Sunday, March 3, 2013

We saw your tortured discussion about sex and humor

Mockery, generally speaking, is a punishment. Right? We admire people who can laugh at themselves, but generally don't expect them to when they're the butt of a joke, unless they actually did something stupid and/or wrong. If wrong, you can take a "my bad" approach and mock yourself as a means of apology. If stupid, you can join others in laughing at those things you do which you might laugh at if someone else did them. It shows a sense of self-awareness and grace.

If you didn't do something stupid, however, and are made the butt of a joke anyway, it's hard to laugh at yourself. Not impossible, but difficult. It requires special circumstances-- the joke needs to come from people you trust, whom you can be absolutely sure mean no harm by it. Ideally from other people who are the butt of the same joke they're telling. It shows a sense of irony.

If you've ever been bullied, though, you might know what it's like to laugh at yourself when you're the butt of the joke and the joke isn't told by friends. When the people telling the joke are absolutely not sharing the target with you, but if you don't laugh along with them, things will get worse for you. Your refusal to take part in your own mockery will be taken as an act of aggression, and so you capitulate, George McFly-style, just to get them to stop and perhaps grow bored and pick some other target. In a less tense situation this can even function to make you no longer the target, and you can join the mockers by pretending that you're more like them than whatever group they're mocking, the group to which you actually belong. Ha ha, I'm not like one of those sensitive members of Group X who don't appreciate it when you make fun of us in a way we all have heard 3,000 times before! It's hilarious to hear you mindlessly repeat stereotypes that disparage my group, and therefore me by virtue of my membership in it! Hey, I can take a joke...

So anyway, about Seth McFarlane's jokes at the Oscars, particularly the "We Saw Your Boobs" song.... was the catalyst for a good conversation, right?
  • A chance to see how people really understand what it means to have a laugh at someone else's expense, and how who it is and how you're laughing plays into it. 
  • A chance to see a virtual parade of people who aren't members of the groups being mocked state authoritatively that members of those groups have no business being offended by it. 
  • A chance to see people claim that if people laugh at something, that's objective proof that it's funny-- and therefore acceptable. A chance to see people take the opportunity to sniff at the hypocrisy of Americans who watch Family Guy and yet were offended by the show's creator making similar jokes on stage at a formal movie awards event watched by around a hundred million (no, not a billion) people-- because presumably anyone who was offended by the jokes watches and unequivocally enjoys Family Guy. 
  • A chance to see people declare that all who were bothered by the joke are liberals, because conservatives have a sense of humor and are aware that making fun of minority groups is a fine thing to do.
  • A chance to to get a glimpse at peoples' internal mental rules about when it is or isn't okay to joke about minorities: "Offensive" jokes (meaning, jokes that offend others, but not the speaker) are okay, but only in private where no members of the group being mocked are present. If you can find a representative of the group being mocked who says s/he is fine with it, then the joke isn't offensive. Seth McFarlane is otherwise a great guy (hey, he won the Humanist of the Year award), therefore anyone offended by his jokes is being unfair by impugning his motives. Great guys don't tell racist/sexist jokes. And so on. One of my favorites was in this comment thread on Greta Christina's blog (you should read the post itself, as well as the entirety of the thread if you have the time), where it was argued that not every comedian can be a genius like Louis CK (who occasionally jokes about racism and sexism), so it's not fair to come down on the poor non-geniuses like McFarlane who are simply guilty of making jokes that fail. Apparently if you're trying to be funny but are not terribly bright,  racism and sexism are your only options.* And hey, if you didn't actually use any bigoted slurs in the joke, who's to say that it was actually bigoted at all?
Well, Miri at Brute Reason took a stab at answering that question, and came up with this:
If you believe MacFarlane, and others who think like him, sex is a sort of competition between men and women. Whenever women engage sexually with men–for instance, by appearing topless in a movie that is viewed by men–the man “wins” and the woman “loses.” In the video, the women whose boobs MacFarlane says he saw are portrayed as shocked or embarrassed, whereas Jennifer Lawrence, whose boobs MacFarlane notes that we have not seen, is shown to be celebrating.
Yep. It was intended to be a "gotcha," and pointing out that an actress was topless in a movie is not a "gotcha." She is not gotten. Generally speaking, or when her nudity appears as part of a scenario in which her character was sexually assaulted, as in many of the examples the song uses. Making fun of or generally thinking less of actresses who have appeared nude in movies is a variation on plain ol' slut-shaming, and slut-shaming is-- wait for it-- sexist.
At least one person found the humor in MacFarlane's opening skit: Best Actress in a Leading Role winner Jennifer Lawrence, 22. "I loved the boob song," the Silver Linings Playbook star told reporters after her big win. "I thought [Seth MacFarlane] was great!"
Of course you did. Get back to us once you have done a nude scene, and your name becomes part of the song along with Scarlett Johansson, who didn't do any nude scenes but ended up mentioned anyway because of some cell phone photos that were leaked.

"But it was a joke!"  Oh, come on.

"But he was the butt of the was intended to mock juvenile guys who think that way about topless actress!" Oh really? Then why aren't men the ones complaining, perceiving themselves as the target? Right, because they're not. The joke was presented as being an example of crassness, but the audience is invited to join in in being crass, not look down on it.

Adam Wilson's take is awesome:
Isn't it time for American men to start playing it cool? 
I'm not just talking about beach behavior. Playing it cool extends to all realms of human interaction. Not attracted to Lena Dunham? Why write an aggressive blog post complaining about her offensively imperfect body, and how it's unfair that it's always Lena that gets naked and not Alison Williams, when you could simply play it cool. There's a reason Alison Williams never takes her top off, and it's not just because she's secretly a robot like her dad. Alison's seen your blog posts; she doesn't want that kind of scrutiny on her body. Actresses are human beings. The things we say about them on the Internet does affect them. Think of Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen in HBO's Game of Thrones. Clarke spent almost the entirety of the first season topless, frolicking in bathtubs and at brothels. But after hundreds of Tumblr users began to chronicle the movements of Clarke's breasts with the appetite of amateur meteorologists, Clarke decided to keep her clothes on in season two. 
There's a reason why the sexual revolution didn't work out in America—it was too much for American men to handle. Embarrassed by their adolescent astonishment, they tried to stay in control by treating sexually enlightened women like lepers. And whenever it seems that forward progress is being made on this front, some Seth MacFarlane arrives, childishly pointing, and chanting "boobies." Shut up Seth, you're ruining it for the rest of us.

Kevin Gisi created a music video called We Saw Your Junk, which is fun but not exactly consolation. 

*No, I'm certainly not going to deny that it's easy to make bigoted jokes. Stereotypes are prime joke fodder, because everybody is at least familiar with them and most people employ them. That doesn't mean that relying on them is anything but lazy, or that there's literally nothing else to joke about. 

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