The viewing public was severely divided regarding “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane’s performance as Oscar host, with approximately half appreciating his trademark juvenile and politically incorrect schtick (and being impressed that the guy can sing and dance rather well too), and the rest, including the majority of TV critics, finding him boorish, amateurish and unfunny. Personally, I thought he did a reasonably competent job in an impossible assignment (unless, it seems, you are Johnny Carson or Bob Hope, who are long gone, or Billy Crystal, who is seriously past his pull date), made more so by the misconceived show he had to host.
Then I read Katie McDonough’s essay in Salon.
During the interminable skit featuring William Shatner that opened the broadcast, MacFarlane sang a typical “Family Guy” novelty song, “We Saw Your Boobs.” It seemed like a cheery patter song listing the many actresses, some in the audience who did not look pleased at all, whose breasts had been exposed on screen, and the movies where the unveilings had occurred. The song was fast, and the names and titles flashed by. I could only recall a few of the scenes MacFarlane referenced. McDonough pointed out, however that four of the moments referenced involved rape of sexual abuse, and the exposure of a fifth actress MacFarlane mentioned, Scarlet Johansson, involved someone stealing private images off her cell phone and making them public.
“It’s not humorless to call MacFarlane and his producers out for what was a crass celebration of violence against women — both real and fictitious. It’s low, it’s violent and there is nothing funny about it. Even coming from the creator of ‘Family Guy’ and ‘Ted.'”
She is absolutely correct. The song was callous and offensive for suggesting that there is something titillating, on screen or off, about rape and the violation of a woman’s privacy, dignity and autonomy. Ironically, the one scene mentioned in the song that I immediately recalled was from “The Accused,” the harrowing climax where Jody Foster’s character is gang raped. Anyone who could watch that horrific scene and snicker about seeing Foster’s “boobs” is a real life boorish moron well matched to the cartoon “Family Guy” voiced by MacFarlane, Peter Griffin. As McFarland was singing, I noted how the invoking image of Foster (she won the Academy Award for her performance) instantly killed any humor I might have found in the song, and marked it down to a brief, regrettable, but excusable mistake on MacFarlane’s part. It was worse than that, far worse. MacFarlane deserves much credit for picking up on it.
I may be misjudging MacFarlane, who certainly goes out of his way to offend on occasion, but I’d be shocked if his inclusion of the rape scenes was malicious. I’ve written list songs like that, and one ends up desperately looking for names that fit the rhyme and meter from a research document prepared by an assistant. Once he found a name and movie that fit into the rhyme and rhythm, I doubt that MacFarlane checked into what the particular scene was. If he did, and still used the references, then he’s more like Peter Griffin than I ever suspected, and like his creation, potentially dangerous. My only reservation about giving MacFarlane the benefit of the doubt is his use of Johansson, who didn’t portray a woman who was abused, she was abused.
Seth MacFarlane owes her a sincere apology. He owes all of those actresses an apology, and the audience at the awards and those watching the broadcast, for prompting them to laugh at references to rape and sexual violence. In fact, MacFarlane has to apologize., and should want to, unless those references were intentional.
We may be about to discover exactly how much Seth MacFarlane is like “The Family Guy.”
Here is the song:
Pointer: Julie Roundtree