Funny Business & Its Shameful Side

Funny Business & Its Shameful SideAn open letter to Andrew Heaton, in response to “On MacFarlane and the Oscars – Should I have been offended?” This just wouldn’t fit very well in the comments section.

It’s not very comforting to find out today that everyone who was yucking it up at the Oscars last Sunday night was improving their health.

I stumbled upon a post about laughter and found that the crowd that enjoyed that kind of humor got a boost to their immune system; if they were depressed, they got a lift; they got a little medical assistance in reducing their blood pressure and they improved their social life.

There were a lot of people showing support for Seth MacFarlane’s style of humor. Some people seemed dumbfounded that anyone could take offense. Andrew Heaton, in his post “On MacFarlane and the Oscars – Should I have been offended?” couldn’t figure out for himself if he should be offended, so he asked people. I hope you’ll bear with me, because the comments offered a number of different perspectives, but none of them convinced Heaton to change his mind and, I am hoping with what I share, I can get him and maybe some other people, to reconsider. I posted a couple of comments on the site, but kept watching as comments came in and I thought, “What the hell? It was sexist.” And person after person kept saying it wasn’t. So I walked through the comments and realized that something important, that needs to be considered in humor, was never said.

It seemed pretty clear that Heaton didn’t really have any question about whether or not the material was okay with him. Even though he was polite with opposing views, it appears he was actually just looking for affirmation of his point of view.

He didn’t waste any time agreeing with the first commenter that he thought the show was “balanced.” The majority of commenters thought it was great, that MacFarlane should have “pushed it even further.” And Heaton agreed, again and again. He said he felt that it wasn’t “antagonistic.” He even got a “meh I didn’t really care” from someone who calls themselves a “feministbarbie.” Someone actually turned it completely around, trying to make sure we all “know these are just jokes” because “we are not a mean or hateful generation.” Heaton agrees that it’s one of those “generation gap” things. Pink Flip-Flops Chick says “an A is an A.” Heaton agrees.

Three or four asked, in so many words, “Are you serious?” Heaton politely thanked them for their constructive feedback. (Constructive for whom?) When Aspiring Drummer said, “I was offended…it was distasteful…horrible…disgusting,” Heaton replies, “I don’t agree with you on some of your points, but thank you for a ‘civil’ dialogue.” Later he comments about “faux rage.” That everyone should have expected this from MacFarlane because it’s what he does.

Another commenter, Isisam1987, offered a perspective from Jimmy Carr, “‘Offense is taken, not given.’ If you take offense then good for you. Ineffective and a waste of time. Rarely anything offends me…glad I can laugh now and just enjoy life.” (I would suggest that just because a man says something that doesn’t mean it’s “true.” People often say and do extremely offensive things.)

One blogger, Art, made a comment that basically asked, “Why the hell shouldn’t someone poke fun of the Hollywood crowd? Everything they do is sexist.” And I had to agree with that. Just about everything that they do is sexist, starting with most of the dresses. Almost everywhere I turn, there’s an onslaught of photos showing all the angles of exposure and the new fashion of “sideboob.” Everyone does occasionally see “penis” posts, but rarely humorous ones. I’m not denying that. I just see them like 1 to 100. (Not that I’m asking for any more either.)

And the next day I saw lots of posts by people who didn’t laugh at the “jokes,” like me. So, what happened to our blood pressure? Our immune systems? I am pretty sure most of us got pretty depressed.

It’s kind of like a roller coaster and every year there are cars filled with groups of people who are just starting to figure out what’s okay and what’s not okay.

Click, click, click, they move up the ramp of the life, then they are dumped into the adult world. Some of them were raised in homes where people have attitudes of “God help you if any of you even utters the word sex,” so discussing anything “sexist” must have been out the question. And some people just didn’t have anyone around to say, “It’s not okay for men to shame women about their personal decisions, their bodies or the importance of women having a voice.”

