Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Seinfelding of Comedy: In Defense of Seth MacFarlane

Jerry Seinfeld made a decision early on in his wildly successful career never to use profanity in his routines. That decision obviously worked out very well for him. It wouldn't have worked so well for Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin or Chris Rock. The truth is, some people like jokes about dicks, tits, lesbians, Lincoln's assassination, race, religion and "two priests and a rabbi walk into a whorehouse" ...and there are those comedians who are brilliant at telling them. Welcome to America, land of the free.

By now you'd have to be living under a rock to not know the "outrage" over Oscar host Seth MacFarlane's "hostile, ugly, sexist" performance, as the high-brow New Yorker charged. His main "offenses?" The jokes he made about "Django Unchained" being "the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who has been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie;" that "Zero Dark Thirty" was about "every woman's innate ability to never ever let anything go;" and a tongue-in-cheek number called "We Saw Your Boobs."

But let's get something straight: Seth MacFarlane is a comic. He doesn't pretend to be anything else. He's an edgy, irreverent, off-color satirist who clearly doesn't give a shit what anyone thinks. The producers knew exactly who they were buying when they hired him, and viewers knew what to expect when watching him. It's a bit absurd to hire Seth MacFarlane, watch Seth MacFarlane, and then be offended because he's, well, being Seth MacFarlane. That people are now drowning in a sea of self-righteous indignation over his performance is laughable and frightening at the same time.

Comedy, like art in general, is incredibly personal and subjective. We have a right to voice our opinions (key word "opinions") as to what's funny and what isn't. But the criticism becomes dangerous, and takes on a whole new ugliness, when entertainers are attacked for being "offensive, sexist and racist" simply because some folks may dislike the content and/or fail to see the humor. That sort of mass condemnation typically leads to censorship. Are we going back to the days when Lenny Bruce was arrested for using "obscenities" on-stage? Has our culture not evolved in fifty years? Or are we simply witnessing the PC-ification of America? What one person finds "offensive" another finds brilliant art (see Pryor, Carlin, Elvis, The Beatles, Mapplethorpe, Bertolucci, et al).

Hollywood and the New York literati is full of self-righteous, self-important hypocrites who constantly sit in judgment of others while they themselves churn out like a factory the very same "offensive" material they thumb their noses at. Hollywood, which is so ridiculously aghast over MacFarlane's bit, produces more films about child abuse, gang rape, incest, hookers, strippers, 3-ways and horrific violence against women than he could ever imagine. And the publishing world has no problem feeding us mega-hits like Fifty Shades of Grey which is full of sexual degradation, bondage and sadomasochism directed at women.

If women are going to bare their boobs on film, then comics like MacFarlane have every right to spoof it. And the parody certainly goes both ways. I don't recall such a groundswell of outrage when Harvey Keitel and his naked ass in "The Piano" were repeatedly mocked.

Deep breath, America. It's truly going to be ok. It's just a song and dance about some harmless little tits...

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