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
Show Hide image

What's going on in Northern Ireland?

Power-sharing and devolved rule are under threat. What's going on? Ciara Dunne explains. 

The UUP will formalise their decision to withdraw from the Northern Ireland executive on Saturday. The DUP then announced that it may consider voting to remove Sinn Fein from the executive effectively ending or at least suspending devolution. This is due to a statement by PSNI chief constable George Hamilton stating that former IRA member Kevin McGuigan may have been murdered by people connected to the Provisional IRA (PIRA). However Hamilton also stressed that there was no evidence to prove that the murder occurred due to PIRA orders and there are claims that it was a personal vendett.

The UUP declaring that they will withdraw from Westminster is not particularly destructive. They only have one minister and their vote share has been steadily declining since they signed the Good Friday Agreement to the benefit of the DUP. By acting so dramatically, they run the risk of this seeming like the death rattle of a party trying to remain relevant in a world so different from its heyday rather than a principled stand to protect the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement.

Nesbitt voiced disgust that the IRA was still in existence. However the IRA is not one group and many of its splinter groups such as the Continuity IRA (CIRA) and Real IRA (RIRA) didn’t sign up to the Good Friday Agreement and have been active since it. They were not the only paramilitary groups that did not sign up, fragments of extremism have existed since the PIRA decommissioned and it seems likely that they incorporated those who had been PIRA members who were disillusioned by the agreement. Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach and Good Friday Agreement negotiator, explained while the PIRA had to decommission as part of the agreement, for various reasons it was allowed to exist in a non-armed state. News of its existence shouldn’t come as a shock to the only major unionist party that engaged in Good Friday Agreement negotiations. If the PIRA were proved to be armed and active then this response would be understandable but that is not the case.

What this stand does however give the UUP is a unique selling point compared to their rivals the DUP and it can somewhat tackle the perception some have that the UUP betrayed the unionist community when it agreed to work with Sinn Féin in government.

The DUP has been less drastic. Although they have stated that they would consider pulling out of government, they have described it as temporary suspension of government rather than a total breakdown of trust. Jeffrey Donaldson, a DUP MP, said that if they are to continue to power share with Sinn Féin, they must ensure the PIRA issue dealt with ‘in terms that gives everyone the reassurance that this isn’t going to happen again’. This is a reasonable request and something Sinn Féin must do. They should be unwavering in their condemnation of any paramilitary organisations. However so far they haven’t done otherwise, several senior figures have denied that the PIRA have rearmed. Pearse Doherty, a prominent Sinn Féin TD, insisted that when it came to the IRA “the war is over, they’re not coming back”.

The best way to tackle paramilitaries is to tackle the reasons people joined them. This can be done not by threatening to withdraw from the government but standing together against sectarianism. Parties must ensure that there is a functioning government that works for the good of everyone and gives people a genuine stake in society. It is important that representatives of both communities condemn paramilitaries, in actions as well as words. All parties will soon have the opportunity to move away from old associations, as the old guard age and move aside and the younger members who are untainted by such associations, take charge of the party.

However, it is vital that parties take a considered stance in anything controversial for this to work. In this case, it is not yet certain whether the connections are historical or current. Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has stated she has no reason to believe that the PIRA are active in the military sense. Bertie Ahern pointed out that it is possible that ‘these atrocities are being done [by those] who might have been on the inside but are now long since on the outside?’ Political posturing could have terrible consequences for the Good Friday Agreement, especially if results in a party with a large electoral mandate being removed from government when there is no proof it has broken the agreement.

If the UUP and the DUP are truly concerned, a more constructive reaction is to push for the reintroduction of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). The IMC monitored paramilitary activity from 2004 to 2011 and its final report stated that ‘transition from conflict is a long slow process’. This latest incident shows this is true and it is likely that the IMC was disbanded too soon. Reconvening the IMC would offer a way to monitor paramilitary activity and to find patterns and evidence rather than allowing a single incident to destroy progress. If reconvened however it should address the issues that resulted in Sinn Féin’s criticism of the body. A more balanced panel, one agreed by all parties, would address this, the previous one was described as three spooks and a lord, but would still add value to the peace process.

If political parties pull out of the power sharing agreement over an incident that the police have not yet connecting to a sophisticated paramilitary organisation with political connections, they are handing extremism a victory while taking democratic choice away from the people of Northern Ireland. The majority of people in Northern Ireland have been clear, both in referendum and in their actions, they want peace and stability. If the parties of Northern Ireland don’t fight to protect this then they are betraying everyone who believed in the Good Friday Agreement and reconciliation.