Movies - 2012 Oscars postsSunday March 03, 2013
In Defense of Seth MacFarlane's 'We Saw Your Boobs'
I was wrong on Oscar night. Not so much in our Oscar pool—although I lost to my nephew, Jordy, 11—but in my contention that Seth MacFarlane’s musical number “We Saw Your Boobs” was the best thing to happen to Oscar in years. I thought it was funny, aimed at dudes (the untapped demographic), and got out in front of the usual Monday-morning Oscar-hosting carping.
A lot of those attacking MacFarlane’s Oscar hosting in general, and “We Saw Your Boobs” in particular, began by admitting they were fans of MacFarlane’s work, so let me begin by saying I’m not. I’ve watched maybe 20 minutes of “Family Guy,” which is weak tea compared to “The Simpsons,” and I panned “Ted,” the blockbuster comedy from 2012. I admitted it was often funny but it made me feel unclean afterwards. It was too racist and sexist, too inured of crappy ’80 culture.
I didn’t feel that way with “We Saw Your Boobs.” I just laughed. It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen Seth MacFarlane do.
Why is it funny? E.B. White once said you can dissect humor as you can dissect a frog, but afterwards you simply have a dead frog. Well, here’s my dead frog.
I think the framing device actually sets up the joke. Others don’t. Amy Davidson, one of the harshest critics (her New Yorker post is called “Seth MacFarlane and the Oscars’ Hostile, Ugly, Sexist Night”), writes:
The song was part of a larger skit whose premise was that William Shatner, as Captain Kirk, sends MacFarlane a message from the future about the dumb things he might do while hosting the Oscars. But that premise is not an excuse.
Maybe not an excuse but definitely a set-up. Because one immediately wonders, “What could this guy do that would be so awful that Capt. Kirk would need to come back from the future to correct it?” And then we see him singing.
The joke, in other words, is on Seth MacFarlane, or “Seth MacFarlane,” the Oscar host too stupid to realize that gleefully reducing our greatest film actresses to their body parts is not something you do at an event meant to honor those very actresses.
The joke is also on men in general, who are rarely above this tendency. Seven years ago, I wrote a piece for MSNBC on famous movie kisses, which included the following:
Did Leo kiss Kate on the prow of the boat or was that just in the poster? More memorable for me are the two of them steaming up the car windows, and Leo drawing a topless Kate. It’s like what my friend Seth admitted when I asked him for kissing scenes: “I only remember the boob shots,” he said. He was only half-joking.
Seth later told me, “Half joking? I wasn’t joking at all.”
But to take this juvenile attitude … into the Academy Awards show … in a rousing song-and-dance number … well, only a moron would do it. And there’s our moron.
MacFarlane’s critics don’t see it that way. They think the joke is on the actresses. Davidson again:
The women were not showing their bodies to amuse Seth MacFarlane but, rather, to do their job. Or did they just think they were doing serious work? 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.
This implies that MacFarlane, and not “MacFarlane,” actually meant it. Haw haw on Meryl Streep, Halle Berry and Kate Winslet. We saw your titties. Which leaves the joke exactly where? Nowhere. It wouldn’t be funny. No wonder Davidson and others aren’t laughing.
But to me that’s an incorrect reading. Davidson, again, with footnotes:
Getting Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts to pre-record looks of mortification didn’t help, either.1 (It was hard to tell watching at home, unless you were keeping track of what each woman was wearing, that these weren’t live shots. 2) It just seemed like a way for MacFarlane to make fun of viewers for being prudish and not “getting it.” 3 (See, the cool girls think that it’s funny!) We got it. 4
- The reaction shots made it funnier for me.
- Not hard to tell. I assumed Theron, etc., were in on the joke, since the joke was on MacFarlane.
- Wait, MacFarlane’s making fun of viewers now? Including me? Even though I got the joke?
- What does “We got it” refer to? Is Davidson implying that most viewers didn’t get the simple joke of the reaction shots but they “got” the complex joke that MacFarlane included these reaction shots to make viewers feel prudish afterwards? Does that make any sense?
