteless?  Absolutely.  Was it any different from the crap we hear from David Letterman, Bill Maher, Jay Leno or any of them day in and year out, or at some past telecasts?  Absolutely not.

And while we’re at it, it is ridiculous for mainstream media publications across the board to take MacFarlane to task for the very same sexism they themselves employed on a daily basis to take down a politically inconvenient female target.   The disgusting commentary of pundits, comedians and even some news anchors aimed at Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin are legion.

The problem brought into sharp relief by MacFarlane’s material does not exist in a vacuum at the Oscars, but is societal.

As an example, Mrs. Obama showed up via videoconference to present the Best Picture Oscar.  At that moment, it occurred to me that Tiger Woods, who had confessed to being guilty of all kinds of debauchery with many women while he was married, just enjoyed a golf weekend with none other than Mrs. Obama’s husband.  You know… the President of the United States.

Was she happy her husband was playing golf with this man?  What kind of a message does that send to the American people and to our children?  And do we think that if a woman behaved the way Tiger Woods did, so many would be busy working for her “rehabilitation” and re-inclusion at the highest echelons of society?

As an actor of thirty years, I have a deep respect for many in my profession.  One could argue that this is not the proper night or venue to hold the industry up for ridicule and that they are entitled to celebrate their accomplishments in a dignified fashion.  However, if there is an indignity happening, to some degree, they bring it on themselves and allow it with some of the incongruent and hypocritical behavior mentioned here.  Those in charge knew MacFarlane was going to do “edgy” material, as he called it — and hired him anyway.  So was a quest for higher ratings a substitute for good taste?

While Mr. MacFarlane did nothing to class up the proceedings, in fact, quite the opposite, he is not the problem.  He just pointed a neon arrow at the ones that already exist.  He also jabbed a very sharp finger in the eye of an industry that often sells women on the cheap and is patriarchal in nature, affording powerful men a special dispensation women in the same position would never enjoy.


Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin, now available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon.
Like Anita Finlay, Author on Facebook.
Follow @AnitaFinlay on Twitter.




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  • Amy Siskind

    Ugh! The actresses were in on it. Just disgusted, dismayed – all of the above!

  • kailynewaters

    While I would like to give him more credit, I don’t think he was consciously shedding light on the issues; at least if his past record is any indication. Agreed that media holds responsibility as well – although pointing fingers is what they do best. I think the entire presentation was a sad commentary on a broken system; especially sad because it happened in the liberal camp. But, I have become accustomed to that as well; perhaps too accustomed.

  • Anita Finlay (“Ani”)

    Kailynewaters.. you may well be right, which is why I mentioned that I did not know him from a hole in the wall. Just my visceral reaction to what I saw. I appreciate your comment, especially is regard to what a sad commentary this is. Vulgarity sems to rule the day, as does pointing fingers at the “other” in order to keep the focus off one’s own transgressions.

  • @bluenotebacker

    I didn’t watch the whole show, but I did see the opener, and the bit in question. I felt like he did a nice job of poking fun at himself and the (probably) common fear that he would be TOO over the top as host, TOO biting, TOO sexist, etc. It’s what everyone who doesn’t like him or his style of humor was worried about, so why not play it up? I think people in the entertainment business need to get over themselves, and I felt MacFarlane’s handling of that issue, while perhaps not intended, was spot on.

  • Julie Gillis

    Seemed passive aggressive and meanspirited at people not the machine. I get the last paragraph here is what he was trying to go for, but it missed. The use of the meta gave him “cover” in some way and that felt cowardly to me.

  • Bes

    “While Mr. MacFarlane did nothing to class up the proceedings, in fact, quite the opposite, he is not the problem. He just pointed a neon arrow at the ones that already exist. He also jabbed a very sharp finger in the eye of an industry that often sells women on the cheap and is patriarchal in nature, affording powerful men a special dispensation women in the same position would never enjoy”

    Agreed. Again thanks for taking the time to answer and discuss this Anita. It was easy to guess what Seth’s material would look like so if you don’t like it don’t watch. Same with Beyonce at the Superbowl, it was easy to figure out her show would fit into the narrow sexualized specs the NFL has for women and so if you don’t like it don’t watch. It is extra offensive that Media men consider the Oscars the “women’s superbowl”….maybe the “gay men’s superbowl” is more correct.

  • Bes

    Also I think it is important to keep in mind Hollywood has long ago lost all the people who like intelligent entertainment that has class. They are stuck trying to entertain the few people they haven’t alienated. MacFarlane brought more young male viewers to the Oscars than ever before and young male viewers is the only demo Hollywood cares about (another example of “women’s content” that is so “good” men like it) so expect more of the same from the Oscars in the future.

