We survived awards season and the damage done tells us that movie history has lost any sense of dignity.
Satirist Seth MacFarlane couldn’t expose how gutless contemporary film culture is without sacrificing himself in the process. As host of the 78th Academy Award Presentation, MacFarlane brought that manic irreverence from his animated TV productions Family Guy and American Dad. Although successful among fanboy types, MacFarlane’s humor did not translate for the super thin-skinned guardians of corporate pop culture.
You’d expect that all those fed up with the mainstream media’s brown-nosing and celebrity-worshipping dishonesty would welcome MacFarlane’s daring and proclaim him media hero of the week; instead, his rather mild satire offended the sensibilities of the normally insensitive. The media backlash against MacFarlane’s often brilliant emcee gig revealed how self-guarded, hypocritical and compliant contemporary media has become. Media mavens can’t take a joke yet MacFarlane fearlessly kept trusting to its presumed broad-mindedness–the pretend love of “edginess” that had made him a TV success.
Compared to the cruelty and inappropriate rudeness of such award show hosts as Ricky Gervais and the Bobbsey Twin rascality of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler–all at the Golden Globes–Macfarlane was a model of decorum. No John Travolta attacks (Gervais), no aspersions on Kathryn Bigelow’s private life (Fey and Poehler). Deduct points for dumb-obvious Mel Gibson, Chris Brown jokes. Instead, MacFarlane’s best bits made the strategic error of targeting Hollywood hypocrisy and dishonesty then trouncing them.
The truth hurts and truthful satire causes retaliation. Feminists complained about McFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” song, a parody that pinpointed Hollywood’s timeless sexploitation. Problem is, in the P.C. era, self-righteousness allows brazen “feminists” of the Madonna era to take offense at any males who exercise their own free-choice to ogle. (To paraphrase a female “feminist” friend: “If you’re aghast at a song about boobs, you must be aghast at your own.”) Macfarlane cleverly identified the juvenile horniness that Hollywood serves.
He reminded what H.L. Mencken might have called Hollywood’s “booboisie” of its low-mindedness. Verboten but ingenious–with a list of British nudist Kate Winslet‘s reliable stripteases. MacFarlane’s adolescent jest even managed a coup–a refrain by the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus which elevated the song to a madcap spectacle of gender prerogative. It was, if anything, brazenly egalitarian. But it was inspired–and honest inspiration scares both Hollywood and the lapdog media devoted to supporting its mediocrity.
Dig how that amazing sock puppet parody of Flight, the three-time Oscar nominated Denzel Washington drama, exposed the mediocrity of a big-budget, digitally high-tech blockbuster. MacFarlane good naturedly distilled that film’s sentimental booze, drugs and CGI abuse. The Denzel puppet’s tough-brutha dialog kidded screenwriter John Gatin’s WTF Oscar nomination but the F/X parody (symbolizing the upside-down plane-flip as socks tumbling in a laundry dryer) was especially brilliant–unless you’re of the mind to celebrate any and all CGI gimmicks. MacFarlane’s joke brought us back to the reality of mundane gimmickry.
I’m not always a fan of MacFarlane’s prime-time ribaldry (it’s nearly bi-polar, raging from zealously anti-Christian to brazen nihilism) but at the Oscars he displayed relative decorum. Some of his humor was even modestly self-deprecating–much preferable to the smugness shown by such past hosts as Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart and David Letterman.
MacFarlane’s song-and-dance abilities (ably demonstrated in soft-shoe routines with Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Lewis) made him the most well-rounded of recent Oscar hosts. Superior to Billy Crystal whose irrelevant (as opposed to irreverent) shtick allowed the bored, tradition-addled masses to pretend that Hollywood still possessed some glamour or prestige. Crystal was actually part of the Oscars’ depreciation, starting with the idiotic blooper-filled parodies (an idea originally stolen from Greg Kinnear on E! Entertainment’s Talk Soup) that took away the mystique of every nominated film. Crystal’s corniness was worse than any mockery Macfarlane could dare because Crystal’s jokes were ultimately detrimental to the Academy’s illusion that movies still mattered as art.
We may have survived the 2012-13 awards season but don’t blame McFarlane that he was brighter than the Academy deserves. For the past few decades, the Oscars have perpetually self-destructed.
Follow Armond White on Twitter at 3xchair