And it’s really not okay for anyone to shame someone for things they can’t change. That’s the litmus test. If there’s shaming, what’s the intention?

So, back to MacFarlane: It’s not okay to shame women who were trying to portray real life events where nudity is necessary to tell a story. It’s not okay to shame women about how older men don’t want older women, that what’s valuable about women is to be young and hot. It’s not okay to shame women for their weight and the fact that some have facial hair. And it’s gone on far too long for men to affirm, in any manner whatsoever, that men really just want to look at women, that women do not need to be heard.

Of course humor changes as we become adults. I remember laughing at comedy when I was a kid. Comedy that was based on shared common foibles and shaming things we felt could or should be changed. But should comedy shame women for exposing their bodies? I don’t think so. Of course there are portions of our population that think it should: 12-year-olds and religious communities that think shaming someone about their nudity is necessary for a moral society.

And I am guessing that MacFarlane has never been shamed about anything. I am guessing that he’s never had a college professor tell him he could be successful with his looks. I am imagining that he never had to consider having to sleep his way to the top in Hollywood or that anyone would even ask him to perform in the nude.

Questions to ask are: Is what has been done shameful? Is this something that is harmful to our society so it should be changed? I don’t think most men that were in the entire audience would agree with either.

But every so often more carloads of people get dumped into the world and people like MacFarlane go out and express the views of the immature and the ignorant (I understand some people might be insulted by terms like this, but I didn’t intend them to offend. Like Oprah said, “You don’t know until you know.” When we are young we are immature and when we don’t know something, we are ignorant of that thing). And they provide opportunities for the discussion to enable the next generation to grow up. Some will; some won’t. (And yes, some people shoot the messenger because it may not be absolutely clear where the person truly stands on the issues.)

What’s odd about this for me is that “I’ve always loved comedy.” Or at least I thought I did. We all want to laugh. We’re told it has benefits! But I find myself more interested in comedy that addresses things like incompetency or cruelty of people in power. Like the world being 10,000 years old and Sarah Palin talking about Paul Revere ringing those bells. With so much of what I see, I find myself agreeing with the “old-fashioned” term, that people are “Yucking it up.”

I recently heard about a couple of YouTube sensations* and was looking forward to seeing some edgy new comedy. But they just made me depressed and I couldn’t watch them without getting pretty bored. I’ve walked through department stores and done the same thing, just not out loud. During one I found myself cringing as I watched the person antagonizing animals. I found the conversation surrounding it, that was trying to get me to laugh, disturbing. I don’t see any reason to go back to any of them anytime soon. But I understand that there are a lot of bored people in the world, they need to share things with their friends to be part of the conversation, and everyone keeps pushing the boundaries. Maybe Jenna Marbles does more than put on a facade of being an I-won-the-genetic-lottery-of-gorgeous, foul-mouthed bimbo. She’s got a master’s degree in psychology (yeah, I know grad school was focused on “sports” psychology), so she knows the audience she’s playing. I’m just not sure why anyone would want to leave that kind of legacy. Maybe there’s more to her, but I’m not sure I really want to bother to find out.

This just in: Ms. Magazine posted a YouTube parody by Stacey Marbrey, Reena Dutt, Aydrea Walden and Michael Teoli, oh so cleverly titled, “Where Was Your D*ck?” Another carload over the top. It wasn’t from men, but through a group of feminists, that I learned that sex shaming goes both ways. It’s not okay to just do the same thing. Ms. Magazine’s comment at the top of the post says “this parody really nails the point without embarrassing or diminishing the people you’re talking about.” Really? Naming names and asking why we didn’t get to see their “dicks” is not generally embarrassing? It’s so predictable that it’s sad.

My writing pushes boundaries, but for other reasons. Given the fact these women knew this was going to happen, I wish they’d been able to make a bold statement. I wish every woman in that audience would have just gotten up and walked out during “the boobs” song. Now that would have been funny. And I think it really would have done my heart some good.