  • Anita Finlay (“Ani”)

    Interesting observation, Bes. In fact, MacFarlane did give them a ratings bump from last year of about a million viewers.

    • Dan

      > Make that 2 bumps, lol…

  • Dan

    “…that a voyeuristic bent seeks to demean women” That’s so weird, because when I admire and cherish my girlfriend’s beautiful body, she doesn’t find that demeaning at all (she, in fact, encourages it). I was under the impression that, as a male of my species, that I was suppose to look at nude females of my species, prurient or otherwise. I do agree that nudity in cinema is skewed towards male enjoyment, but not once have I heard a female writer complain about the objectification of men in film, à la Magic Mike. Also, secondary sexual characteristics are not reproductive organs, so maybe that’s why you don’t see “the full monty” for male actors (and female actors, for that matter).

  • Anita Finlay (“Ani”)

    By the way, Dan, a number of these films that Seth was poking fun at involved women being brutally raped. Ms. McDonough of Salon.com has an article about this today. In many cases, the actresses’ breasts were being shown bruised and beaten. I don’t think that is what is meant by admiring the female form. Furthermore, The Full Monty and Magic Mike are rarities in the market, and anyone who would argue that The Full Monty is about men being naked physically, rather than emotionally, I think, is drawing on a weak hand. MacFarlane was thumbing his nose at Hollywood, that continually objectifies women and as I mentioned above, he also thumbed his nose at media outlets who are also hypocritical to complain after the fact when they themselves had just been dissecting women on the red carpet for hours. And will continue to do so…

    There is also a disturbing link between women, sex and violence on film and tv that is undeniable — and that violence happens far more to women than to men. The damsel in distress (scantily clad or naked of course) has been in film since silent movies. Nothing has changed.

  • Bes

    Of course why Hollywood chooses to repeatedly film women being raped is another question worth discussing. Also “are Hollywood films relevant to women” is a question worth discussing. I would say they aren’t relevant to most women because all women in film are skewed through so many male brains they are not recognizable as women but are merely plot devices or T & A. And that is because female characters are usually filmed nude, stripping, being victims or prancing around in “lingerie inspired costumes”. Dan, I don’t begrudge you the fact that Hollywood gives you and the male audience what you want. I am also not going to fake like I care about actresses or movies when I don’t. And no I am not outraged about Magic MIke because there are a billion other movies where men are not sex objects. Also what Magic Mike does is pander to the half of female sexuality that is usually taboo in Hollywood, the half where women sit on their average sweatpanted bums and check out hot men. Of course the old men running Hollywood have apparently discussed the situation among themselves and decided this part of female sexuality doesn’t exist most likely because they haven’t noticed women looking at them and this can’t possibly be because they aren’t attractive.

  • Dan

    Every single time Paul Newman or any other man takes his shirt off, or Tom Cruise wears a tight white t-shirt, makes them sex objects in films. Every time there is a sex scene, it’s usually between a half naked man and a half naked women. You stated that “They aren’t relevant to most women because all women in film are skewed through so many male brains they are not recognizable as women but are merely plot devices or T & A”. Look, I was a film major in college, and maybe you haven’t seen Silkwood, Aliens, Thelma & Louis, Erin Brockovich, the list goes on and on. There are plenty of tough, take charge women who aren’t being raped or “prancing around in lingerie”. You know, there are plenty of Steven Seagal gun-wielding a%%holes I don’t associate with, either. As for the “old men running Hollywood”, I hate to break it to you, but much of Hollywood is actually ran by women. Please see hollywoodreporter.com/lists/women-entertainment-list-anne-sweeney-396224 But, much like the time I tried to answer a question in women’s studies class in college, I doubt anyone will objectively listen to what I have to say in this forum (being a guy, and all). So, I’m out. Don’t hate me, hate Sharon Stone.

  • Bes

    Dan, here is the deal, the men who run media have defined sex and it is their definition of sex that you saw in the Superbowl and in the Academy Awards. When women complain about the sexist images of women in media they are not rejecting sex they are rejecting the role that is assigned to women in the adolescent male definition of sex. These same women do not complain about hot men taking their shirts off in movies or Magic Mike because they do not object to sex or reject sex, and they enjoy the role they have been assigned in that definition of sex. So to sum up, women can reject media mens definition of sex with out rejecting sex. It is not hypocritical to reject mens definition of sex while embracing a womans eye view of sex. The male view is not the only view or the average view or the only valid view but it the only view represented by media.