Originally appeared on World’s Most Famous Man. Republished here with permission.
So let me just get two things out of the way before I get really, really deep in detail about one specific aspect of the Oscars intro Sunday night:
1) It was super, super-long and self-indulgent. Even by Oscar standards. It was like half an hour before anybody got an award and I laughed maybe twice. Seth MacFarlane being delighted by himself is OK when sublimated into a half-hour cartoon, it’s not really tolerable when mugged at the screen by a guy in a suit for the same amount of time. It isn’t actually funny, and thus fails the first test: the test of comedy.
2) In the thick of the “We Saw Your Boobs” song, which must have lasted five minutes all by itself, this line jumped out at me: “Jodie Foster in ‘The Accused.’” And I thought to myself “Wait, isn’t her nudity in that movie part of a *rape scene*?” It threw a really sour note into what was supposed to be light-hearted.
But the in-depth thing I want to talk about is the “reaction shots” to the song, pre-taped by game actresses who were playing along. The substance of these reaction shots highlights just what’s so awful about MacFarlane singing this song: mortification from most of the actresses and a little fist-pump of triumph from Jennifer Lawrence when he says we haven’t seen hers.
The song, the reaction shots, and MacFarlane’s general attitude are all based on a commonplace and awful trope: that sex is a contest, and that men win and women lose when sex or nudity happens. It’s an archaic, prudish, creepy concept that derives from twisted notions about female purity and women-as-property.
MacFarlane thinks if he has seen a woman’s breasts, he has won and she has lost, and he is now entitled to gloat about it. Women whose breasts Seth MacFarlane has seen are meant to feel humiliated and degraded by that fact, even though it’s expected of actresses to show their breasts to get work. Meet the expectations placed on you by your industry, talented actresses? Too bad you’ve now injured your own dignity such that MacFarlane can mock you about it in front of a billion people. Even if your character is naked *because she’s being raped*, it still amounts to a victory for him to have seen your breasts.
MacFarlane presents the whole skit as something he shouldn’t do, which makes it even worse, because he wants to get credit for the cleverness of his idea while also pretending it is beneath him. Which is completely candy-ass and cowardly.
The sexuality-as-contest-between-men-and-women thing is bubbling underneath so much that is awful: rape culture, workplace harassment, slut-shaming, abuse-themed porn, pick-up artist culture, etc., etc. It sets aside women as a separate thing from a person, and makes them into an object that is “ruined” by sex or nudity.
In a culture with a healthy attitude about sex and sexuality, MacFarlane’s song would have no sting at all, because nudity in film would be a completely different sort of animal: It wouldn’t be compulsory for actresses to draw that “I am pure and don’t get naked”/”I am fallen and thus am only good for getting naked” line, and there wouldn’t be shame associated with having been naked on screen. There would be no sting in MacFarlane smugly taunting women whose boobs he’s seen.
We don’t, yet, live in that culture. And when MacFarlane plays “sex is a contest and YOU LOST, Kate Winslet” for laughs, it’s depressingly clear how far we are from it.