Tweets Of The Southern Wild
With the ever-tactless Seth MacFarlane for a host, there was never any doubt that this year’s Academy Awards broadcast would ruffle a fair amount of feathers. For all of its other failings, the ceremony certainly delivered spectacularly on that front; it took a scant few minutes for the “Family Guy” creator to offend just about the entire audience in an opening number cleverly titled “I Saw Your Boobs.” Indeed, I could easily spend the remaining 600 words of this article just listing which lines he crossed, when, and how, but the time lag between my writing this article and its publication means the rest of the Internet will have beaten me to the punch by the time you’re reading this.
But MacFarlane’s particular brand of offensiveness wasn’t the only one on display on Oscar night. In all of the general uproar about the show itself, one could easily overlook the controversial remarks made elsewhere; but once again, the Internet, our one-stop shop for righteous indignation, has us covered. When nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, the Oscar-nominated star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” struck a pose upon hearing her name, the satirical newspaper The Onion tweeted, “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a c***, right?” The uproar—and subsequent apology from The Onion—was nearly immediate, and in the many articles that have sprung up over the past week decrying the poor taste on display at this year’s Academy Awards, this joke is invariably included alongside the bevy of boorish remarks from MacFarlane.While I personally didn’t find The Onion’s tweet particularly funny, it strikes me as somewhat disingenuous to lump it in with the host’s problematic jokes. True, nobody in the broadcast went so far as to legitimately swear, and if they had, they likely would have been censored, as Melissa Leo was when she dropped the f-bomb in her acceptance speech two years ago. No, MacFarlane crossed the line in what I consider a much more egregious fashion.
Consider again the “I Saw Your Boobs” song. Let’s overlook for a moment that just about every Oscars ceremony includes a reference to the Best Actress category’s seemingly unofficial rule of “get naked, get nominated.” Let’s even look beyond the fact that much of the list includes past and present honorees whose breasts were only on display in scenes in which their characters were raped (Jodie Foster in “The Accused,” Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry,” and Jessica Chastain in “Lawless”). No, it’s the fundamental premise behind the song that makes it so problematic; in a show intended in part to celebrate powerful performances, the first reference to many of the honorees reduced them to nothing more than the object of male lust.
This objectification was in many ways the recurring theme of the night, though it didn’t always manifest as sexism. When it was Salma Hayek’s turn to present, MacFarlane remarked that there’s always at least one foreign presenter each year and that “we have no idea what they’re saying, but we don’t care, ’cause they’re so attractive,” insinuating that foreign actors only matter for their exotic good looks.
Now let’s think about The Onion again, whose intent seems to have been more benign. Though the specific wording was decidedly unfortunate and sexually charged, it’s clear to me that the goal was not to malign Wallis’ femininity. Instead, the joke is that, well, she’s nine years old and adorable, and it’s ridiculous to suggest that anybody could possibly dislike her. In what was undoubtedly a frenzied moment in the fake news room, somebody went too far—way too far—and the joke took on implications it was never supposed to have; replace the c-word with something more mild and the tweet becomes funny again.
As I wrote at length in my last column, I’m not one to overlook poor execution solely on the basis of good intentions—and besides, I see no reason to defend a joke that I found tasteless and unfunny. Still, the distinction between the off-color tweet from The Onion and MacFarlane’s bad jokes is, to me, more than enough to warrant a different response. The former certainly crosses a line, but it does so because somebody wrote it improperly; the latter crossed lines in their very premise, in the fact that somebody thought that casual misogyny and racism were acceptable attitudes with which to approach Hollywood’s biggest celebration. If you’re in the mood for righteous indignation, it’s certainly called for in either instance; but in this case, perhaps not all outrage is created equal.
—Columnist Jeremy Y. Venook can be reached at email@example.com.