I just cannot get Sunday's Oscars out of my head. I know, I know, at this point I should move on. I mean, shouldn't I be used to casual sexism, racism and anti-Semitism veiled as lazy attempts at humor? They're just jokes! The Oscars are a tough gig! Comedy pushes limits! Hahahaha?
No. Simply, once and for all, no.
And here is why: Nominated on Sunday was the powerful, disturbing and moving documentary The Invisible War about military sexual trauma (MST) in our armed forces. Survivors and their family members tell their devastating stories of MST, sharing how these assaults have dramatically impacted their lives and how within the current system of military justice they continue to be victimized and punished while the predators continue to serve, often without repercussions, even receiving promotions. Just yesterday, the New York Times interviewed a 19-year-old woman who was raped by her Air Force instructor as part of their reporting on the unfolding sexual assault scandal rocking Lackland Air Force Base. In addition to the courage and strength the women and men displayed throughout the film, I was struck by the military culture that ignores, and through it's fundamental lack of punishment, one could argue, even permits sexual violence.
Several of the survivors featured in The Invisible War attended the ceremony on Sunday, walking the red carpet. This was not just a photo-op for them. In this moment they knew their stories were heard, that they mattered and we believe them. I am overcome by emotion when I think of how much these women and their families have been through -- merely because they wanted to serve their country, to fight for our freedom, and how far they have come
The thought of these survivors sitting in the audience while "We Saw Your Boobs" used Jodie Foster and Hillary Swank's rape scenes as a punch line makes me sick to my stomach. The constant message that women are sexual objects to be laughed at, their contributions only important as they relate to the sexual fantasies of men -- all took on new meaning knowing these brave soldiers were in the audience.
Earlier this week I posted Margaret Lyons' very thoughtful essay, "Why Seth MacFarlane's Misogyny Matters," on Facebook, and one of my male friends asked a thoughtful question: Should Seth MacFarlane take all the blame? What about the writers, producers and the Academy?
And this gets to the heart of the issue. It is true that Seth MacFarlane was not simply the messenger, but the entire night was designed by him -- it was his humor 110 percent, so he deserves every criticism he gets. That being said, my friend is right. We need to look at how this happened. It's incredible to me that no one raised any concerns that perhaps sexualizing a nine-year-old girl wasn't a great idea. That implying Jennifer Aniston was a stripper was an okay thing to do and it's funny to joke about all African-American men looking alike. (It's particularly galling since the joke involved an Academy Award-winning actor who was nominated that evening for Best Actor.) That all that matters is a woman's appearance, not what she says or accomplishes.
Why did anyone think that on a night that is supposed to honor the best of Hollywood, a town that has broken so many barriers and moved us forward in so many ways, banal sexist, racist and anti-Semitic jokes would be funny and appropriate?
I understand comedy pushes limits. The best comedy challenges us and not all comedy is for everyone, but the jokes on Sunday were neither challenging nor satirical. With almost a billion people around the world watching (or so they said), they were instead endorsing old stereotypes and even worse perpetuating the baset parts of our culture that denigrate instead of celebrate women and minorities, thereby denigrating all of us.
It's something I hope the Academy gives some serious thought and reflection to because in their attempt to "appeal to men" (I, by the way, give guys a lot more credit then evidently they do) they may have showed more of who they and what they believe than they ever intended.