In Defense of Seth MacFarlane

by Laura K. Garrison

Less than 24 hours after the Oscars on Sunday night, the internet was blowing up with controversy over the jokes made by host Seth MacFarlane. Everyone with an opinion and a Starbucks WiFi connection had tweeted, blogged, and/or commented on the performance, and while reviews were mixed, a particularly loud faction determined that MacFarlane had been inappropriately sexist and racist and was therefore to be blamed for the perpetuation of the racism and sexism that unfortunately still permeate our society. To the former part of this assessment, I say thank you for your opinion but I disagree; to the second, that’s seems quite a legacy to force upon a single comedian and satirist.

So, he’s a guy who looks like he’s a good guy but is actually
not a good guy… but underneath might be a good guy?

I’ve seen episodes of all three of MacFarlane’s animated adult cartoons: the popular Family Guy, its spinoff The Cleveland Show, and the less popular but still seminal American Dad!. Growing up with a younger brother, I’m used to and can enjoy the “13-year-old-boy humor” of MacFarlane, but I can also appreciate and respect where others do not. Before I make my case, I would like to sincerely acknowledge that everyone has the right to be offended by, to be uncomfortable with, and to not like what they saw on Sunday, but I maintain that this does not automatically make it any more socially unacceptable. I think MacFarlane has an important message embedded in his humor, one that was lost in translation on the feminists with their proverbial panties in a bunch.

When Seth MacFarlane was announced as host of the Oscars this year, everyone, with the exception of those living under a rock, should have had some idea of what to expect. MacFarlane is enough of a household name with a trademark brand of button-pushing comedy that I find it impossible to believe anyone is that shocked over his performance. The Academy has struggled in recent years to hit upon a presenter that can keep up the energy during what can otherwise be a god-awful long show. If we know anything about Hollywood, I think it’s clear that MacFarlane’s selection was meant to bait controversy as well as draw a larger male audience to the show. The numbers are in, and it appears MacFarlane succeeded on both fronts (sorry, haters). If you know anything about MacFarlane’s personal views, you would know that he supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, gives money to the Democratic Party, is a staunch defender of gay rights, has expressed his support for the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements, advocates for the legalization of marijuana, and is a professed atheist. In short, he is a political and social liberal with an open mind. This is in stark contrast to his performance on stage Sunday night. Why? Because MacFarlane works in satire, using irony to mock the often unsavory world in which we live. Just as Stephen Colbert sits at his desk and espouses right-wing conservative talking points, MacFarlane’s characters present to us the inherent racism and sexism of our society through nonsensical comedy. We are more able to stomach Colbert’s satire because the twinkle in his eye assures us he’s really a liberal wearing Bill O’Reilly’s suit; it’s easier to be offended by MacFarlane’s dark humor because he hides behind his animation. MacFarlane is not trying to indoctrinate or desensitize us to, and certainly not perpetuate, racism or sexism, he wants us to watch, relate, and painfully realize that we are all sometimes guilty of these horrible realities though we don’t mean to be. He wants us to be conscious of how our actions affect others and make changes to eliminate these behaviors.

Seth MacFarlane sang and danced, accompanied by
JGL and Daniel Radcliffe

Perhaps you think I’ve spent too much time dwelling on MacFarlane, giving him too much credit for his base humor. But I’d argue MacFarlane knew exactly what he was doing on that stage. For years, the Academy, and Hollywood in general, has been a white-washed all-boys club. In the twenty-first century this remains a serious problem, one that is getting more and more attention. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several young women here at Barnard with a passion for acting and/or filmmaking with the courage and conviction to change this disturbing trend. Though he may have approached it from an unsophisticated angle, Seth MacFarlane brought to light the whiteness and maleness of the motion picture industry. When he embarrassed breast-baring actresses in his song “We Saw Your Boobs,” we started thinking about the fact that actresses are more likely to appear nude in a film than actors. When he called out Salma Hayek, Penélope Cruz, and Javier Bardem as being unintelligible because of their accents, he showed us how they are forced to play the token minority at award shows by highlighting the lack of diversity in the Hollywood elite. When he joked that actresses feigned illness to fit into their dresses, he called attention to the ridiculous standards to which we hold both celebrities and ourselves. Though you may be offended, this is the first time these terrible parts of our pop culture are being questioned after the Oscars, rather than the usual who-wore-what and who-took-who-home.

