Girls, Remember Who You Are And What You’re Good For: The Oscars Take-Away

I’m fast losing my good humor around the Seth MacFarlane Oscar hosting debacle. The conversation is still raging around the internet, with writers contributing pieces like this and commenters responding with brilliant analysis like this,

Yes! We finally have a winner! In the Most Absurd Feigned Outrage Over Something Seth MacFarlane Said category, this article runs away with the top prize!Jesus Harold Christ, Salon. Get a [expletive deleted] hold of yourself. Quit jerking off to invented Oscars controversy and get back to work.

So I’m going to go on record with why I’m still disgusted and why I’m still hurt and upset for actresses who were especially targeted for categorization, objectification and derision.

Americans seem to think that this debate rests of whether or not they personally found Seth MacFarlane to be funny. There are times when personal opinion should not drive our reaction to a cultural event and this is one of them. Those who found MacFarlane’s material funny but refuse to admit that they were entertained at the expense of actresses on the biggest and most important night for professionals in their industry have some waking up to do.

I have seen too many arguments that the Oscars are just a puff piece and that this is just a tempest in a teapot. This is an ignorant assessment. Hollywood films are America’s biggest cultural export and film is a multi-billion dollar industry. An Oscar nomination has huge economic consequences for actors, technicians, writers and studios. There are also secondary and tertiary industries and micro-economies that revolve around this pageant of celebrity and cinema. The economic stakes around this show are high and important to thousands.

The 2013 Oscars telecast was a teaching moment for women in the industry, or should I say, a moment when women in the industry got schooled, which is a different thing.  The Oscars schooled uppity Hollywood women about their place, which is to be hot bodies to ogle. The takeaway, reinforced in joke after joke after joke was, “Girls, remember what you are, and what you’re good for.”

One of the first skits of the night set the theme. One of the most well-respected women in the industry, Sally Field, winds up in a clinch with a frat boy sitcom writer. Play along, Sally. This smarmy twit should be paying you your propers, but we thought it would be much funnier if he stuck his tongue down your throat. You know, just to remind everyone that that’s what you girls really want.

So gross.

Next up, let’s welcome nine year-old first-time nominee Quvenhané Wallis by calling her out as a future lust interest for an old white man. Do I really have to get all women’s studies here and point out the history of old white men owning young women of color that this joke harkens to? You have to be numb to historical resonances not to feel the sting of that joke in your gut. Wake up, people. The Onion’s ghastly tweet about her has sparked outrage and prompted apologists to justify it. Scott Mendelson is so confused he conflates fashion critique with misogyny. Dude. Fashion is an art form. So is film. Art and criticism go together like peanut butter and jelly. Putting your comedy all over the body of a 9-year old girl is not a related issue.

The infamous “We Saw Your Boobs” number was not made any less sexist by sticking the Gay Men’s Chorus behind it. If anything, the men’s choir just reinforced male solidarity against female power. My first reaction to the song was that it just wasn’t funny. It fell flat. The joke went on way too long.  Then I noticed that ABC had pre-recorded actresses Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts’ reaction shots. They were wearing different gowns, so the fakery wasn’t hard to detect. I began to think about the ways the women in the Academy were being asked to be “good sports” and play along with their own humiliation. Then I got really angry.

The fact that the nudity in the films represented by these actresses was related to sexual abuse, torture and terrorization of female bodies did not matter to MacFarlane and his writers, for whom naked breasts are apparently always about arousing hetero male sexual desire. The whole number was a leering mockery of the actresses who had bared their breasts in order to bring powerful, memorable characters to life. The stories they were telling didn’t matter, the song said.  What mattered was that … heh, heh, we got to see yer boobs!! Jodie Foster, Charlize Theron, and Halle Berry all have Best Actres Academy Awards for roles that required them to take off their shirts. It is simply unconscionable for the Academy to recognize their contribution as artists and then humiliate them for the same body of work (pun intended) years later. I will not forgive this.

I have not heard one defense of this show that didn’t come down to “I thought it was great, so there must be something wrong with you” or “Guess you just don’t have a sense of humor, honey” or “What did you expect from Seth MacFarlane?” (I didn’t expect anything from him: I didn’t know who he was before the telecast and I consider him a spokesman for the movie industry’s sexist, misogynist attitudes. As such, he did his job impeccably well). Personal opinion is not a defense. Attacking someone’s humor is not an adequate defense. One woman wrote to me to say that she’s a rape survivor and SHE thought it was funny, so I should basically shut up. I am sorry that happened to her but there’s no connection. This is about humiliating actresses for doing their job. Unless you’re an actress who has bared her breasts for a serious film role, having been subjected to sexual violence isn’t a free pass to excuse this night of b****-slapping of women in the industry. Saying that a writer’s known reputation for offensive sexism should make the Oscars script acceptable is not a defense. There was a systematic and hostile attempt made the other night to belittle, degrade, correct and dominate a group of highly accomplished, impressive American artists based on their gender on the most important professional night of the year in their industry.  Whether it made you laugh or not does is not the point. The point is that this is intolerable hostility toward women.

A Word From Ermengarde of Feline Talent Agency: “Dear Mr. Ang Lee”

February 25, 2013

Mr. Ang Lee                                                                                                                Anonymous Content Talent Agency                                                                             3532 Hayden Avenue                                                                                                 Culver City, CA 90232

Ermengarde, Director                                                                       Feline Talent Agency

Feline Talent Representing Feline Talent

Dear Mr. Lee,

My name is Ermgengarde Otis Weinstein, no relation to the Weinstein brothers of Miramax, although I do have a brother named Max. He is a beagle. As a talent agent representing feline talent in the entertainment industry, I would like to congratulate you on your Best Director Academy Award™ for “The Life of Pi,” a film that prominently features a feline actor.

