Seth MacFarlane’s Outrageous Oscar Mistake (At Least, I Hope It Was A Mistake)

"The Family Guy" in a typical moment of sensitivity.

“The Family Guy” in a typical moment of sensitivity.

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.

McDonough writes:

“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

Source: Salon

34 thoughts on “Seth MacFarlane’s Outrageous Oscar Mistake (At Least, I Hope It Was A Mistake)

  1. Among other things, this song is utterly tasteless–but then, it was the Academy Awards, so what did we expect. A lot of so-called show business seems to be slipping from the concept of entertainment to that of salaciousness. But then society seems to be becoming increasingly crude as well, if the language heard generally in public these days is any indication.

  2. Maybe they (the producers and /or McFarlane) thought that by bringing in the Gay Man’s Choir that all would be rendered harmless. I think they managed to insult women and gay men and anyone who does not appreciate the cruder things in life.This number would have been perfect for, say a bunch of pre-pubescent boys to watch when their mom’s were not home.

    • Not sure how it insulted gay men. Apparently the large number of men in the chorus didn’t feel insulted, and McFarlane would be justified as taking that as a representative sample, no? And people who don’t appreciate the cruder things in life weren’t insulted–nobody has an obligation to satisfy the tastes of everybody. He wasn’t telling more genteel souls that they were stupid or wrong, just that he has different tastes. THAT, I have no issue with at all.

  3. I’m wondering what the point of an Oscar host is anyway. They don’t hand out any of the awards, they don’t interact with the presenters. They are simply comic relief between the business at hand. I honestly don’t know what people expect from a host. The best praise I’ve heard for an Oscar host was when the show was utterly boring and the hosts didn’t do much of anything. Which brings me back to this question: Why have a host? Is it to distract from the losers?

    • It’s to provide a focus, someone in charge, and to have a competent person on hand to deal with the unexpected and with the authority to do so. I’ve been at award ceremonies without hosts, and it is very vague and strange.

  4. They need someone who actually knows how to work a room. Get any of the comics that warms up a studio audience before they shoot and they would do better then this guy.

    As to his humor , I’ve never gotten it. His show Family Guy is funny for about an episode but after that its all the same old jokes. I think they need to rethink the awards and how they are presented. If it was me it would take an hour.

  5. I think it was so tasteless that anyone who was associated with this particular number was offended, including gay men. I don’t consider actors/singers who want a job (on the Oscar’s no less) as being representative of one group – who knows if they were really gay of not (who cares?) They got a paycheck. The rest of us in the audience who wanted to watch something entertaining caught glimpses of some of the female faces in the audience looking disgusted. General audiences who tune in for a few hours of pure entertainment (isn’t that what the Oscar’s are handed out for?) I think should not be subjected to little naughty boy bad behavior skits.

    • I think some due diliegence was required on that score. Charlize Theron had no choice but to attend her industry’s big bash—she didn’t consent to have her rape scene mocked. But as for the audience—if you tuned in to see a show hosted by Seth McFarland, whose most famous show has ridiculed Lou Gehrig disease sufferers, Downs Syndrome, pedophilia, and regularly mocks blacks, Asians, gays, lesbians and Hispanics, you are on notice that this won’t be a compendium of Reader’s Digest jokes.

  6. Jack, I love ya, but I kind of disagree with you one this one. Every one of those actresses had a choice about whether to make the film or not. They had a choice about whether or not to expose their breasts. Where was all the outrage and indignation at the film’s producers for using that subject matter to make a buck? Did they donate proceeds to rape awareness or victims causes? Did Jodi Foster boo-hoo her way to the bank when she cashed the check for making the film? Oh no, but one guys decides he’s gonna joke about it and HE’s the evil one… Pot, meet kettle….

    I’m not suggesting it was appropriate what he did, I’m saying that all this phony indignation is hypocritical.

    • I don’t know if the actreses in particular were offended. It seemed obvious to me as a watcher that some of the reaction shots, Like Theron’s and Lawrence’s, were pre-taped (noticeably, they were wearing different clothes than what they had during the telecast). But whether or not the actresses were offended seems almost beside the point. To reduce scenes of sexual assault and actual real-life sexual isolation is to reduce the experiences of a lot of women right back down to a “boobs! There were plenty of other movies and actresses where it did not involve rape scenes.Otherwise it raises uncomfortable questions…was the rape scene in Accused so titillating to Seth that all he could focus on was Foster’s boobs? And if so, isn’t that part of the problem we have in this culture? And to make an infamous rape scene part of a joke song seems to show a real lack of judgment on Seth’s part.

      • Good catch on the different dresses.

        I have to believe that he really wasn’t focusing on the celebrating sexual abuse angle and was mocking a typical juvenile reaction to any bresat shot whatever the context. Nobody seemed offended at the service being developed by the stoners in “Knocked Up,” which presumably would index Jodie along with more intentionally salacious bust exposures. But McFarlane is also a pop culture junkie—he certainly knew all about “The Accused.” More and more, I am leaning to believing that he has a lot to account for here.

    • Uh… no. That might have worked somewhat had Scarlet Johansson not been included in the list.

      Even without that, it’s tasteless and highly offensive. With it… it’s near-unforgivable.

  7. OK leaving out all those specific groups who were not offended, perhaps it just offended women in general – half the population. I wonder if a male version of the song would have offended the other half of our population. Maybe next year!

