Monday, February 25, 2013

Racist, Sexist Jokes Aren't Funny, Or My Thoughts on Last Night's Oscars

Mac got a call minutes before the Oscars started and missed Seth MacFarlane's opening monologue. When he came back into the living room, I started in, "Babe, you will not believe what Seth MacFarlane was saying..." and I didn't mean it a good way. I breezed over moments that were perhaps funny or creative (My mom raised me on Star Trek, so I love a Captain Kirk cameo.  I also loved Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum's dance, but I didn't get the joke-- was it that that's what a wholesome Oscar intro would look like and we weren't going to have one?). 

I began recounting the host's unapologetically racist jokes: mixing up Denzel Washington and Eddie Murphy and the joke about Daniel Day-Lewis' method acting as Lincoln ("Did he try to free Don Cheadle on set?").  I was disgusted to have to sit through "all black people look alike" and slavery jokes. I didn't think I could be more uncomfortable than I was watching Ricky Gervais' first Golden Globes when the trade off for being nominated was having someone make mean jokes at your expense. But MacFarlane's jokes weren't just racist, they were sexist, as this Grindstone piece does an excellent job of explaining.

I was reminded of the GQ piece on Gaycism: that a show with sensitivity or inclusion for one audience feels that it earns points and can be offensive in its treatment of another group. I would venture that Seth MacFarlane has sat around a table with a diverse group of friends and comics he was close with and these sorts of jokes were a hit--but that's the thing, he wasn't talking to close friends, he was talking to a captive audience who was there primary to see dresses and speeches.

Members of a certain group may bond over the humor of shared experience. And dear friends of other groups may join in on occasion and it's fine. But it's touchy. And it can go awry. And this idea that that sort of humor can be generalized to a greater audience who should know the host doesn't mean any harm is mistaken.

No Seth MacFarlane, it's not funny to call out actors and actresses who speak English as a second language (Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, Javier Bardem) particularly when two of them aren't even there, and say we don't understand them but we don't care because they are attractive. We didn't laugh at the John Wilkes-Booth joke because it's not okay to joke about assassination.

Comics play an important role in our society. They can teach us through their humor, and when they do, envelope-pushing is a good and important part of who they are and what they do. But that is all the more reason they shouldn't take their platform for granted and do more harm than good.

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