Seth MacFarlane's Oscars opener was a great, steaming misogynist turd

"We Saw Your Boobs" teaches us a lesson about postmodern irony and the appreciation of tits, says Glosswitch.

I have in my time been called a “humourless feminist”. Obviously this is something of which I’m very proud. I think if you’re not called humourless at least once – preferably by someone who’s also speculating on where you are in your menstrual cycle – then you’re doing feminism wrong (this rule applies regardless of whether or not you’re someone who actually menstruates. I’m pretty sure my partner’s been accused of having PMS in his time, although clearly not by me).

Much as I appreciate the “humourless” accolade, I’m not however sure I’ve truly earned it. I’m actually bloody hilarious, me, once I get going. Or rather, I do try. I’m not a comedy scriptwriter or anything, but I think I see the funny side in things. Perhaps I’m the only one who thinks this, though. That’s the trouble with humour; it’s so personal (for instance, the thing I still consider to be the funniest thing EVER is my partner giving his dad a hat for Christmas in 2002 and ACCIDENTALLY writing “Hatty Christmas” on the gift tag. Over a decade later, I’m still pissing myself about that, for reasons even I don’t understand).

*waits for hysterics at the memory to subside*

Anyhow, where was I? Oh yes, humour. I reckon that feminists do tend to have a sense of humour. God knows, they need it. At the same time, I can see where the “humourless feminist” stereotype comes from. Humour is just such a great vehicle for sexism it stands to reason that some will see attacks on sexism as attacks on humour itself (by “some” I mean “sexist idiots”, but there are a lot of them about).

Humour is used to undermine women, and by that I don’t just mean the content of specific jokes, but broader understandings of the way in which humour functions. Women are continually told that they are “less funny” – less intelligent? less creative? less engaging? – than men. Failing to laugh at a person’s jokes is a powerful put-down, and this happens more to women than to men – because they are “less funny”? Or is it the delivery? The high-pitched voice? The fact that we don’t empathize with other women quite so much as with men? It’s hard to tell. Certainly humour is linked to power in ways which are hard to deconstruct (and totally unfunny should you try). Panel shows such as Mock the Week will include their token funny woman but she’s rarely amusing; you sense her subordination right from the start. Often she seems to be there to legitimise the rest of them, the “real” comedians. Someone makes a sexist joke and the camera focuses on her face, as she’s the only one grimacing politely rather than laughing; her expression alone is somehow seen to be an adequate response to the same old boorish crap (“see, we got someone to show disapproval for you!”).

Of course, unamusing as the jokes may be, unless you’re actually aiming for humourless feminist status you’re not going to want to be the grimacing woman. You’ll want to be one of the lads, to show you have the requisite joie de vivre and maturity not to be offended by anything. Laughing at jokes which are apparently sexist is a sign of sophistication. It shows you “get” it, although “it” never has to be explained (that would just spoil the effect). It’s all to do with postmodern irony or something. Postmodern irony and the appreciation of tits.

As a pre-identified humourless feminist, I’m thankfully in a position to say I thought Seth MacFarlane’s 2013 Oscars opener, "We Saw Your Boobs", was a great, steaming misogynist turd. I’m allowed to say this because I’ve nothing to lose. I’m not clever enough to rise above this humour, not resilient enough to find it funny. It makes me feel uncomfortable, in the way that so much Hollywood misogyny makes me uncomfortable, but to a greater extent because it’s so direct and concentrated (that’ll be the irony, I presume. Alas, it’s whooshed straight over my head). The thing is, though, if I – and a great deal of others – don’t find it funny, doesn’t it mean it is less funny? Or are we, the humourless, once again at fault?

The defence often presented for MacFarlane (and others such as Trey Parker and Matt Stone) is that their humour isn’t a specific attack on anyone. As long as you’re a self-styled misanthropist who hates everyone equally, you can’t, so the story goes, be accused of racism or sexism. I have to say I don’t buy this. The “everyone’s as shit as each other shrug” implicitly supports the status quo and it’s a status quo which benefits the likes of MacFarlane. Family Guy might purport to be even-handed in calling out the hypocrisies of left and right, but it’s overly presumptuous in its claim for neutrality. It’s still an able-bodied white man’s view of the world. You don’t earn the right to indulge in damaging stereotypes and prejudices just because you’ve promised to be mean to everyone else. Your bold decision to occupy the moral low ground isn’t enough to make you a person who’s pre-empted all criticism. You’re still picking and choosing your targets and so can everyone else.

What looks like sophistication and edginess is actually a lack of nuance and the fear of doing anything that’s genuinely risky, such as holding an opinion that isn’t just an implicit backing-up of the dominant positions that you’re claiming to debunk. I think for a long time programmes such as Family Guy threw me, as the domestic set-up and message seemed so Daily Mail, yet the tone didn’t. But it’s just that, the tone. And then the problem is, does offence at MacFarlane’s sexism stay focussed on the sheer Daily Mail-ness of it, or tip over into classic slut shaming (“he did a thing about boobs!”)? I wouldn’t know. Anyhow, I’ve not even watched the rest of the Oscars ceremony. I trust it deconstructed the racism and sexism of Hollywood in a way that would amuse racists and sexists, if no one else. Alas, I just don’t have a good enough sense of humour for these things any more.

PS I’m disappointed because to be honest, I’ve always had a bit of a thing for Brian. I imagined he was a dog I could totally hang out with, drinking martinis and being pretentious. I bet he’d even laugh about Hatty Christmas...

This post originally appeared on Glosswitch's blog, glosswatch.com, and is crossposted here with her permission.

Seth MacFarlane hosting the 2013 Oscars ceremony. Photograph: Getty Images

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of two who works in publishing.

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.