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Humor, Seth MacFarlane and Boobs at The Oscars

I was happily surprised at all the blow-back about Seth McFarlane’s performance at the Oscars.  The New Yorker was critical, as were The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Salon.   Smaller sites that focus on women’s rights, like Jezebel and Feministing weighed in as well, as did  Ms. Magazine

But the days following all the coverage, I found myself a bit dejected: haven’t we been here before? When will misogyny not rank as high quality humor?  Granted, humor equality is not high on the list of things we need to fix for women in the world.  But we need to fix it, because I think it is symptomatic of the larger issues.

Humor in a society is reflective of what a culture values and doesn’t value, that’s how humor works. It takes what we know, the given in our society, and twists it–and that is what elicits the laugh. The unexpected makes us laugh. So when Mr. McFarlane sang a song about boobs, many of us did not laugh. It isn’t funny anymore. Not only is it humor we have heard from comedians since the dawn of time, we heard the same jokes in grade school.  If the song about breasts in film were not enough,  McFarlane went on to do jokes about battered women, bulimia, racial and religious profiling.

This type of humor is not only not top quality humor, it’s offensive. If McFarlane and others want to practice it,  they have the right. But as a society, we cannot condone sexist, racist and homophobic humor as anything but wrong.

We need to loudly maintain a new standard for what is funny.  We are beginning to do so, with the rise of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Even in this regard, we have been here before.  Whoopi Goldberg rose to fame decades ago as representative of a new standard of humor in the age of Andrew Dice Clay.  Cultural sexism rises and falls with each generation, but I think each time it is getting less and less.  For this reason, we–men and women– have to keep pushing out new forms of humor, and not let the old fashioned male standard of humor continue to be seen as what is “good.”

Or maybe we should just go back to the fourth grade.

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