Parodies have already cropped up—”We Saw Your Balls,” “We Saw Your Junk”—but none are funny. MacFarlane’s joke is on “MacFarlane” and men in general. These others are like the haw haw interpretation above: vindictive. More, “boobs” is the way men (and Hollywood) reduce women. That’s hardly news. Is “balls” or “junk” the way women reduce men? Even if it’s true, that reduction is not prevalent in our culture, and certainly not in the movies, which is still a male-dominated industry. The joke only works the way MacFarlane played it.
But there’s a greater criticism of the number. Margaret Lyons on Vulture wrote, “As a fun game, count how many actresses he mentions in this song who are portraying rape victims.” Salon did—and came up with four.
These are the actresses and movies he sang about, with Salon’s highlighted:
- Meryl Streep, “Silkwood”
- Naomi Watts, “Mulholland Drive”
- Angelina Jolie, “Gia”
- Anne Hathaway, “Brokeback Mountain.”
- Halle Berry, “Monster's Ball”
- Nicole Kidman, “Eyes Wide Shut”
- Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler”
- Kristen Stewart, “On the Road”
- Charlize Theron, “Monster”
- Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”
- Scarlett Johansson, our phones
- Jessica Chastain, “Lawless”
- Jodie Foster, “The Accused”
- Hilary Swank, “Boys Don’t Cry”
- Penelope Cruz, “Vanilla Sky”
- Kate Winslet, “Heavenly Creatures” and “Hamlet” and “Titanic” and “Iris” and “The Reader”
The Foster and Swank references probably should’ve been excised but it’s obvious why MacFarlane chose these actresses. With the exception of the kids—Stewart and Johansson—each is Oscar-nominated. Most have won a statuette or two. To do this properly, you need to do it with Oscar-winning actresses rather than, say, Denise Richards.
Again, I don’t particulary like Seth MacFarlane’s brand of humor. But I like even less all these Monday-morning misreadings of the funniest thing I've seen him do.
He's the boob. That's the joke.
Deadblogging the Oscars - 2013
My nephew, Jordy, 11, won our Oscar pool from way over in Minneapolis. I came in second. The torch has been passed. Or the Archie McPhee's Oscar statuette anyway.
I'm not much of a fan of the morning-after overanalysis of the Oscar show: who wore what, who said what, OMG. The Oscar show isn't meant to be watched and analyzed as if it were a movie up for an Oscar. It's an excuse to throw a party, drink a little too much, talk back at your TV. If I was sitting on the couch taking notes, I might've been as disappointed as Nikki Finke. Although hopefully less self-important.
As it was, I thought Seth MacFarlane was fine. Richard Brody on The New Yorker site accuses him of being a parody of a host, a kind of SNL version of what a controversial host might be, but I liked the sensibility he brought. Brody makes some salient points but he's wrong in one regard. He says MacFarlane never conveyed “authentic joie de shtick.” Again, I don't watch, or much like, MacFarlane's shows. Way too many misses among the hits. But you can't watch five minutes of them without realizing their creator is a huge movie fan. What was that “Sound of Music” takeoff if not the authentic joy of a movie lover being able to act out a scene from a favorite movie in front of the moviemakers themselves? Plus the “We Saw Your Boobs” number has way more subtext than Brody, or anyone, seems willing to admit. It's saying outright what's merely alluded to.
Brody sniffs at it:
The gross miscalculation of the “boobs” number set the tone for the evening—the wrong one. It seemed as if MacFarlane wanted to announce his hiring of Mr. Skin as a musical consultant. I’ve long thought that the nudity of women in movies has often been used by producers as a sort of ugly rite of passage, a public refraction of the casting couch—but, rather than lampooning the industry potentates who pay for it and market it or, for that matter, the male voyeurism that they serve or the societal sexism that underlies the practice, MacFarlane seemed to be mocking and embarrassing the actresses themselves (as Charlize Theron’s ice-cold gaze, caught on camera during the number, made clear).
First, I'm pretty sure the reaction shots of the actresses involved were pre-taped and part of the bit. Weren't they wearing different clothes, for example? Second, anyone who doesn't own up to the power there, to the power of sex and beauty, and to the culpability from all involved, including the women who dress up and dress down, is mistaking completely what Hollywood is about. Brody's chivalry might be better practiced elsewhere.
