Seth MacFarlane delivered an uninspired performance as host of the 85th Academy Awards last Sunday. Spouting out jokes many critics have called racist and sexist, among other things, the host is taking heat for aspects of his performance. However, the biggest flaw in the show was its lack of imagination.
The ceremony felt like a live action episode of Family Guy that was stretched out over three hours. It began with William Shatner on a monitor descending from the ceiling in a Star Trek uniform claiming to be from the future, and then launched into the show tune about actresses appearing topless in films.
The performance was reminiscent of an episode of Family Guy. The jokes were loosely connected, referenced something out of pop culture and harped on stereotypes. It was the sort of humor MacFarlane always writes, which at this point has become stale and uninspired.
Good, imaginative humor makes us look at something in a way we never thought. It is perceptive, it is critical and it can be provocative. Macfarlane’s humor did none of these things. He points out stereotypes we have already seen. Jokes like homosexuals in musicals, Jewish people controlling Hollywood and women not being able to let things go are played-out stereotypes. Instead of sounding fresh and creative he sounded as though he was living in the 1950s. It was a brand of humor that made us feel as though we were hanging out with a group of bros rather than watching the Oscars. He was far from perceptive, showing us observations we are all too familiar with.
Yet, MacFarlane’s humor might have felt fresher had it been somewhat critical of his subject matter. Some of George Carlin’s bits were great, in part, because of this. Carlin typically offered some indication that he had thought a lot about the joke he was making. He pointed out something absurd about the world he was a part of. MacFarlane, on the other hand, did no such thing. Calling Zero Dark Thirty “a celebration of every woman’s innate ability to never ever let anything go” is not a well-thought-out joke. It does not point out anything in a critical way. It is a one dimensional joke that goes no deeper than saying women will not let things go. It is a joke we see coming from a mile away because it is a stereotype ingrained throughout different media.
This predictability is what hurts MacFarlane the most. Before the ceremony, a tumblr user created a bingo board to mark off all the different jokes they thought MacFarlane would make. By the end of the night 21 of the 25 squares were marked. Clearly, he was telling the jokes we expected him to make, but in doing so the comedy lost its flavor. It was not original or edgy; it was just going through the motions.