Sunday 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.