Last night, like many of you, I sat down with my family to watch the Academy Awards. Actually, at first, I sat down with my daughter to watch the red carpet arrivals (these days, she’s dreaming of becoming a “fashion designer in Paris,” but like most 8-year-olds, her goals will likely change), so we spent an hour or so commenting on the gowns the actresses were wearing — how much we loved the sleeves on one dress, the bodice of another — that sort of thing. Suddenly it was 7:30 p.m.: time for my daughter to go to bed, and time for my husband and I to watch the awards in earnest.
And honestly, I’ve never been so happy that my daughter has such an early bedtime as I was last night.
I’m not entirely sure I’ve spent a more mean-spirited 3-1/2 hours in my life. It seemed that no one was safe from Seth MacFarlane’s pointed barbs, and much of his humour seemed sexist, racist and misogynist. There is an argument, of course, that he has built his brand on irreverent humour (and I admit that I have certainly laughed along at Family Guy episodes in the past), but it felt mean and out-of-place at an awards show. Watching him do his thing onstage, I had flashbacks of the bullies from my middle school years that I studiously avoided, and by the time he and Kristen Chenoweth were doing their song-and-dance homage to the “losers” at the end of the night, I was in a downright foul mood.
This morning, my mood isn’t much better, but I’ve also had a bit of an epiphany as well: it was only because my daughter has a ridiculously early bedtime (one which will be changed to 8 p.m. next week, when she turns 9), that she missed any of the Oscars; otherwise, had they begun earlier (and given how much I enjoyed watching them as a kid), I totally would’ve let her watch them with me, especially since watching television is generally reserved for special occasions in our house. But had I done so, how would I have legitimately explained why bullying and being pointedly mean to people is a bad thing, when so many wealthy, good-looking people on stage are doing it for a living, to apparently great success? How would I have explained the art of what great actresses are capable of, after she saw their performances reduced to a musical number about how “we saw your boobies?” As the cameras cut to the smiling faces of the audience members, I would’ve have sounded out-of-touch at the very least.
The fact is that currently, what passes for entertainment on television is deeply grounded in the humiliation of others. And it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
The answer, I suppose, is to continue to monitor the amount of television my daughter watches (and trust me, this will happen), but I think the problem goes deeper than just parental guidance. Call me paranoid, but I think the more we all watch this type of entertainment — we adults too — the more desensitized we get to its meanness. The more we smile along. The more normal it becomes to point and laugh.
I’m certainly not immune to this behaviour — after all, I sat and watched the entire 3-1/2 hours last night, myself — but this morning, in the clarity of day, it gives me pause. Since it’s unlikely that media is going to change its act anytime soon (humiliation sells, folks!), perhaps it’s time to change my own ways.
Because, at least as it relates to me, this sort of consumption can’t be healthy.