by Anya Josephs
Seth McFarlane has been repeatedly called an “edgy” choice for an Oscars host. The Onion brands itself as a daring, controversial form of satire, steadfastly refusing ‘to knuckle under to pressure from the community.’ Unfortunately, there is nothing edgy, nothing daring, and nothing unique about an hours-long fest of sexist, racist, and objectifying “jokes,” comments, songs, and tweets.
As charming and incredibly talented 9-year-old actress Quvenzhané Wallis was at the Oscars celebrating being the youngest person ever nominated for Best Actress (and only the tenth black actress ever nominated), the Onion, a satirical newspaper, put out the following tweet:
Reducing the incredible achievements of a young girl of color down to a highly gendered insult isn’t edgy or daring. It’s reinforcing sexism, and that’s the opposite of risky humor. The entire culture of valuing men and devaluing women (especially women and girls of color) is behind a statement like this, and that’s not much of a risk. This is not intended as an attack on the Onion, who later put out a thorough and honest apology. In some way, their apology is even further proof—this isn’t comedy that we should stand behind. This is subconscious racism and sexism being expressed in the form of “humor.”
Just looking at the rest of the Oscars proves how prevalent the sexualization and devaluing of women is. Seth McFarlane opened up his act with “We Saw Your Boobs,” a song that I would call childish, although it’s hard to imagine any child being so crude.
He sang for several minutes, listing various past Oscar-nominated actresses, the films they won for, and the phrase “We saw your boobs.” That’s it. That was the whole song. That was the whole joke. You gave an amazing, award-winning performance, but who cares because you have breasts.
For an added level of horribleness, the nudity in four of the film performances mentioned—Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball, Jodie Foster in The Accused, Charlize Theron in Monster, and Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry–happened during a rape scene. Especially striking to me was the last example. In this movie, Hilary Swank plays Brandon Teena, a transgender man, who was raped and murdered in a brutal hate crime. Swank’s breasts are exposed for a second as multiple attackers cut through Teena’s clothing and violently assault him, and then again later as Teena is examined by a doctor, severely bruised and clearly in great pain.
The real horror here is that Boys Don’t Cry was based on a true story. Brandon Teena was a real person, who was really brutally raped and killed. The scene that McFarlane is making a sexualized joke out of really happened to a real human being who really died. Because according to McFarlane, breasts exist for men’s amusement, and the total violation and murder of people with breasts is just a big joke because the bodies of women and FAAB people are just hilarious.
When McFarlane reduces Swank’s amazingly powerful performance down to a punchline about her body, he’s doing more than making light of her talent. He’s literally inviting people to laugh at rape and murder. He’s construing breasts as existing for men’s pleasure, whether sexual pleasure or just to make fun of, all the time—even when they belong to people, like Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry, who identify as men. Even when they are exposed as part of a badly injured body, like Charlize Theron in Monster—another film based on a true story. Even when they symbolize the racist sexualization of black women by white men, like Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball. Even when they’re visible during a violent gang rape, as passerby cheer the attackers on, like Jodie Foster in The Accused, once again based on a real-life attack. Even when, like Scarlet Johansson, another target of the boob song, personal nude photographs of them were leaked without consent.
This is pure sexism masquerading as humor. It doesn’t matter whether the comment is intended to elicit laughs or not. The message is clear: even when we are rape victims, or Oscar-winning actresses, or 9-year-old girls, the most important thing about us is how our bodies can be sexualized by men.
And as you can see, just by looking through SPARK’s archives, that idea is the opposite of edgy. That idea is pervasive, is dominant, is almost universal. Fighting it, standing up against it, finding ways to make jokes that never have women’s bodies as the punch line—now that’s new and different. That’s edgy.