But the responsibility to defeat this problem also falls on us. You can argue MacFarlane was sexist for constantly commenting on beauty and sex appeal, but in the days after we pour over tabloids and tune into Joan Rivers’ (BC ’54) Fashion Police to judge who looked best/worst/absolutely abominable. We read Perez Hilton to know who hooked up and partied hard, silently judging from the anonymous screens of our laptops. Before we accuse MacFarlane of being the incarnation of all evil, perhaps we should analyze our own behavior and realize that all too often we are guilty of the very same sins we hoist upon him. If his jokes made you uncomfortable, it’s because that’s how you’re supposed to feel: you’re a human being with a soul realizing the sad truth behind black humor. You can either choose to silence his voice by invoking political correctness or listen to his message and enjoy the best kind of comedy, one that provokes deeper thought.

I understand that not everyone is going to agree with me and I accept that; let’s agree to disagree. However, applying undeserved labels on Seth McFarlane is only hurting movements to end racism and sexism. We have much bigger fish to fry (actual displays of hatred and bigotry, discriminative voting laws, unbroken glass ceilings, wage gaps) than complain about the off-color jokes from the creator of an offensive television show. It’s important that we remove the PC pressure we place on artists and entertainers, even if we find their message to be uncouth. Sometimes a joke is just a joke, and it’s fine if you don’t like it or don’t think it’s funny. But if I do, don’t shame me into taking responsibility for legacies I didn’t create or support. The diversity of thought and opinion is what make our country such an interesting (and sometimes frustrating) place to live. I’d rather go through life being occasionally offended than never being challenged by a differing viewpoint.

Finally, in continually harping about harmless “sexist” jokes, feminists are proving MacFarlane’s Zero Dark Thirty joke: women do never let anything go. Sorry if that horrified you, but it was one of my favorite moments of the evening, because in my life, it’s a stereotype that often rings true as one of my character flaws. Acknowledging this is not a weakness. It’s okay to admit that men and women aren’t made equally, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be treated equally. Likewise, not all women were offended by what was said, and that doesn’t make us any less of a woman, any less a believer in equality. This equality means we’re going to have to take jokes or criticisms “like a man,” rather than blame the limits placed upon our gender. If you ever find yourself lost in a car with Seth MacFarlane, I hope you make him pull over and ask for directions, because every woman should know how to take it, but more importantly how to dish it.

Laura is a sophomore at Barnard and Managing Editor of The Nine Ways of Knowing

Images from The Washington Post and E!Online.

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19 thoughts on “In Defense of Seth MacFarlane

  1. Seriously? Seriously? I don't even know where to begin with this. This is a terribly-constructed argument, for one thing. But using atheism as a standard of being a good person? Calling sexism harmless and putting scare quotes around sexist? Please go read the stats about women and rape, women and equal pay (especially women of color), women in government–I could go on. There are reasons feminists exist, even if you're not one.

    MacFarlane made a sexual joke about a nine-year-old black girl. If that's not reinforcing the status quo in Hollywood, I don't know what is. This isn't satire, satire attacks the people and institutions in power, as anyone who's had a First Year English class probably knows. Attacking women, people of color, and basically everyone who isn't a straight white man isn't satire, it's straight-up shitty.

    This isn't about political correctness, this is about not being a despicable person to your fellow, more marginalized human beings.

    Nine Ways, you should know better than to publish something so hurtful to the women who attend this school.

  2. Sexism, racism and homophobia may be discussed, debated and denounced by members of Hollywood, but Hollywood still perpetuates those destructive modes every single day. Most white actors who denounce racism will never acknowledge that their “black best friend” in the movie they starred in is a form of the mammy trope. Most male actors will never admit that they participate in sexist movies when every single film they're in has women saying or doing next to nothing. WE may know these things from the sidelines, but MANY people that make films every day do NOT acknowledge or work to change these. Seth MacFarlane's jokes were NOT indictments of racist, sexist or homophobic people in Hollywood–they were gratuitous incarnations of these modes that made the butts of the jokes people of color, women, and even little girls.

    Every individual has a unique relationship society around them. Seth MacFarlane is a straight white rich American man who comes from a place of power and privilege, and is uniquely privileged with visibility on the Oscar stage. I am NOT saying he cannot joke about race, sexuality or women. I am saying he must carefully craft his jokes in order for them not be dehumanizing. And he failed.

    I just want to say that I am a longtime fan of Seth MacFarlane's creations. I have watched many, many hours of Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. Lately, though, I've become increasingly sensitive to Family Guy's jokes about rape, misogyny and sexism, which seem to be more prevalent as the seasons go on. I knew MacFarlane would be controversial. But the problem is when Family Guy makes a joke about rape, it's not calling our attention to rape culture, it's desensitizing us to rape. It's dulling down a huge issue to fodder. Rape is denounced and treated with disgust, but yet still rapists go free for a million reasons. Just because he has an edgy background doesn't exempt him from critique.