    • I was thinking the same thing. I also think the relevant gender issues here are brought out by the fact that there probably wouldn’t be much of a song for male actors. The only penis I can recall seeing on film was Kevin Bacon’s. That’s assuming that Mark Wahlberg’s in Boogie Nights was a prosthetic, and if not I need a drink.

        • Maybe I’m just juvenile and haven’t taken note of male exposure. On the other hand, without the help of this song, I don’t think I would have been able to think of a lot of scenes featuring women’s breasts, either.

          I’ll stop talking now.

            • Lol. Fassbender just came out with his movie. For a while there, it was difficult to go *without* seeing McGregor’s junk. There has been talk about Neeson and his glory for years. Jackman I saw in passing. Hoffman I just read about fairly recently. There is a response video floating out there, called “We Saw Your Junk!”, that I haven’t watched yet, which I think should also probably even more.

                • I’m not sure there is anything wrong with laughing at pain and tragedy, though. What was wrong with MacFarlane’s song is that it reduced rape and sexual abuse to titillating breast exposure—as in, “your rape was cool, it turned me on.” Or perhaps “The Simpson’s” Nelson, pointing and going “Ha Ha!” at a gang rape.

  8. There’s a thin, hard-to-see line between mocking offensive behavior and being offensive yourself. It’s a difficult thing for a comic to get right every single time, especially for an unknown audience, so I’m inclined to be forgiving of occasional missteps. I think Stephen Colbert is the modern master of getting this right (and even then I’m not so sure about Ching Chong Ding Dong). On the other hand, once your act becomes all about being offensive — Andrew Dice Clay is a good example — either you really are an offensive jackass, or you have learned to really enjoy pretending to be an offensive jackass, and I’m not sure there’s much difference between those two. I don’t know McFarlane’s work well enough to judge whether he’s a jackass or just a little over the edge.

    • Oh, he’s undoubtedly a jackass of epic proportions. Just a very smart, erudite, multi-talented, versatile and clever jackass, unlike Dice Clay. Plus he knows his Gilbert and Sullivan, which makes it hard for me to dislike him.

  9. Funny, I usually find myself taking a far more feminist perspective than you, Jack, but in this case I agree with Dan Murphy.

    Watching that clip above, it is uncomfortable, but calling it “a crass celebration of violence against women” is absurd, though typical of the knee-jerk outrage and political correctness of Salon. McFarlane was not singing about being titilated by the scenarios in which each actress’s breasts were exposed, but by the fact that we the audience saw that exposure, period. He’s not singing about Foster’s character in The Accused, he’s singing about Foster herself, who was by no means assaulted or victimized when she made the decision to show her breasts on film.

    The exception, of course, is Johannson, who, as you say, was abused. She is owed an apology because that lyric does trivialize the injustice that was done to her. But in every other case, unless the actress participated in her scene under duress, there’s no injustice to trivialize.

  10. Maybe McFarlane’s point had nothing to do with the tragedies of the characters portrayed but the actresses who portrayed them. In other words, does nudity of any kind (or blood and gore, for that matter) actually enhance the reenactment of a horrible event or is it done to draw attention to the actor and to increase box office profits? That was my take on it, (and maybe yours since a negative viewpoint didn’t occur to you until after you read McDonough’s piece) but then I’ve never understood the phony outrage of most feminists, most of whom are too young to have experienced real sexual discrimination or insult anyway. I am reminded of a young woman at Chicago’s Gay Pride parade, complaining that she didn’t want people looking at her purple spiked hair, body piercings, tattoos and scanty clothing because it made her uncomfortable.

    This old lady laughed out loud listening to the song, and the sock puppets had me roaring. I never watch the Awards but did this time out of curiosity. I enjoyed Seth McFarlane’s performance and I find him to be immensely clever and talented; he can sing, he can dance, and is better looking than most of Hollywood’s “hunks.” He’s also far less offensive or derisive than most of present-day “comedians.”

    • Nudity, blood and gore certainly enhance dramatic moments. I don’t think “The Accused” would have been credible without what was shown, and it was pretty brief. Unpleasant things should look unpleasant. Spielberg did a real service, if a bit over the top, with his bloody depiction of D-Day, in contrast to the distant, sanitized approach of “The Longest Day” (a great movie, but the deaths were completely bloodless.)

  11. I agree with Jack’s balanced analysis. Seth McFarland is a bright, talented guy who was encumbered with an exceptionally flawed, and shallow, awards show, guided by a producing pair of silly Nellies, who would, likely, believe that the expression “Hollywood’s not so bad, once you get past the phony tinsel outside, you get to the real tinsel, inside”, is a good review. McFarland is not blameless for writing a distasteful, unfunny portfolio of jokes (“Booth was the only actor who got into Lincoln’s head”), or the much discussed “Boob” song (offensive, less due to its puerile sexism, and more to its posing as clever, and avant guard… managing to be neither). I look forward to the day (I hope there is such a day) that McFarland becomes bored with his own juvenile humor, and frat boy antics, to challenge himself to not make the first, easy writing choice, but towards humor laced with deeper irony, and satire that resonates, and is remembered for more than being good “gross out joke” (George Carlin’s arc, as a comedian, comes to mind).However, he just may be too rich, good looking, and worshiped, to ever feel compelled to change what has already rendered him a cultural icon, and got him regularly laid. I watched the show with my 27 year old niece, and two her law school friends, and they thought McFarland more clever than I did. So, this is a generational issue, as well. At 62, I’m no longer a part of the demographic that the show’s producers were hoping to appeal to.

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