This E! writer is worse. He condemns MacFarlane for the sexism in the boobs number then drools over an imagined shirtless-as-Oscar Channing Tatum a paragraph later. Dude, your double-standard is showing.
As for the awards themselves? “Argo” wasn't bad, “Pi” wasn't bad, “Les Miz” wasn't bad. The evening was a celebration of the not-bad. Which is what the Oscars are.
But Daniel Day-Lewis is genius. So we got that.
The Archie: After a year with Mr. B, it's back with me. Unless I ship it to Jordy in Minneapolis.
Comfort vs. Questions: Taking the Kubrick Test with This Year's Best Picture Nominees
My friend Vinny alerted me to this short clip of Terry Gilliam talking about Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, and why the latter is superior to the former:
The dynamic Gilliam is talking about, the massive success of Spielberg versus the “what the hell?” response to Kubrick, is our fault, of course. We want what we don't have: comfort and answers. We don't even want clever answers. We don't want to work. That's the point of the movies for most of us. We go to the movies after work so we don't have to work. Critics, for the most part, are at work. Watching and writing about movies is their job, and everyone wants their job to have a little meaning. So that's what they search for.
Spielberg's “Lincoln,” as good as it is, gives us comfort and answers. The dilemma the president goes through is a tough one—freedom or peace?—but it's really not presented as much of a dilemma. We sense the right path, and we follow the film's protagonists onto that path, which is a path to victory. If you're in the mood, questions can be raised—chiefly: should Lincoln have just let the South go?—but you have to do the heavy lifting yourself. The movie doesn't help you in this regard.
The rest of the best picture nominees? Should we see how they do with the Kubrick test?
- AMOUR: Opens in Seattle today. I assume it provides little comfort. It's Michael Haneke, for fuck's sake.
- ARGO: Initially raises questions about U.S. and CIA involvement in Iran, but quickly becomes a thriller. The point is for the hero to get the scared people away from the scary people.
- BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD: Questions are raised, chiefly “Is this post-Katrina? Global warming? What the hell is going on? And who would want to live here anyway?” But the ending is an answer: “Ah, that's what Wink was up to.” Preparing Hushpuppy for that. It's a great final image--Hushpuppy not being meat--but it's NPR wish-fulfillment fantasy.
- DJANGO UNCHAINED: No questions raised. QT is here to entertain us motherfuckers with guns guns guns.
- LES MISERABLES: How hard do you have to work to make a movie about poverty and fomenting revolution and still provide comfort? You work this hard. Look down, look down.
- LIFE OF PI: This is a movie that leaves us with a kind of O Henry question: Gérard Depardieu or the tiger? Which story do you prefer? Do you want the one where human beings are horrible, cannibalistic and isolated? Or do you want the story with the tiger? We want the story with the tiger, of course, which is the one we get. But even as it gives us this answer, this comfort, it reminds us that the whole of human history, certainly the entirety of religious history, is receiving just this comfort. We're part of the problem.
- LINCOLN: Slavery is ended. Lincoln is martyred. His words ring on and on and on.
- SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK: Smothered in comfort. As comfortable as watching a Sunday afternoon football game in sweats.
- ZERO DARK THIRTY: It ends with a kind of question: What price, victory? Or: Who are we now, now that we've done this? But it could've raised the most important question of all and didn't. It suggests no one within the CIA questioned our enhanced interrogation program when many did. It dramatized the efficacy of that program when that's completely in dispute. It drank some bitter CIA Kool-Aid and spun it as heroics. This movie will never be nothing but a vast shame to me. Obviously it's a shameful period in our history, but it's also shameful for what this movie, created by very talented people, could have been. But it's not that. It's merely a murky Hollywood genre picture with a somber end.
So none of these movies (“Amour” pending) really pass the Kubrick test. You know a 2012 movie that does? “End of Watch.” But few bothered with it. Maybe for that reason.
Thanks for the clip, Vinny.
Do any of these movies pass the Kubrick test?