Of course, there are a lot of great comedians out there.** Can you add any more to the list below?

*Serial Pranksters, Jenna Marbles and Hanna Hart: My Drunk Kitchen.

**I like what Lee Camp is doing—his humor is about things that people can change and many of us believe should. And, of course, I check in on Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Stephanie Miller and Randi Rhodes as often as I can. Oh yeah, and Jimmy Fallon is hot. Since he does late night I don’t catch his show as often.

Full disclosure: I don’t have a TV. I saw the clips on Buzzfeed’s “9 Sexist Things That Happened at the Oscars,” and was thankful I didn’t spend hours watching the Oscars.

2 Responses to Funny Business & Its Shameful Side

  1. Ms. Devine,

    First, thank you for taking the time to write out your thoughts in response to my post. I work a full time job, and have a one year old daughter at home, so blogging really is a side activity for when I can find the spare time, thus why I am just now getting back to you.

    I want to first address what I believe to be an erroneous assumption on your part. You seem to be convinced that I was simply looking for affirmation of my opinions in this post. This is simply incorrect. I truly was looking to see if my opinion was completely off-base, if I was in the minority, or that I was held back by my gender and upbringing. In fact, when WordPress informed me that my post was going to be featured on “Freshly Pressed”, I steeled myself for the onslaught. Yet I also welcomed it. If the majority of commmenters, or if even a large number of women commenters, had told me to re-examine my viewpoint, then I would have accepted that to be truly a cause for me to look again at how I’d arrived at my perception of the event.

    As the comments rolled in, my responses were short for the simple reason that I pointed out above – I don’t really have time to sit and write out thoughtful paragraphs to every comment. Especially as the comments came in at a fairly swift clip, I was simply trying to acknowledge the commenters. My comments themselves were not necessarily reflections on how much or how little I contemplated the points contained within their comments.

    That being said, you are right to point out that the majority of commenters agreed with my post. Not just a simple majority – a vast majority. You are also right to point out that a number of these commenters who agree with my views on the issues were women. In that vein, I find it somewhat troubling that you seem to be casually disregarding their viewpoints as “uninformed”. You take what I can only read in the ability given to me in the written word as an almost dismissive tone towards the commenter who styles herself “feministbarbi”. Your opinion seems to be that they have not been “taught” to respect themselves and to stand up against feminisim, or else they would have been truly offended. I don’t know if you did, but I did take the time to check out other commenters blogs, to get a sense of who they were as writers and as people. After reading Feministbarbi’s blog, I can assure you, she needs no lessons in defending herself or her femininity.

    Many of these women resembled, in many ways, my wife. As I pointed out in the blog, my wife, while hating Family Guy, truly likes Seth MacFarlane. She has watched him on a number of the Comedy Central Roasts, where many of his jokes at the comediennes (re: female comics) resembled the jokes lobbed out Sunday night. My wife is a 32-year-old MD/PhD who is currently working through a prestigious cardiology fellowship at Stanford University’s Children’s Hospital. She works hard, takes no shit from anyone, and has quickly earned the respect of her mostly male Resident’s and Director’s, precisely because she is a woman who takes no flak. Yet by your reasoning, because she laughs at Seth MacFarlane’s jokes, she needs a lesson in how to respect herself as a women and how to stick up for feminisim? The same holds true for the women with whom I was “live-chatting” the Oscars on Facebook, who are colleagues of mine from law school. Several of them were in the Women’s Law Caucus, and all have proven themselves to be shining examples of the type of professional advancement of women that so many women in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s were fighting to help grow. None of them were offended by Mr. MacFarlane’s jokes.

    While I respect your full disclosure that you didn’t actually watch the show, this actually make me find your arguments weaker. You are responding not to the actual jokes as YOU perceived them, but as Buzzfeed’s article presented them to you, with an already slanted viewpoint.

