Subversion, women, the Oscars and power

“Good comedy is subversive.” Seth Rogen, in the New York Times, on Seth MacFarlane’s Oscars performance


I’ve been trying to find a way into this whole Oscars mess. I’ve written and deleted paragraphs and paragraphs on it. But I think Seth Rogen’s quote sums it up, though probably not in the way he intended. Rogen meant it as a defense of MacFarlane, whereas I see it as a pretty clear indictment. There’s nothing subversive about reducing women to their breasts, about saying women essentially have nothing more to offer than their tits (I am choosing my words here very carefully, I might add). Making fun of people who make less than you, have less political representation than you and suffer more violence (including sexual violence) than you isn’t comedy, and it isn’t subversive.


Remember that scene in the Simpsons, where Krusty is auditioning clowns to be his sidekick? And Cecil tries out, but he’s already so far down the respect stakes that Krusty turns him down flat. It’s more fun to embarrass someone dignified, Krusty says. “Like that guy,” pointing to a man in a suit – to the future Sideshow Bob, in fact. And Krusty was right. Pieing a powerless clown in the face isn’t much of anything. The clown’s the easiest person to pie, because he’s the least likely to fight back. But the guy in the suit is the one who isn’t expecting it, and that makes pieing him a subversive act. Scaring people in power is subversive; scaring people without power is just re-enacting the Stanford prison experiment.


Note that pieing anyone isn’t particularly nice. Plenty of humor isn’t very nice. And that’s okay. Cookies are nice; watching the Monty Python guys take rabbit fangs to the face is not. But wow, it’s funny. Watching George and Martha dismantle each other in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Deadly fun (and uncomfortable as hell). Watching my normally graceful cat accidentally fall off the bed and then pop up and pretend no one noticed? I could do that all day.


The only way Seth MacFarlane could even possibly be considered subversive, then, is to people who are afraid of women. If you think giving a woman the same rights, the same pay, the same possibilities is subversive, then by all means, Seth MacF’s your man.


Does this make me sound like a humorless shrew? I could mount some long-winded defense of my sense of humor here, but I just don’t feel like it. The idea that there’s one definition of a sense of humor and it necessarily includes boob jokes is in itself laughable to me. And anyone who thinks resorting to a shrill insistence on male privilege is the way to win me over probably isn’t someone who can convince me (and maybe isn’t someone I can convince, either). Seth MacFarlane is wildly popular and incredibly rich. He now has the implicit sanction of the Academy Awards, as well. There will be plenty of people who keep watching his shows and keep giving him money. And it’s not like I can even mount a boycott of a product I don’t consume.


But let’s be more honest about what and who he is. Pussy Riot? Subversive – so subversive that they scared the pants off a major world religion and a major government. Seth MacFarlane? He just put on the blackface of his generation.


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