Why Oscar host Seth MacFarlane was a disaster in waiting

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What's wrong with being sexist? Seth MacFarlane has made a career out of punching down
What's wrong with being sexist? Seth MacFarlane has made a career out of punching down

Now the dust has settled on the 2013 Academy Awards, wide discontent has been expressed over host Seth MacFarlane's misogynistic brand of humour. You could say his routine – including a musical number addressing prominent Hollywood actresses called 'I Saw Your Boobs' – did not go down well with the majority. Some have labelled him "sexist", others charge him with being "frattish"; Chicago Sun-Times columnist Tom Shales said MacFarlane's comedy was met with the sounds of "a billion people throwing up". My only question is this: what else did you expect from Seth MacFarlane?

review-caption-macfarlane.jpgMacFarlane made his name by creating crude animated TV sitcom Family Guy in 1999: think The Simpsons with more aimless pop culture references and fart gags. The show was cancelled by Fox in 2001 but developed a huge following in reruns and on DVD. Eventually, Family Guy was resurrected to network TV after mass fan outcry, and MacFarlane was able to build an empire for himself without ever having to upgrade to new materials or learn a new skillset.

Crude animated TV sitcom American Dad was essentially Family Guy with an alien instead of a dog; crude animated TV sitcom The Cleveland Show was a Family Guy spin-off with added racism. Despite MacFarlane's low ambitions, all three shows became hugely popular. MacFarlane held the unique position of having one over on the studios: not only was he proven to have the fans on his side, but he'd already proved them wrong once.

ted.jpgThe success of MacFarlane's first feature film Ted – taking over a half a billion dollars worldwide in 2012 – meant the movie's writer/director/star was officially hot property in Hollywood. You can see the thinking in the Academy offering Seth MacFarlane the role of Oscars host: he's a well-known fan of music and theatre, he skews young with a predominantly teenage fan-base, one which the Academy are always keen to court, and he's a comedian known for his near-the-knuckle humour. Between 2010-2012, Ricky Gervais thrice hosted the Golden Globes and stole the headlines every year with edgy gags that didn't always sit comfortably with the A-list audience.

The Academy clearly wanted to make some headlines of their own by hiring Seth MacFarlane. Well, mission accomplished. Here's his Oscar night rap-sheet.

His first musical number, the aforementioned 'I Saw Your Boobs' song, was little more than a list of actresses who he'd seen naked set to music (complete with pre-filmed shots of Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts looking appropriately appalled). Four of the nude scenes he crowed about seeing were scenes of rape or sexual abuse.

He made an off-colour joke regarding Beasts Of The Southern Wild star Quvenzhané Wallis not yet being old enough to date George Clooney.

He casually dropped in a gag about domestic abuse via the now apparently acceptable channel of a Chris Brown/Rihanna joke.

He introduced Zero Dark Thirty by claiming it was evidence that "women can never let anything go".

He joked that many of the ladies in attendance had mysteriously contracted "the flu" in the weeks running up to the ceremony; alluding to bulimia before adding the rather futile save: "It paid off… looking good."

• He introduced Latino presenters Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz (as well as Javier Bardem) by saying "We have no idea what they're saying but we don't care because they're so attractive."

He had cuddly cipher Ted deliver an awful skit about the "post-Oscars orgy", in which co-presenter Mark Wahlberg finally admitted it was "at Jack Nicholson's house" – a scandalous reference to the scene of Roman Polanski's statutory rape.

The tone was one of smug, self-satisfied, male pride. It is fair to say Seth MacFarlane did not make many friends that night. Frankly, the Academy got what they paid for.

From Family Guy to Ted and now beyond, MacFarlane has always relied on humour in which someone or something is belittled. MacFarlane tells jokes from the perspective of a successful, wealthy, middle-class white male: he takes jabs at minority groups like homosexuals, Jews, African-Americans and Asians. He'd like to think himself an equal opportunity offender, as if that's some kind of excuse, but the truth is, unlike Matt Stone and Trey Parker on South Park – who always manage to skewer their target with well-crafted satire – MacFarlane is at his most confident when punching down.

At least Ricky Gervais left no ego in the room untarnished; Seth MacFarlane's routine was cynically, queasily aimed at the male half of the Dolby Theatre. The rampant sexism and misogyny is one thing, but most of the jokes didn't even land. Does George Clooney have a thing for teenage girls we don't know about? Is there a reason his boobs song mostly referenced films from several years ago? The butt of the joke, Kate Winslet, wasn't even in attendance.

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You can't say he didn't have it coming.
 

Early in the evening, MacFarlane was interrupted by a video of William Shatner dressed as Captain Kirk, warning him from the future that his hosting abilities would go down like a lead balloon. As it happens, Kirk was right… but a William Shatner Star Trek joke? What is this, 1989? The old-timers of the Academy who gave MacFarlane the gig must have been wondering where all the zippy one-liners about texting and Justin Bieber had gone.

This was Seth MacFarlane in a nutshell: nonsensical, lazy jokes, delivered with a smile by famous faces to mask how mean they really are. The Academy have opted for a risky host before, when they chose fiery stand-up comedian Chris Rock for the 2005 Oscars; he famously upset the crowd – but probably just Sean Penn – with a now quaint-seeming joke about the ubiquity of Jude Law. Edgy can work, but misogyny always leaves a nasty taste. With MacFarlane, the Academy had no excuse about the content of his character: it's always been there for all to see on TV.

Did you enjoy Seth MacFarlane's stint as Oscar host? Perhaps you were offended by his off-brand humour? Let us know in the comments.

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