As Oscar host Seth MacFarlane is surely learning Monday, helming the annual awards ceremony dwarfs all other challenges. Rescue hostages from under the nose of armed revolutionaries? Piece of cake! Free American slaves amidst a young nation’s bloody civil war? In my sleep!
But host a three-hour industry telecast to the satisfaction of a global audience of a billion and counting? The faint-hearted need not apply.
Mr. MacFarlane, the creator of Fox’s “Family Guy,” has been criticized for making sexist, racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic jokes (does this miss any groups?) as well as general bad taste and lousy clock control (the show ran until midnight EST, a half hour over schedule).
But pop culture audiences seem to be as divided as political ones. According to Fizziology, a social media research firm, 13 percent of Facebook and Twitter users discussing the show ranked MacFarlane as “the best host ever.” And early Nielsen ratings show the broadcast up nearly 20 percent over the 2012 show with some 37 million US viewers.
But there is one question that all Oscar viewers are asking: Will he be back?
Not if the Academy is a tad more careful next time, suggests Thelma Adams, Yahoo! Movies contributing editor. The “central conundrum” is having a show that remains true to its film industry audience.
“Watch an episode of ‘Family Guy’ and you’ll know it’s not a good match for Hollywood honchos sitting in stiff chairs in tuxes and tiaras,” she says. The first thing to acknowledge is that the audience inside the Dolby Theater, where the show is held in Hollywood, “is a tough and tense crowd.”
There are several groups on whom MacFarlane’s humor was wasted.
Gwendolyn Foster, a film professor at University of Nebraska at Lincoln, says her female students were “appalled” at what they consider MacFarlane’s outdated and sexist routines.
“Everyone agrees it was like watching an old sexist 'Dating Game' episode,” she says via e-mail. “Seth McFarlane was as smarmy as the host of the 'Dating Game,' which is perfect because the Dating Game, if memory serves me, was on during the Vietnam War, when many Americans preferred to bury their heads in the sand and pretend the war was not happening, or pretend the war was a good thing.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued its own rebuke of MacFarlane’s bit in the guise of his animated Teddy Bear persona, the main character in his 2012 film, “Ted.” A computer-animated Ted, presenting with actor Mark Wahlberg, made the joke that Jews controlled Hollywood, and that being Jewish was required to work in the industry. "I was born Theodore Shapiro and I would like to donate to Israel and continue to work in Hollywood forever," he said.
"While we have come to expect inappropriate 'Jews control Hollywood' jokes from Seth MacFarlane, what he did at the Oscars was offensive and not remotely funny,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director, in a statement. “It only reinforces stereotypes which legitimize anti-Semitism. It is sad and disheartening that the Oscars awards show sought to use anti-Jewish stereotypes for laughs.
Others argue that the flap around MacFarlane’s performance is exaggerated.
“Seth MacFarlane is getting a bad rap from critics who can't take a joke,” says Carole Lieberman, a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist who specializes in the media.
“He was risky, risqué and riotous,” she says via e-mail. And while he stepped a bit over the line, “he was a breath of fresh air to an otherwise safe awards show. The audience needed to sit back and relax and laugh at themselves and their colleagues a bit, instead of hiding behind their own press releases touting their perfection.”
Dr. Lieberman says MacFarlane won’t be asked back, because the Academy will “keep looking for an impossible combination of someone new who's funny enough, but doesn't offend anyone.”
“Whether or not Seth MacFarlane is the answer to the Academy's dilemma about maintaining their older more traditional audience while capturing the hearts and minds of the younger generation remains to be seen,” she says via e-mail. What is certain, she adds, is that the days of the show being hosted by Billy Crystal, Whoopie Goldberg, “or fill in your favorite over-50 star – are long gone.”
“The Academy can appeal to younger audiences, with edgier content, while maintaining its broad demographic appeal as a family show,” he notes in an e-mail, adding that it’s a question, as always, of finding the right hosts.