  3. Seth blew a hole in the double standards of Hollywood and commentators don't see it? Please take the elevator up a few meta-levels to see what actually went on that night.

    I hate racism, sexism, homophobia and all that, but Seth MacFarlane is SERIOUSLY the wrong target. Almost all his purposely crude jokes get their fuel from American pop culture which includes ALL of those isms and phobias. He points them OUT! It's truly fantastic that people do not get offended by the everyday sexism, homophobia, racism and preconceptions that Hollywood and the American entertainment industry produces, but when Seth points them out by being over the top people get offended and refuse to see the whole picture. It's ok to be offended by the way, because that's what Seth tries to do. It's not ok to not see the whole picture though.

    And Nine Ways, great article! Don't let others push you around from their presumed higher ground.

  4. “The diversity of thought and opinion is what make our country such an interesting (and sometimes frustrating) place to live. I’d rather go through life being occasionally offended than never being challenged by a differing viewpoint.”

    marry me.

  5. Seriously? Whoever wrote this article is a complete idiot with no sense of right or wrong and while someone said this was a very well written and constructed article I beg to differ. While I have watched his show in the past I stopped when I realized it was filled with jokes about 9/11, Aids, Cancer, Pedophilia, racism, prejudice of religeon, and anything else that caused hardship in America or can be offensive. It's almost as if his shows go out of their way to be offensive

    and actually in one of his DVD commentaries said he enjoys doing animated shows because he can get away with a lot more. That sound like a stand up guy to you? It shows evidence that he knows he is doing screwwed up stuff.

    Before even Beavis and Butthead we had shows that were animated and funny. Like the Simpsons before it sold out and became more like family guy to compete with it. It was funny and wholesome and not offensive. Now its subjected to the same macfarlanish jokes.

    From the Article itself- “Though you may be offended, this is the first time these terrible parts of our pop culture are being questioned after the Oscars, rather than the usual who-wore-what and who-took-who-home. “

  6. Part 2 of what I have to say

    Question did he do it for noble reasons or attention. Because embarrassing Hollywood and making jokes about them would seem to me like his usual attention whoring. Any inteview he's had he's been an attention whore. The Oscars seemed more about him than the Oscars.

    Excerpt from article, “When Seth MacFarlane was announced as host of the Oscars this year, everyone, with the exception of those living under a rock, should have had some idea of what to expect.”

    This sounds Sethish to me. Who's to say they don't spend their daay watching intellectually simulating things on television rather than that mindless dribble. Mind you I used to be a fan myself. Most people who end up watching true education channels and news channels and sports all day wouldn't know Seth Macfarlane and that doesn't mean they were under assumed rock. It just means they would not care about him and might have heard of family guy but nothing says they have to know him himself or what he's famous for. Do you realize how many really famous actors were in the Wizard of Oz sequel Return to Oz? Could you name them off the top of your head without looking them up? Not if that's not your type of thing you couldn't. So please lets try to be a little more mature than Seth MacFarlane when making an arguement to defend him.

  7. Part 3

    Yes he brought an audience to the Oscars but for how long and was it because they were tuning in to see him or the Oscars which is an award show NOT a live action version of Family Guy. That audience has for the most part a short attention span and will not be back unless they get someone else as “classy” as Seth.

    Another Excerpt- “But the responsibility to defeat this problem also falls on us. You can argue MacFarlane was sexist for constantly commenting on beauty and sex appeal, but in the days after we pour over tabloids and tune into Joan Rivers’ (BC ’54) Fashion Police to judge who looked best/worst/absolutely abominable. We read Perez Hilton to know who hooked up and partied hard, silently judging from the anonymous screens of our laptops. Before we accuse MacFarlane of being the incarnation of all evil, perhaps we should analyze our own behavior and realize that all too often we are guilty of the very same sins we hoist upon him. If his jokes made you uncomfortable, it’s because that’s how you’re supposed to feel: you’re a human being with a soul realizing the sad truth behind black humor. You can either choose to silence his voice by invoking political correctness or listen to his message and enjoy the best kind of comedy, one that provokes deeper thought.”

    I am in agreement you mean to tell me you're not seeing the same type of personality Seth has in himself in you? Making excuses for this kind of behavior is funny. Do you remember the old saying “If you don't have anything nice to say say nothing at all?” Enough said.

