February 25, 2013

The Oscars are always an exercise in nostalgia. Usually, they offer a long montage of tributes to the power of film, spanning from the 1930s to Today. Today, instead, we had Seth MacFarlane delivering jokes directly from 1930, with punch lines like, “Hey, Salma Hayek is hard to understand through that accent, but she is so fun to look at, who really cares? Boobs!” and “Women: They Have Boobs.” This was very edgy. I look forward to next year, when he will complain that Sally Field showed too much ankle.

Then again, it made one nostalgic for a time before Twitter was there to point out how unfunny and un-affirming of the Joy and Value of Each Human these jokes were.

Look, I laughed. I probably shouldn’t admit that. But was it really that bad? Would we have noticed if we weren’t all trying so hard not to enjoy it?

Of the Nine Misogynist Moments that Buzzfeed listed and I was supposed to be upset by, I thought four were a stretch. Orgies? They’re jokes on everyone. The Kardashians? We aren’t allowed to make fun of the Kardashians? No jokes about the Chris Brown/Rihanna relationship? Yes, if you take them all together, they’re a trend — oh, look, another joke about women! They are unable to let things go! How different they are! — but, really? There were a lot of jokes.

To mangle a quote from MacFarlane’s own work, “Are you sure that was hideous, unwatchable misogyny? Are you sure that wasn’t … nothing?”

He wasn’t going to evolve in the course of the evening.

The tendency of Twitter is to hate everything — everything, with the exception of Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Jennifer Lawrence and Adele. They are perfect golden wonders and can do whatever they like. And we really did not want Seth MacFarlane to be funny, in order that we could prove that our taste in jokes had evolved since middle school.

At least MacFarlane was vaguely self-aware. He framed his tasteless material with William Shatner so it was actually sort of … meta? Why can’t Tina Fey and Amy Poehler just host everything? Shatner pondered aloud, pre-empting what everyone was going to say. (But were they really all that great? My recollections of the Globes are that they were, as usual, great and funny and likable, but then they disappeared for approximately 40 minutes. Seth MacFarlane we only wished would disappear for 40 minutes.) And possibly, if you accept the constraints of his world, the Boob Song never actually took place, because he thought better of it.

Admittedly, I watched the Oscars in a room full of dudes who like “Family Guy.” Then again, what is America, if not a Giant Room Full of Dudes Who Like “Family Guy”? (Don’t answer that.)

I like “Family Guy.” I didn’t watch all of it, but it actually was better that I missed some because I thought the jokes that guys made to me during college were original. I loved “Blue Harvest” with the fire of twin suns slowly and inspirationally setting next to a remote desert planet. I aspired to one day become a manatee and join the writing staff who push the balls of random jokes around in the giant pool.

As anyone who has ever been friends with a college-aged male can tell you, at some point in adolescence they hand a memo to guys explaining that the best way to make conversation or appear humorous is to recite large swaths of “Family Guy” verbatim to whomever else happens to be in the room. Preferably, to another guy who has seen the same episode and can chime in with his Stewie voice. This is the level we were aiming for.

Given this, I don’t know what we were expecting from MacFarlane, exactly. We knew he would sing. We knew he would tell some tasteless-but-not-too-tasteless-for-prime-time jokes. And operating within the constraints that he was Seth MacFarlane and was going to do Seth MacFarlane-like material — “Gays! Women! Jews! Ha!” — he did as well as might have been expected. He kept things moving. He did not interrupt Adele.

Yes, it got old. But at least we were all there to comment.

“In all his jokes, he neglected women’s accomplishments and addressed them as objects! Where are the affirming jokes about the numerous talents of women?” is basically the gist of what I have heard people saying in response. I spent a good half-hour trying to imagine Seth MacFarlane making an affirming, positive joke about the many accomplishments of the women present, but I decided that if I were going to spend that much time imagining a thing that did not exist, I would imagine that Seth MacFarlane was a sexy dragon. Neither exercise was particularly rewarding.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.