Due to the fact that my husband is a huge Walking Dead fan, I didn't get to watch much of the Oscars last night. Between the new episode of Walking Dead and the follow-up discussion show Talking Dead, the hours of 9 to 11 were already spoken for. After that, I just went to bed, although I hear the Oscars lasted for like 3 and a half hours this year, so I guess I could have still watched a good chunk of it. As it is, though, the only part of the Oscars I watched was Seth MacFarlane’s opening bit. I watched it because I've become a bit of a Seth MacFarlane fan ever since he hosted SNL recently, and because the opening bit of the Oscars is always the best part (though if you ask me nothing will ever beat the year Hugh Jackman hosted.)
The point is I watched Seth MacFarlane’s opening monologue. And I was uncomfortable, deeply uncomfortable, with his “We Saw Your Boobs” musical number. But I couldn't quite put my finger on why. It remained with me all day (not the least of reasons because it was so dang catchy). Something bothered me. Something upset me. Something made me uncomfortable, and I was loathe to admit it. After all, it was supposed to be funny. It was a joke. Supposedly those “reaction” shots of celebrities he mentioned were staged, faked for the sake of the joke inside the joke, the joke that the song that Seth MacFarlane sang was crass and unprofessional and “ruined” the Oscars. (So Meta, right?) But something made me go… that wasn't funny. That crossed a line. But I couldn't articulate, even to myself, why I felt it crossed a line, so I worried I was being too over-sensitive. I checked the blogs I usually read. When there’s an egregious display of sexism in pop culture, I can usually count on them to be all over it, to parse it, to explain to me what I was already feeling, deep down, but couldn't express. But nobody seems to be talking about this one. So I thought, and I thought, and I thought some more. I started to feel like Winnie the Pooh when he thinks too hard. And finally, I figured it out.
This song and dance was inappropriate, it was crass, it was sexist, and it made me uncomfortable because he took some deeply personal choices that women made for the sake of their art, for the sake of the betterment of their craft, and turned them into something used for a 13 year old schoolboy’s titillation. I actually haven’t seen any of the movies he mentioned (my taste in movies is rather low brow), other than Titanic, and I saw that when I was still a young enough girl that my mom made me fast forward through that scene. But I remember it well enough to know that Kate Winslet didn't disrobe for the sake of gratuitous nudity. It was an integral part of the story and symbolized her breaking free of the social conventions that boxed her in, that had nearly driven her to suicide, and instead freeing herself to be open and vulnerable with someone who was nothing, and everything, like her. It was breathtaking. It was art in the purest sake. What it was not was titillating. My husband saw that movie at least 8 times in theaters, when he was 11, so the age when boys are most intrigued and aroused by even the slightest glimpse of boobs. I just asked him, and he said it did nothing for him. This from the same guy that once broke a VHS tape rewinding to see a scene of a girl stripping down to bra and panties over and over again, when he was about the same age. My point is there is a difference between nudity and eroticism. Nudity, for the sake of storytelling, for the sake of art, has nothing to do with Seth MacFarlane’s gleeful attitude in “We Saw Your Boobs.”
Like I said, I've never seen any of the other movies mentioned, so I decided to look up their descriptions on IMDb. Here’s a rundown of a few of them.
Meryl Streep in Silkwood: The story of Karen Silkwood, a metallurgy worker at a plutonium processing plant who was purposefully contaminated, psychologically tortured and possibly murdered to prevent her from exposing blatant worker safety violations at the plant.
Angelina Jolie in Gia: Fact-based story of top fashion model Gia Marie Carangi follows her life from a rebel working in her father's diner at age 17 to her death in 1986 at age 26 from AIDS, one of the first women in America whose death was attributed to the disease. In between, she followed a downward spiral of drug abuse and failed relationships.
Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball: Set in the Southern United States, 'Monster's Ball' is a tale of a racist white man, Hank, who falls in love with a black woman named Leticia. Ironically Hank is a prison guard working on Death Row who executed Leticia's husband. Hank and Leticia's interracial affair leads to confusion and new ideas for the two unlikely lovers.
Charlize Theron in Monster: A dark tale based on the true story of Aileen Wuornos, one of America's first female serial killers. Wuornos had a difficult and cruel childhood plagued by abuse and drug use in Michigan. She became a prostitute by the age of thirteen, the same year she became pregnant. She eventually moved to Florida where she began earning a living as a highway prostitute--servicing the desires of semi-truck drivers. The tale focuses on the nine month period between 1989 and 1990, during which Wuornos had a lesbian relationship with a woman named Selby. And during that very same time, she also began murdering her clientele in order to get money without using sex. This turned the tables on a rather common phenomena of female highway prostitutes being the victims of serial killers--instead Wuornos, herself, carried out the deeds of a cold-blooded killer.
I could keep going, but I don’t want to overload this blog post. The point is none of these films’ descriptions sound pornographic in the slightest. Again, I haven’t seen them, but all of these movie descriptions convince me that the inclusion of the actresses naked breasts was intentional, done for artistic purposes, and not done to titillate. The Reader, for heaven’s sake, is about a woman accused of Nazi war crimes! Even worse, Scarlett Johansson gets a mention, though she didn't even make the decision to publicly display her breasts. Instead, some private photos intended for her husband were hacked and made public. I find her inclusion in the song to be particularly crude and unnecessary.
I’d like to discuss another movie in which an actress bares her breasts that didn't make it into MacFarlane’s song, but is relevant. That movie is Wit, starring Emma Thompson. Wit is based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play, and is about an English professor who has basically no family or friends, being diagnosed and coping with cancer. It’s a stunningly beautiful, haunting movie as you watch her gradual decline and eventual death. We watched this movie in my senior capstone level college class. Because it was at a Christian college and more importantly because a student had complained the semester before, the professor felt it necessary to warn us that there would be “boobs” in the film. This scene is a terribly poignant one. She has just coded, but the doctor on her case is too prideful to let her go, despite a Do Not Resuscitate order. So he rips off her shirt and begins to attempt CPR and defibrillation until a nurse demands that he respect her desires and stop. It is violent, it is a violation, and we are meant to see it as such. But for some student out there, the sheer emotion of that final scene, the beauty and the dignity and the violence and the meaning… the profoundness of it… for some student out there, that was entirely overshadowed by “!BOOBS!”
Seriously???? And this is what Seth MacFarlane does. Whatever profoundly human stories are being told through the movies he mentioned, whatever profoundly human emotions are being explored by the actresses, he diminishes it, acknowledging nothing more than “!BOOBS!” This is why I’m not okay with it. It is profoundly disrespectful to the actresses, not because it’s disrespectful to mention the fact that they once chose, for the sake of their art, to be humble and vulnerable and invite viewers to see their most private selves, but because it’s disrespectful to ignore all those compelling reasons the actresses had, because it’s disrespectful to ignore the compelling, emotionally driven performances the actresses gave, because it’s disrespectful to turn these talented, beautiful, amazing actresses into nothing more than a pair of !BOOBS! meant only for your personal entertainment.