    Another Excerpt- “Finally, in continually harping about harmless “sexist” jokes, feminists are proving MacFarlane’s Zero Dark Thirty joke: women do never let anything go. Sorry if that horrified you, but it was one of my favorite moments of the evening, because in my life, it’s a stereotype that often rings true as one of my character flaws. Acknowledging this is not a weakness. It’s okay to admit that men and women aren’t made equally, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be treated equally. Likewise, not all women were offended by what was said, and that doesn’t make us any less of a woman, any less a believer in equality. This equality means we’re going to have to take jokes or criticisms “like a man,” rather than blame the limits placed upon our gender. If you ever find yourself lost in a car with Seth MacFarlane, I hope you make him pull over and ask for directions, because every woman should know how to take it, but more importantly how to dish it.”

    So you say its a stereotype but then say women and men aren't created equal? I see the same EXACT flaws in both men and women. Men are Pigs Men don't let things go and so forth. So I guess all Jews love picking up pennys and crap by those standards. And I'm not jewish and i find Jew Jokes to be offensive. Do you see how your arguement constantly CONTRADICTS itself?

    Seth is old enough to know right from wrong and intentionally shocks people and offends them for publicity and seems to like being the center of attention. However that is not a fact.

    Nothing you read or see on the news is a fact unless you yourself have the evidence. I've been to quite a few Gay Rights activists movements and I have not once seen Seth at any of them so as far as I'm concerned he's not an activist no matter what anyone has READ or HEARD. Thats the problem with people these days. THey're as gullible as children. What is Seth Macfarlanes humor other than the elementry school wise cracks taken to a rather vulgar, shameless and tasteless manner? No its not a lot to put on one mans shoulders. It's about just as much as you put on his shoulders by propping him up on the pedistal you do. Not saying I agree with the statement at all but I do think Seth Macfarlane is a grade A Asshole.

    PEACE,

    The Brave Little Toaster

  8. You know a person has an irrelevant argument when they start with “Seriously? Whoever wrote this article is a complete idiot…” Way to show your ignorance when opposed by a far superior point of view.

  9. Keep thinking that. You're only showing your lack there of braincells. Not many humans use logic these days. No point of view is SUPERIOR to another or not. There's right and wrong and I'm not hiding behind anything Anonymous as you are. But come on kid. You're only talking smack because you know this is the internet and you have no consequence. Stop hiding behind Anonymous before you even think of throwing a half assed arguement at someone who's actually graduated college and has the ability to make a living rather than sitting at home in mommy and daddy's house. Furthermore why do you care so much about Seth MacFarlane being defended anyway? You'd think he was a FAMILY member and not a celebrity you will never TRULY know anything about nor MEET. You really think he'd defend you? You'd have another thing coming. I will pray for you and hope you get a sense of REALITY when you grow up kid. Because as ironic as it is your reality is truly TAINTED. I was actually waiting for someone stupid to respond to this to point something else out.

    “You know a person has an irrelevant argument when they start with “Seriously? Whoever wrote this article is a complete idiot…” Way to show your ignorance when opposed by a far superior point of view.”

    Again schoolyard behavior. This is not about who is better than another person but what is unsuitable behavior and downright disgusting behavior. Sorry that I don't rub your ego but this is NOT about MY OPINION being SUPERIOR TO ANYONE ELSES.

    But the real kicker is I expected someone immature to answer this just for the set up. Why? Because it is immature people who think these issues are fodder. He didn't gracefully point out what's wrong with Hollywood or pop culture he added to the problem by making jokes of it. Had he not been making money off of it he probably wouldn't do it at all. This isn't just about the Oscars its about everything he does. You'd think he'd find something else to joke about other than hateful things. Jokes about NINE ELEVEN or not funny. PEOPLE lost their lives FAMILIES were affected and having been in Manhattan that day I can CERTAINLY say I see that as dispicable. Any family that had been affected probably thinks the constant use of 911 as a joke in the early years was dispicable. As well as Cancer or aids.

  10. It's by a kid who blindly follows and worships the guy. Why else would they care to defend any celebrity as if the celebrity really cares about people and not publicity. Point is the things he says and the things in his show are over the line and are indeed racist, and anti- anything but him. He's even said his own show should've been off the air a long time ago…. which makes you wonder how much he appreciates the actors that helped him get his trashy hit show Family Guy off the ground. Yeah model guy to defend. Someone that thinks they all should've been out of work years ago. Oh well. People will learn eventually just like that little dutch girl who tried to prank american airlines with his types of jokes on terrorism what reality is when you're not filthy rich and a celebrity. And even celebrities are not above scrutiny. Not like seth is anything special. His jokes are old and constantly repeated in a different format instead of telling new jokes. His shows rely on shock value from things that come out of characters mouths or things they do which also repeat themselves constantly and at the point where his shows are no longer new that shock is gone and no ones talking about how out there the show is but how disgusting the shows are…. at least adults would.

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