I honestly believe there were two completely different Academy Awards programs telecast on ABC on Sunday, February 24. That’s the only way I can explain the enormously divergent opinions that have popped up in the blogosphere today. To be blunt, I think one show was streamed to people who are intelligent, knowledgeable, self-confident and culturally tuned in and a second one that was streamed to people who are as dull as a stump with a poor sense of self, a minimal sense of humor and absolutely no sense of irony.
It’s similar to my concerns about The Colbert Report. I think it’s a riot but I’m quite convinced that there are people out there who truly believe that Stephen Colbert is an avowed ultra-right-wing conservative and take every word he says at face value. Apparently a large number of this second group also watched the Oscars and wrote about them today.
I find it interesting that women from both sides of the political spectrum (see Amy Davidson in The New Yorker http://nyr.kr/ZFpWDm and Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post http://wapo.st/YU6FZ0) seem to be able to drain all the joy out of what is, to be perfectly honest, a ridiculously silly entertainment event where wildly overpaid and excessively attractive people congratulate themselves for spending ridiculous sums of money that only occasionally produce something that approaches the definition of art. They make entertainment and they are entertainment. It’s as simple as that.
But apparently last night there was a deeper, darker, more political agenda at work. It was, depending on who you read last, sexist, racist, misogynist, obscene, demeaning, humiliating, inappropriately political, hostile, ugly, crude, blah, blah, blah, blah. Okay, I’ll give you crude, but otherwise I call “Bullshit!” First, let’s get my credentials out of the way. I’m a 59-year-old, card-carrying feminist who actually belonged to what were called conscious-raising groups back in the mid-70s (ask your mother what those were). I encountered and challenged rampant sexism and misogyny in the workplace, in the church, in the community, even in the family. I know sexism and misogyny when I see it and it wasn’t there last night, certainly not in the hysteria-producing quantities these writers would have you believe. And these younger writers who have partaken of all the benefits that my generation won for them are not helping our cause or theirs by blowing this all out of proportion.
Let’s take the most obvious example: “We Saw Your Boobs”. It was funny; it was just downright funny. But let’s parse it even deeper to see what we can find. On the surface, the lyrics were accurate. We have seen all those actresses’ boobs. In fact, a measure of how far we’ve come is that they were even allowed to use the word boobs at all on network television. Trust me, that’s a fairly new development. TV has been so sanitized for so long that even the word “breasts” was considered titillating three decades ago. So now women’s body parts can be not only described but described in the same slang terms as men’s body parts. I don’t see the problem there. If we can say “cock”, we can say “boobs”.
So, the song made true statements in an amusing fashion. Let’s peel another layer from the onion (and don’t worry, I’ll get to The Onion later). Most of those actresses knew before they took the role that it included nudity. I doubt a single one of them was surprised. So they made a deliberate choice to accept that role with that condition. Perhaps they thought it was necessary to the telling of the story. Perhaps they thought it would increase the box office and their earnings from the film. Perhaps they thought it was less important than the fact that they got the part. I don’t know and I don’t care. What I do know is that they chose to do it. Isn’t that their right as women? So why are we offended that someone noticed? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Jack Nicholson’s dick along with a few others over the years. And that entire, rather unsettling nude scene in “The Master”? I lost count on that one. Should the actors get all huffy if they sing a song about “I Saw Your Cock”?
One more layer – the song was written and sung with a somewhat leering, sly, pubescent school-boy tone. Who does that reflect badly on? The women, who were doing, in many cases, an excellent job of acting, or the men who can’t see anything but a pair of mammary glands? If I were an emotionally stable, mature, intelligent man, I’d take umbrage at the implication that that’s all men can see.
But wait, there’s more (as they say). It was then revealed that the men singing this song were gay. That implies that the erotic fascination of boobs is basically irrelevant. And so we come full circle to the song being nothing more than a statement of fact. We saw your boobs. But the layers upon layers of innuendo and implication make the entire project fairly sophisticated and interesting. In fact, it’s even more layered and nuanced than if a chorus of women had sung the song. And clearly it was designed to provoke and entertain. But, hey, you hired Seth MacFarlane. What did you expect?
