In an awards show that proudly showcased iconic female performers like Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand and concluded with an appearance by the first lady herself, Michelle Obama, the choice to open with a self-consciously tasteless song-and-dance number about breasts might have struck anyone else as running contrary to the overall theme of the evening.
But that kind of mixed message was par for the course at this year’s Oscars, a night that’s already being talked about almost as much for host Seth MacFarlane’s inappropriate zingers as for the movies that took home awards.
As political and entertainment publicist Angie Meyer told FOX411, “MacFarlane spoon-fed sexism and innuendo through song, setting a terrible example for young children watching the show” with an opening number that poked fun at all the actresses who’ve shed their clothes for past roles. And that was just the beginning of a long night of similarly classless jokes.
MacFarlane’s aggressively un-PC hosting job was especially unfortunate because this year, to an even greater extent than usual, the show seemed poised to celebrate women in film.
The female acting categories were two of the most competitive awards of the evening, featuring a who’s who of Hollywood’s greatest actresses that ranged in age from 9 to 86.
What’s more, a disproportionate amount of the program seemed focused on female stars.
Along with Bassey, who performed “Goldfinger” in commemoration of James Bond’s 50th anniversary, and Streisand, who sang Marvin Hamlisch’s “The Way We Were” as a tribute to the recently deceased film composer, some of the highlights of the night were the musical numbers performed by women like Adele, Jennifer Hudson, Catherine Zeta Jones and Norah Jones.
Writing for the New Yorker, though, Richard Brody asks, “Did the producers give pride of place in the onstage performances to women in the hope that their work would dispel the rank odor of sexism that some of MacFarlane’s humor gave off?”
Women weren’t MacFarlane’s only target, though.
The Oscar host also threw in quick jabs involving the “Christian right,” African Americans, Jews, the issue of domestic abuse and, in one example of particularly bad taste that left the audience groaning, a gag about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
MacFarlane’s smug, insensitive one-liners seemed distinctly at odds with the core themes of many of the movies that were being honored this year.
Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” for example — a rare PG gem that managed to take home four awards, including Best Director — deals overtly with religion, cultural syncretism and the question of faith.
Likewise, “Lincoln” and — in its own bizarre way — “Django” both tackle racial equality while “Silver Linings Playbook” offers a heartfelt glimpse of mental illness born from personal experience. (Like Bradley Cooper’s protagonist in “Silver Linings,” director David O. Russell’s son has bipolar disorder.)
As the first lady put it, these films “teach us that love can endure against all odds and transform our lives in the most surprising ways, and that we can overcome any obstacle if we can dig deep enough and fight hard enough and find the courage to believe in ourselves."
In many instances, though, MacFarlane’s jokes seemed to undermine those lofty ideas.
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.
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