FEBRUARY 25, 2013

Grace Hirt: Because We're Missing Opportunities to Discuss Important Stuff 

Okay, so nobody really thought Seth MacFarlane was going to be a good host. Family Guy and Ted are popular, but so is frozen pizza. It’s also cheap and easy, which is why you don’t make frozen pizza when you’re throwing a fancy dinner party. People dressed up for this, for God’s sake.  

His performance last night basically lived up to everyone’s expectations: a big chunk of his opening act was comprised of a song about actresses who have bared their breasts in movies (just because he brought out the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus at the end doesn’t mean it wasn’t offensive), he joked about Chris Brown beating Rihanna, and then about how no one can understand Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, or Javier Bardem (because they’re Hispanic!) but we bring one of them out every year because they’re so spicy hot (Get it, guys? Stereotypes!).

Whatever you think about MacFarlane’s jokes – though, if you think they’re funny, you might want to reevaluate your opinions on everything – one thing is certain: choosing him to host was an appeal to the lowest common denominator in American culture in a year of films that ignited huge amounts of critical controversy. 

Take Django Unchained, for instance.  Undeniably entertaining, but also extremely problematic in its portrayal of slaves and copious use of the N-word.  Also the fact that Kerry Washington has approximately four lines and faints the moment she sees her husband is both a waste of talent and lazy writing.  The debate about this film has been intense and nuanced.  Seth MacFarlane’s joke about the whole thing?  “I’m told the screenplay was loosely based on Mel Gibson’s voicemails.” 

And that was one of his funnier, less offensive moments.  Hosting the Oscars is a great opportunity to poke fun at Hollywood hubris.  I think you can make jokes about serious issues like race and gender in an intelligent way, but MacFarlane is kind of the ultimate straight-white-bro who has built a career on unintelligence.  Another controversial movie, Zero Dark Thirty, portrays a woman struggling to make her voice heard in a heavily masculine environment, and ultimately succeeding in her twelve-year-long mission to find Osama Bin Laden. MacFarlane, comic genius that he is, had this to say: “The film was a triumph and also a celebration of every woman's innate ability to never ever let anything go.” Zing!

At least he made fun of himself with the whole Shatner bit, but that made the show more about him than the movies.  It was a lowbrow fiasco before it even started.  It’s not the Academy’s job to engage in the critical debates that have surrounded this year’s best films, but choosing MacFarlane was a total dodge and a missed opportunity.  Amy and Tina could have made much funnier, smarter jokes without offending anyone (seriously, why can’t they host everything?).  He gave us three hours of material that was chuckle-worthy at best and mostly relied on tired stereotypes.  What could have been a clever ending to an intelligent conversation was basically a fart joke. 

But thank God for Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, and Michelle Obama, who lent some gravitas to the end of the show.  Be quiet, Seth, the grownups are talking.


Remy Schwartz: Because The Oscars Should Set The Bar Higher Than D*ck Jokes 

My family didn’t really watch the Super Bowl. Our big night was always a few weeks later. My mother grew up acting and singing, my sister majored in theater at the University of Illinois, and I may or may not have spent a number of years seriously performing in musicals. My family is very, very serious about the Academy Awards.

We have Oscar parties where we shush people. My mother plays bookie to an oddly competitive gambling pool at her office. Even as adults, we still argue on the phone at midnight about the politics of Jennifer Lawrence beating out Quvenzhané Wallis for best actress.

The Academy Awards are very dear to me, and last night Seth MacFarlane shit all over them. He took the last shred of class left in Hollywood and drop-kicked it out the stage door with a Chris Brown joke.  I had plenty of issues with his hosting performance, but I don't think it was explicitly his fault.

It’s worth noting that I generally don’t mind the guy (also that I'm generally a fan of frozen pizza). There was a time in my life when I loved Family Guy, and I thought Ted was actually kind of a funny. There is a time, place, and huge fanbase for Seth MacFarlane. That said, last night's fault isn’t on him, but on the Academy itself.

This isn't the first time in recent history they’ve cast dreadful hosts in an effort to engage young viewers. I shudder at the thought of the trainwreck that was Anne Hathaway and James Franco co-hosting two years ago, and MacFarlane was just another step in the wrong direction. The Academy is so worried about younger generations’ ambivalence to the almost century-old ceremony that they’re clawing at anything they think can improve their image.

This year, they went as far as officially re-branding the night from ‘The Academy Awards’ to ‘The Oscars’. Do they really think officially shaving seven letters from their title will reinvigorate them? I understand why they’re fighting to stay hip, but in doing so I think they’re sacrificing their essence. I’m not a fan of tabloids or gossip blogs and I’m often disheartened by the mainstream media’s celebrity fascination. But I've always thought that The Oscars were one night to celebrate the whimsy, glamour, and class of Hollywood.

They’re about Johnny Carson or Steve Martin or Chris Rock standing up in an immaculate tuxedo and making jokes about Jack Nicholson’s sunglasses and George Clooney’s jawline. They’re about Billy Crystal diving under a digital projection of the plane from North by Northwest. I agree, they need to evolve, but I don’t think that means they need more dick jokes.

They need to utilize the next generation of great comedians. Where is Tina Fey or Mindy Kaling or Stephen Colbert? Hell, just pick a non-white man from an older generation. Ask Queen Latifah, or blow everyone away and invite Joan Rivers inside the theater to host. That woman was professionally funny 15 years before MacFarlane was born (proof).

My point is, Oscars, just because we’re young doesn’t mean we’re dumb, and doesn’t mean we don’t respect our history. The Academy Awards mean a lot to a large group of young people, so stop coming up with hashtags and start hiring smarter writers. There are plenty of talented, unemployed ones in our generation.


UPDATE: This article originally made mention of Anne Hathaway and James Franco hosting last year, but last year's Oscars were hosted by Billy Crystal. Hathaway and Franco hosted in 2011. The article has been amended.


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