We want to reach out to mainstream filmmakers to encourage you to cast feline talent in future projects and to raise awareness of feline artistry and our many contributions to the industry. My clients (which include Terry, who was credited only by the generic “Cat” in Ben Lewin’s celebrated 2012 film, “The Sessions” and Tardar Sauce, currently enjoying great fame as “Grumpy Cat”) work hard to achieve recognition in an industry that often discriminates against feline talent, labeling us demanding and temperamental. Although we recognize that the role of Richard Parker in “The Life of Pi” was largely generated by CGI, we know that there was a real feline artist behind those computerized images and we commend you for helping him to so powerfully convey the true essence of feline nature. The deep indifference communicated by Richard Parker’s hindquarters sauntering into the jungle at the end of the film will go down in history as one of the feline acting community’s proudest and most powerful moments. You helped us get there.

Thank you, Mr. Lee. We wish you great things in your future. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss future projects.

Sincerely yours,

Ermengarde, Feline Talent Agency                                                                                        Feline Talent Representing Feline Talent


“Silver Linings Playbook” Doesn’t Play

***This review contains spoilers!***

This little film by David O. Russell has been wildly over-praised. I saw it tonight and was incredibly disappointed. The first half of the film had great promise as a beautifully rendered drama about mental illness and family life. But it veers off course by the second hour and drive right off the road. Let me break it down fast, because the Academy Awards are in 48 hours and this movie is up for a slew of awards including (incredibly), Best Picture.

Pat, beautifully played by the super hot Bradley Cooper, is bi-polar. The movie begins with his release from a mental institution after an 8-month stint for beating his wife’s lover to a bloody pulp after finding the man in the shower with Nikki (his wife). Pat is released into the custody of his nervous, loving parents, the wonderful Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver.

Pat wants to get back together with his wife. There is a restraining order against him, so that’s not likely — or at least not immediately.  In the meantime, he has to be saved by the love of a good woman, played by Jennifer Lawrence.

(We do meet the wife at the end of the film. She never speaks a word: the entire point of her character is to be an object of Pat’s obsessive affections and violent possessiveness, and then to be an object of his rejection. And that’s my major complaint: No female character in this movie has any reason to exist beyond reacting to what the male characters do.)

The plot of the movie’s second half is patently ridiculous and revolves around a bet on the outcome of a football game and a dance competition. You can predict the ending with your eyes closed and your popcorn bag over your head. It is as clichéd as “Rocky.” In fact, it takes place in Philadelphia so it shares a locale with “Rocky.”

The film is billed as a romantic comedy but it is neither romantic nor a comedy. That doesn’t bother me so much — I like films that transcend genre — but what does disturb me is the way the screenplay sets up Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat, as a kindred spirit to Tiffany, who is played by the very talented and appealing Jennifer Lawrence. What exactly makes them kindred spirits? The suggestion is that mental illness does. They are equally unbalanced and damaged and will be redeemed by mutual understanding and support and sexy quirkiness (and they’re both very sexy, no doubt about that). Also, dancing. Now there’s an original plot line: having the two leads fall in love through dancing together. That’s never been done before.

However, while Pat has a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder that has plagued him for years, Tiffany has a case of… female sexuality and outspokenness.  The “disordered behavior” that supposedly makes her the perfect girl for Pat is that after the tragic death of her husband, she acted out by having sex with eleven co-workers. Since there is no other explanation given for a more chronic struggle with mental illness, I was left with the justifiable impression that Tiffany just made a bunch of bad choices out of grief.

Do the screenwriters know that there is a very real history of women being demonized and labeled as “mad” for hypersexuality? They should research the medical history of “treatment” for hysteria (originally thought by male doctors to be the result of the womb wandering around the body)– including lobotomy, clitorectomy, hysterectomy and burning at the stake.

The film plays this revelation of manic sexual behavior (apparently entirely consensual) for laughs, taking Pat’s POV as he salivates over the information and begs Tiffany to reveal whether some of those co-workers were women.  Hot girl-on-girl action, right Pat? Even though Tiffany was obviously suffering, get your fap material! The subsequent dialogue is a parody of male pornographic imagination, and Tiffany later busts Pat on taking lascivious pleasure in her tale of sadness and degradation. It’s a good moment, and a self-aware one. But that’s all the deep back story we get from Tiffany, who never hesitates in her full-throttle seduction of a man who is demonstrably unstable. Her entire existence as a character is defined by the death of her husband, her promiscuity following his death, and her desire to have Pat as a boyfriend. I know the guy’s hot, but he’s also unemployed, mentally ill, and lives with his parents. I have the feeling Tiffany could probably do better but after all, this is Hollywood. And Hollywood scripts are written by men, for men.

Maybe I’m just a little touchy because of all the stories in the news right now about women being killed by their boyfriends and husbands. Pardon me for finding this movie’s premise more than a little disturbing. This guy’s a violent manic depressive just out of an institution with a restraining order against him. LOVE WILL MAKE IT ALL OKAY.

Julia Stiles plays the obligatory Emasculating Wife Character, Brea Ree the Icy Bitch Wife Character, Chris Tucker and John Ortiz play the Wacky Colored People Pals, and Anupan Kher plays the Clichéd Indian Character Who Gets To Shout An Obscenity And Make Everyone Laugh. All of the POC in the film exist to reflect the reality of the attractive white people at the center of the story. Yay, Hollywood!