To this day the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my career was stand in front of a group of 300 university students in my role as president of an student newspaper organization – my peers at the time – and explain to them that they needed to rise above sexist (or racist, or homophobic) jokes. My hands have never been so damp and my heart beat so fast I thought I might faint. The incident had been triggered by a joke newspaper distributed at a student journalism conference – innocent enough. Except that throughout the day several concerned young women came to me to complain about its underlying content.
The easiest move would have been to decide that perhaps they were over reacting, after all, everyone knows who Pussy Galore is, right? (she was credited for one of the pieces). But at closer examination it needed to be addressed.
By now, all of you who read Art Threat have surely had your own discussions about Seth MacFarlane’s misogynistic Oscars. Layer on that some thinly veiled racism and homophobia (not to mention inappropriate comments about an under aged girl and general rudeness overall) and that whole stressful moment from above was brought back to the front of my mind.
I think perhaps Amy Davidson of the New Yorker wrapped up the sexism of it all best in her piece “Seth Macfarlane and the Oscar’s hostile, ugly, sexist night” – a must read for anyone who needs someone to a) articulate why you probably felt kind of gross about the whole thing or b) demonstrate what was sexist about it.
And for all of us who have had those moments where we think perhaps we’re overreacting, we should reach over and read Margaret Lyon’s piece for Vulture “Why Seth Macfarlane’s misogyny matters.”
At the end of the day it really comes down to this: there is low forms of comedy and sophisticated forms of comedy, and MacFarlane consistently takes the low road rather than taking the classy road, (see: Daniel Day-Lewis’ joke about having vied for the Margaret Thatcher part and wanting to see Meryl Streep play Lincoln, or Grant Heslov’s joke about the three best looking producers in Hollywood). And despite the cacophony of nonsense that the Oscars tends to be, I don’t think many of us were expecting them to stoop to that level… afterall, it’s 2013. Didn’t we just spend years watching Dove love your body commercials and 14,000 “It gets better” videos.
Sadly, audiences over at MSNBC (and I’m sure similar publications) are still finding MacFarlane more “Funny and Edgy” (35%) than “Crass and offensive” (26%). The remainder found him to be a little bit of both. All I can give him is that I was genuinely impressed by his singing skills, but it looks like those of us trying to walk the line between “not being uptight” and “standing up for what is right” will continue to be standing up and giving stressful speeches about how we can do better and the best laugh to get isn’t always the easiest one for a long time to come.