    I believe that there is much work to be done in the arena of gender equality, and I am happy to recognize such when it is pointed out and strive to correct it. Recently, at a local Young Democrats Club that I am a member of, one of the leader’s of our Women’s Issue Committee invited us to look around the room and see how few women were in our ranks. She rightfully pointed out that this was completely inadequate if our organization was ever going to have a proper voice in championing women’s issues. I heartily agreed with her, and added my voice to a vote to make bringing in new women members and leaders as one or our organization’s top priorities.

    You see, while you might find it worth while to put energy into fighting the feminist battle against jokes aimed at Hollywood establishment and it’s ironies, I would prefer to focus energy on real world battles. This is similar to Mr. MacFarlane, who for all the jokes that you find offensive, was recognized in 2011 for Harvard’s Humanist of the Year award for “his active, passionate commitment to Humanist values, and his fearless support of equal marriage rights and other social justice issues compel us to recognize his contributions now.”

    Lastly, for what it’s worth, I find in somewhat ironic that you are targeting Mr. MacFarlane, yet you list Bill Maher as a comic that you check in on “as often as I can.” I too am a fan of Mr. Mahers, and DVR “Real Time” every week. Yet I can not look over the fact that Mr. Maher often targets comments towards female Republican politicians that are FAR more sexist and misogynistic than anything Mr. MacFarlane even approached in his work at the Oscars. He his never one to shy away from throwing the c-word at a female politician or political commentator who raises his ire. Does Mr. Maher get a pass simply because his political viewpoints align with yours?

    • Thank you for your reply. I was trying to approach this without regard to a “feminist” perspective. I spoke to issues pertaining to men and women and I do think our culture throws out these words far too casually, including Bill Maher. I have just started blogging, so this was my first opportunity to explore my thoughts about the intention of comedy and this event reached across political boundaries. People who watch Bill Maher know exactly what they are going to see, but no, I’m never comfortable when anyone uses that word. So were people supposed to miss watching the Oscars because it was going to be like sitting in a men’s club, because MacFarlane can’t or won’t adjust his comedic style for mixed audiences? You throw out a lot of credentials that suggest that if someone is highly educated, they should have the correct opinion about what is acceptable in regard to humor in these venues. I would toss back that Mitt Romney has a couple of Harvard degrees and was probably watching (actually now that I think about it, given his religious views I would hope he would be offended, but I have a Mormon friend and her relationship ended because her now ex spent too much time with pornography, so someone’s religion really isn’t relevant to how they felt about it. And for the record, I’m not “against pornography,” for the sake of saying men shouldn’t be able to look at beautiful women’s bodies, as long as women want to show them, there is proper renumeration and the limits each woman defines are respected, but I’m not ignorant of coercion either). I hoped by reading what I shared, that people would simply give the concept of the intention of the “shaming” some thought. For me, this idea has enough of a difference from what I’ve heard other people use to try to get men to stop doing this, so I introduced it to try to explain how some women feel when these kinds of jokes are made. I hoped that it might break through the “acceptance” of sexist content that is done in comedy. I am exploring comedy because I use some in my writing and want to make sure my intentions are clear. So thank you for the reminder about Maher. But I also know women have been asking for respect for their work for a long time and it appears it’s going to be a long time to come before anything changes. In regards to MacFarlane’s humanist efforts, again, I’ll use Mitt Romney’s point of view…he felt he should get “points” for his donations to his church. People’s private contributions are great, we should all do what we can to help one another in the ways we can, but I don’t consider them relevant to this conversation. MacFarlane had a public venue and his content was offensive, even if people are too conditioned by whatever other influences in their lives are contributing to that. In my opinion, for women to make progress, men need to stop doing this, which sounds like a feminist perspective, but if every time we talk about what people are doing to other people and it happens to be what men are doing to women, that has to be defined as feminist, I guess I’ll have to live with it.

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