The 2012 Best Picture Nominees Ranked by IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes Scores
Here are the best picture nominees as ranked by their Rotten Tomatoes scores:
|BP Nominee||R. Tomatoes||Top Crits||Difference|
|Zero Dark Thirty||93%||90%||-3|
|Silver Linings Playbook||91%||91%||0|
|Life of Pi||89%||88%||-1|
|Beasts of the Southern Wild||86%||77%||-9|
I've included Top Critics rankings and the difference between the two. Top Crits obviously less enamored of “Les Miserables” and “Django Unchained.” The love “Amour.” They revere “Lincoln.” “Beasts” is interesting. I would've thought that would be a top-critic darling.
Now here are the best picture nominees as ranked by IMDb readers:
|Life of Pi||8.3|
|Silver Linings Playbook||8.2|
|Zero Dark Thirty||7.7|
|Beasts of the Southern Wild||7.5|
I did this last year when “The Artist” was on top and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” was at the bottom, but that's not necessarily good news for “Django.” I can't conceive of a “Django” victory. I can't conceived of a “Life of Pi” victory unless the other films cancel each other out. Jeff Wells is still imagining his “Silver Linings” victory. Maybe. “Crash” won once, too. You can never tell. I still assume “Lincoln” but I'm waiting for the DGAs.
Finally, here's where each film ranks on each list:
|BP Nominee||R. Tomatoes||RT's Top Critics||IMDb|
|Zero Dark Thirty||2||5||8|
|Silver Linings Playbook||3||4||3|
|Life of Pi||6||6||2|
|Beasts of the Southern Wild||8||7||9|
The biggest difference between critics (as represented by Rotten Tomatoes) and moviegoers (as represented by IMDb score) is “Django”: near the bottom for the critics, particularly top critics, and at the top for moviegoers. IMDb's readers love themselves some QT. “Pulp Fiction” is at 9.0 (the fourth greatest movie of all time), “Reservoir Dogs” is at 8.4, “Inglourious Basterds” at 8.3, etc., etc. No QT-directed feature film is below 7.0. His lowest is “Death Proof” at 7.1. “Django” will drop, but probably not much. IMDb is his core audience at the moment.
There's also some vast discrepancies between “Life of Pi” (6, 6, 2) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (2, 5, 8). Everyone seems to agree on where to place “Silver Linings”: 3, 4, 3. Everyone except me. My rankings, without having seen “Amour” yet, would probably put “Lincoln” first, “Argo” second ...
|BP Nominee||R. Tomatoes||Top Critics||IMDb||Me|
|Zero Dark Thirty||2||5||8||5|
|Silver Linings Playbook||3||4||3||8|
|Life of Pi||6||6||2||3|
|Beasts of the Southern Wild||8||7||9||7|
But overall I don't have much enthusiasm for this year's picks. I'd put three of last year's best picture nominees (“The Tree of Life,” “Moneyball” and “The Descendants”) ahead of this year's favorite.
You have a favorite? Feb. 24 is closer than you think.
Jeff Wells: Alone Against an Army of Haters!
“I was expecting to feel really badly this morning. Now not so much. The nominations are what matter & what sells so hooray for David O. Russell's Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay nominations for Silver Linings Playbook, and also Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver's noms — four for effing four. Eight nominations in all. That's industry emotion. I knew. And I stood alone, all alone, against an army of haters who are now silent and seething. Bitches!”
Wells is often interesting to read but he's also a pompadoured chest-beater who seems to imagine himself the hero of his own action movie--even as he disparages most of the action movies coming out of Hollywood. “I stood alone! All alone! Against an army of haters!” Every person contains a paradox, a contradiction, which they live with everyday, but most people's paradoxes and contradictions aren't so immediately apparent. Jeff Wells' is right out there.
As for “Silver Linings Playbook”? Liked the beginning, got worried in the middle, hated the end. “Let's ignore everything thus far for a bet and a dance competition. And two attractive people, the stars of the movie, coming together in the end. To watch football.” For the Academy this meant eight nominations. Add it to the list of things they get wrong.
“I know you're bi-polar, I know I'm nuts, I know your dad is OCD: But if we just have your Dad bet double-or-nothing on both the Eagles game and you and I in this dance competition, I bet we can win his money back and fall in love! Just in time for the ending!”