Actors (either gender) are, at their best, magicians. How scary was DeNiro staring into the mirror as Travis Bickle? How sad was it when Brando as Vito Corleone momentarily broke down over the body of his murdered son, Sonny? More obscure: do you recall Melora Walters smile at the end of “Magnolia,” which contained more meaning than entire movies? Their work deserves praise, but let’s put things in perspective. Every year, they “roll the red carpet out” for themselves. They honor themselves and their work in a gala presentation that lasts about 15 hours. The Oscars this year started two weeks ago, and I think it’s still on. Every now and then, an irreverent host is hired–Chris Rock, Ricky Gervais (OK, Golden Globes), and this year, Seth MacFarlane–who is then sharply criticized for being irreverent. One of the kinder words used to describe MacFarlane’s appearance this year was “sophomoric,” and the word misogynist was never far behind. The LA Times wrote an article with the headline, “How Seth MacFarlane’s Jokes Hurt Women.” Really? Is that not just a bit overstated?
MacFarlane came out and, true to expectations, made fun of Hollywood. He announced his intentions with his opening musical number, in which he sang a song any frat boy would sing on meeting a Hollywood actress (if the frat boy was musically inclined). Writing about the song and its perceived popularity, Jamie Lee Curtis wrote, “I’m sure public executions would get big ratings too.” He joked that the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” in which a female CIA operative hunted down Osama for years, proved that a woman could never let anything go. You decide for yourself whether that’s funny. He was absurdly accused of “sexualizing” a nine year old girl when he joked that the young Quvenzhane Wallis would not be too old for George Clooney for another 16 years (a joke which roasts Clooney, not Wallis). You may not think MacFarlane is funny, but he’s certainly not Andrew Dice Clay… or a public executioner.
Chris Rock hosted the Oscars in 2005, and to make the point that Hollywood should try to make the best movies instead of rushing out product, he compared stars like Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise to actors like Tobey Maguire (a “boy in tights”) and Jude Law. Later in the show, Sean Penn blasted Rock, describing Jude Law as “one of our finest actors” and complained, “What Jude and all other talented actors know is that for every great, talented actor, there are five actresses who are nothing short of magic.” Lighten up, Sean.
Comedians should not necessarily get a free pass. Sometimes jokes are just dark, sometimes outright mean and hurtful. Sometimes they are meant to hurt. “The Onion” learned this week that experiments in bad taste can have limits with it’s own Quvenzhane joke last week. But were women really hurt by Seth MacFarlane? Sometimes, the way to treat a bad joke is to not laugh, an approach which I understand digs at the comedian more deeply than sensationalized headlines in the LA Times. When public officials discuss “legitimate rape” and devise ways to deprive women of the rights afforded them by the Supreme Court (not this Supreme Court), let’s remember that Seth MacFarlane is not the problem. And let’s lighten up.