I love watching award shows with Twitter running. Even when the shows are bad, Twitter finds the humor, or at least shares in the misery. And in the case of this year’s Oscar ceremonies, Twitter users shared in calling out outrageous racist commentary by The Onion and misogynistic attempts at humor by Seth MacFarlane.
The Onion was by far the worst offender when they called a 9-year-old nominee the C-word, but MacFarlane isn’t off the hook. I’m sure he’d like to be, but he deftly set the stage for The Onion, so he shares in the infamy.
That’s the problem with misogyny and racism. Permitting them an inch creates a cultural norm that invites more. Sexism and racism create an environment where the bar is set ever lower and the barriers against calling out the damage get higher.
It was really disconcerting to see MacFarlane poke fun at 9-year-old Best Actress nominee Quvenzhané Wallis, who was a triumph as Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Only a bully interested in low-hanging fruit would do that. That’s MacFarlane, though, so I guess it was no surprise.
It was a bit shocking, though, that he told a joke that sexualized her. A nine-year-old. In her presence. He pointed out how many years it would be before Quvenzhané Wallis was too old for George Clooney. Gross. Who does that? Only someone who finds it easy to claim ownership of young girls’ bodies and dismiss their personal agency and dignity, that’s who.
The sexism and racism at the roots of that joke are revolting. To sexualize a child like that is completely wrong. It’s sexist to talk about young girls as potential fresh meat for predatory daters, and if the producers at the Oscars didn’t realize how racist is it to presume it’s okay to sexualize a young black girl, I don’t know what to tell them. To go watch The Color Purple a few more times, maybe? Or, hey, here’s an idea: watch Beasts of the Southern Wild. Then watch it again until you feel something.
More sexism poured from the Seth-pool (delve into this round-up if you want to see), including an ending song where the C-word was anticipated to be said to make a rhyme with “Helen Hunt.” So. Much. Fun.
So it’s really no surprise that the environment MacFarlane created was used as a springboard for a really vile Tweet (which they have since deleted without apology or explanation) from The Onion (and I’m going to modify their vile word here, because I can’t stand to see it, but just know they spelled it out):
Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a c***, right?
Well, no. No one wanted to say that, Onion. Because to presume that it’s okay to say such a thing about a 9-year-old child is just outrageous. Horrible. The fact that they thought they’d get away with it reveals so much about their lack of awareness about their privilege.
The C-word is considered the most reductive and dehumanizing of slams against a woman. It is meant to reduce women to one function and then call us foul. This line shouldn’t be crossed when speaking about an adult woman. The line of using it to sexualize a young girl shouldn’t be crossed. Using it to dehumanize a young black girl with the very worst sexualized pejorative is dangerously wrong and panders to a repulsive history of sexualizing women of color at very early ages in order to possess them. It’s not funny, it’s not safe and it’s not within the lines of basic dignity.
The real problem isn’t that Seth McFarlane ruined the Oscars. It isn’t even that The Onion went way too far with a Tweet. The problem is that so much of this permeates our environment and is met with the same type of polite tolerance Seth received during his routine. It hurts all of us because it gives cultural permission for the larger audience to view sexist humor as worthy of attention, as something to be condoned and given space. It reinforces horrible messages, like that young black girls are fodder to be sexualized, possessed, scorned and dismissed.
The good thing about watching awards shows with Twitter is that news of the rotten Tweet traveled fast, and eventually the good people of Twitter shut The Onion down. Well, at least the Tweet was deleted, though there needs to be an apology and more discussion about the deep-rooted problems it revealed. There wasn’t much to be done about MacFarlane, at least tonight, but I hope voices were heard on the problem of Seth MacFarlane, too. It’s all related. And it all needs to stop.
Photo: Pacific Coast News
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