ColumnWas this year’s Oscars an exercise in sexism? Or is that just how Hollywood is?
There was a great moment on E!’s Fashion Police Oscars edition when Sarah Silverman made a rape joke. Joan Rivers followed with: “My first sexual experience was a rape…” As she trailed off looking forlorn, then the two women caught eyes and said nearly simultaneously, “But did he press charges?” and then tumbled over in hysterical laughter—and so did I.
One could argue that Sarah and Joan’s joke was no worse than what happened at the actual Oscars, that it was, in fact, a direct extension of the mean-spirited nature of the show and proof that the cool girls are in on the joke.
Yes, we live in a culture where mean is the new cool. Example: The existence of Tosh.O. And, even the always eager-to-please Anne Hathaway mentioned to a red carpet interviewer that she loves Cards Against Humanity, which is easily the meanest, funniest game I’ve ever played. I play viciously and to win because, in many ways, I am a fan of the culture of mean. I revel in a snide remark. Dorothy Parker is one of my personal heroes, and I actually use the word cunt on a comparatively (to almost anyone) regular basis.
The trouble with what happened at the Oscars, and after, is that the mean wasn’t funny; it was sexist. The cool girls weren’t making the jokes; they were the butts.
We all know the basics by now, but here’s the quick recap: Seth MacFarlane opened the show with a campy song and dance about whose boobs he’d seen in what movie—the level of joy he expressed at glimpsing Jodie Foster’s breasts during the rape scene in The Accused was especially disturbing. Amy Davidson broke down the real message of the song best in her extremely dead-on New Yorker piece: “You girls think you’re making art, the Academy, through MacFarlane, seemed to say, but all we—and the “we” was resolutely male—really see is that we got you to undress. The joke’s on you.”
He then went on to insult gay people, Jewish people, Quvenzhane Wallis, George Clooney, Rihanna, Latinos (the men got a shout-out here as well), and our intelligence.
Later in the show, he sang a song, omitting the second half of a rhyming couplet, the first half of which ended with “Helen Hunt.” In that moment, he opened the door for the tweet. This one. The one in which The Onion called a fist-pumping, genuinely just happy to be nominated, nine-year-old girl a cunt.
In what I think was a direct response to that last song of the night—and actually a jab at MacFarlane’s stupid joke rather than a comment about Wallis herself—The Onion referred to a little girl who brought a puppy purse to the Oscars a cunt. It happened, and regardless of why, it was a terrible mistake, one the paper apologized for in the best way possible.
What bothers me most about all of this—which is saying quite a bit, considering—is that as a “cool” girl who tosses words like cunt around on the regular, I am supposed to see that I am in on the joke and laugh along or risk being labeled as an uptight prude.
A blogger on Low Boredom Threshold took the opportunity to shame us into being okay with sexism cloaked in humor by writing: “I honestly believe there were two completely different Academy Awards programs telecast … To be blunt, I think one show was streamed to people who are intelligent, knowledgeable, self-confident and culturally tuned in and a second one that was streamed to people who are as dull as a stump [sic] with a poor sense of self, a minimal sense of humor and absolutely no sense of irony.”
You know who’s super into irony? Nine-year-olds.
If you’ll allow, here’s my “stump” speech: Ohhhh… irony—yeah, I get it. Sideboob is one of this year’s biggest fashion trends and we’re all suddenly incensed by a song about boobs? Women show up to the party with slits up to their, uh Hunts, and we’re not supposed to sexualize them? A man takes the opportunity to put down women for close to four hours on TV and we’re all supposed to think it’s funny so we don’t seem like militants. That’s not irony; it’s bullying.
In a country where elected officials think a baby is a woman’s biggest organ and that some rape might be legitimate, and in a world where girls (and boys) from New York to Thailand are subjected to sex trafficking, I admit it’s a little lame to be spending this much time debating an awards show. However, when you have the chance to talk to hundreds of millions of people, even as a comedian, you might want to do better than make boob jokes.