Let’s look at the Rihanna/Chris Brown joke. “Django Unchained” is a date movie for them. Pretty much spot on. Here’s a woman who has suffered physical abuse at the hands of a man whom she has left and has now returned to, apparently. On the surface, that seems like a woman making a colossally dumb life choice, in public, for all of us to see. And we’re not supposed to notice or comment? If she were your best friend, would you encourage her in this relationship? Would you suggest she was a good role model for your 14-year-old daughter? Probably not. But the implication from Ms. Davidson is that we need to be supportive and just keep our mouths shut. I hate to tell her, but that’s really how more women die. Because we don’t call out the bad behavior. Because they’re celebrities, we can’t mention it or it doesn’t count. I don’t think so.
Same thing with the joke about Mel Gibson’s old voicemails being the basis of “Django Unchained”. Mel Gibson is a racist. He has been heard to utter the N-word in public in multiple instances. Does ignoring it make it acceptable? His behavior over the years has been despicable. MacFarlane was right to add, “Oh, so now you’re on his side” when the audience reacted negatively to the joke. But of course the female writers didn’t mention that because he’s a man and it’s okay to take pot shots at him.
Here’s the point. Equality means just that, equality. If it’s okay to take shots at men, it’s okay to take shots at women. You can’t demand equality and still expect to be kept on a pedestal. You can’t demand respect as an actress, then show up for an awards ceremony in a gown that reveals everything but your G-spot and get all bent out of shape that we noticed you appeared topless in a movie. If, as a woman, you feel good about your body and choose to display it as you see fit then you buy into the fact that you will cause reactions, good and bad, in others. But you can’t demand that we ignore the fact of what you’re presenting. If you don’t want us to see your boobs, don’t show them to us.
There were lots of things to criticize about last night’s Oscars telecast. It was too long (as always). The opening was interminable and didn’t quite hang together (although I’m delighted it permitted us to see “We Saw Your Boobs” and the sock puppets). Many of MacFarlane’s jokes just weren’t funny. The presenters’ drivel was as drivelly as always. The final number with MacFarlane and Kristin Chenoweth was derivative of Neil Patrick Harris’ ending to the Tony Awards. And more than anything, the sound production was atrocious, ruining the performances of Adele and Norah Jones and seriously handicapping some of the production numbers.
But there were high points. The First Lady showed up to provide the Best Picture award and a touch of real-world elegance, and no, she was not the first of a Presidential couple to do it. Laura Bush, Ronald Reagan, and even FDR participated in Oscar ceremonies in the past. So let’s just drop that right-wing criticism that it was unseemly. Some of the acceptance speeches were touching and/or funny. Jennifer Lawrence was adorable and real, tripping up the steps in that absurdly huge dress. Jennifer Hudson, Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand were extraordinary. Seth MacFarlane has some serious singing and dancing chops as do Charlize Theron, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dan Radcliffe. Daniel Day-Lewis hugging Meryl Streep told you everything you needed to know about the enormous respect for each other our two finest actors share.
So all in all it was a moderately entertaining evening with some great fashion and celebrity-watching. Nothing more; nothing less. If you don’t get that, you need to learn what the truly important things in life are to write about.
Postscript, The Onion: By now you undoubtedly know that someone from The Onion tweeted a reference about Quvenzhane Wallis, calling the 9-year-old actress a “cunt”. The Onion removed the tweet within an hour and today issued a forthright and humble apology to Ms. Wallis. The apology, in fact, should serve as a model to our politicians of how one writes and delivers an apology. Swiftly, humbly and with no equivocating, no weasel words, no trying to shift blame. We don’t see that often enough.
What I find most appalling about the female writers quoted above is that the Tweet wasn’t their primary focus of anger. If you’re truly concerned about the status of women in this country today, why weren’t you thundering about what kind of culture lets a person think that the word “cunt” and a 9-year-old belong in the same thought, let alone in the same Tweet? Where is your moral outrage over that? Ms. Davidson managed only two lines about it; Ms. Rubin didn’t mention it at all.