My worst issue with the Oscars was that the music was consistently off for the singers. If you’re going to have 4 drop-dead powerhouse women singing, then maybe you could spend some of your huge budget on coordinating your orchestra with your singers. And I do not understand why the fashion press is drooling over Kerry Washingon’sill-fitting dress and loathing Jennifer Garner’s elegantly whimsical plum column. But the real issues with the Oscars was McFarland. Who managed to be both debonair and obnoxious–no mean trick, that. He’s sort of pretty, he sings well, and he wears a tux very nicely. He’s articulate and obviously educated (Kent and RISD). But, though I like The Family Guy, he does have an adolescent fondness for mean humor and he clearly hasn’t learned when it’s okay to cross boundaries. The Lincoln assassination joke, for instance, and his response when it rightly tanked, “Still too soon?” No. We’ve pretty much integrated a Lincoln assassination joke into the common parlance–“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” It’s stupid and tasteless. Some things are just not great material. Assassinations. Genocide. Rape. 911. Political correctness isn’t the issue, humanity is. Humor is a hugely complicated thing, and there are “good” jokes about all those subjects, but they’re pretty much all by victims–the commercial milk cans in which the people of the Warsaw ghetto buried their written records of life in the ghetto are full of jokes–brutal, mordant, uncomfortable, very funny jokes. They’re amazing testaments to the ferocity of intellect and heart of those people.
So one facet of What Was The Matter With McFarland’s Jokes has to do with authority. Victims and survivors can make whatever jokes they want, pretty much. Pretty, privileged young people, not so much authority there. It can, of course, be earned by brilliance, to some extent. But the bad jokes Sunday night were distinctly unbrilliant. In the case of Lincoln Assassination, the problem is that it’s just not ever going to be funny. Ever. And there’s no healing, no strength to be gained from laughing about it. There’s no reason to laugh about it.
Comics stomp that line to pieces all the time, and varied people find varied things funny, for varied reasons–not all of them healthy, attractive, or worthwhile. But the Oscars, for good or ill, are a mainstream production with a huge mainstream audience, and we really don’t need Annointed Important People, which is what the Oscar host is, making boob jokes (yeah, I laughed–the number would have been funny in another context in which its meta-humor could have been the point.), talking about little girls as potential George Clooney bait, and making bitchy references to Adele’s weight, or introducing every single woman on the stage by way of her looks. It was a series of gross misjudgements of context and propriety, both of which continue to be important, no matter how much reality TV tries to convince us otherwise. Learning when to push boundaries and be edgy is as important as learning to push boundaries. McFarland blew it. I hope some remnant of his WASP upbringing is driving him to write a lot of apology notes this week. He owes a lot of them. And needs to grow the hell up.
Meanwhile, we need to talk about what the fat women were wearing. Melissa McCarthy NEEDS a new stylist. She’s not tall enough for the Adele-hair, and that dress made her look like a grocery bag. Adele looked like herself, which is to say that she was gorgeous. Queen Latifah also looked precisely like herself–the dress was boring, but regal–dignity and presence personified. And then there was Octavia Spencer, who has the wits to not mess with a great thing–her relationship with Tadashi Shoji. If anything, this year’s dress was even more impressive than last because it broke a bunch of supposed fat-girl-rules. It had a big skirt and fluffy parts–it was princessy and ultra-feminine, and yet it worked because the fit and proportions were precise and precisely gauged. Lovely work.
Why, in heaven’s name, does any of this matter? The standard answer would be about these women as exemplars–role models. I think that’s important, particularly when we’re talking about minorities and role models. I don’t think it much matters to thin-to-normal size humans that Anne Hathaway’s dress didn’t fit well. This is partially because there were plenty of dresses that did fit well, but even more because the fact that her dress didn’t fit well would never be blamed on her body being un-fittable, or unwieldy or inherently ugly. So her dress failure wouldn’t be blamed on any part of her nature or being. Latifah and Adele both dressed in ways that make it very hard to say much of anything one way or another–they effectively eliminate their bodies from discussions of their appearance on some critical levels, and that affirms their feminity in many others. Spencer pushes boundaries and proves that it’s possible for women of size to dress with panache and glamor, bless her elegant heart. All three of them approach the Great Show of the red carpet with a lot of confidence and dignity.
Of course, on many levels, McCarthy is allowed to wear any bloody thing she wants. She does not owe the fat women of the world anything. But clothes are texts just as surely as newspapers are. This gets into the awful morass of the discussion of women’s clothing as potential provocation. The fact is that clothing does speak–no culture on the planet ignores the clothing and ornamentation of the human body. Not ever going to happen, that. Where politics and morality enter that discussion–matters of rape and burkas–the answer has a great deal more to do with the ways men are raised and trained. But we’re not discussing those extremes here, we’re talking about whether Melissa McCarthy has any responsibilities to herself and others where her Oscar outfits are concerned, and I would love to argue that she does. I really would. But if Anne Hathaway is allowed to make mistakes I guess McCarthy is, too.
Crud. I think I might have just argued myself out of being able to say that she has an ethical obligation to hire a better stylist. I may have to content myself with wishing she would. Darn. I had such a lovely head of steam built up for it.