During the 85th Academy Award ceremony Seth MacFarlane sang a song about prestigious actresses, most Oscar winners, that have bared their breasts for their art. I’ll leave it to other pop culture oriented writers to pontificate MacFarlane’s overall sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism; for the time being I’m going to focus on his “We Saw Your Boobs” song. As for his hosting some folks thought he did a fantastic job, others thought he was atrocious, and I thought he performed better than my low expectations.
As a feminist I should give lip service as to how sexist the ditty was, but besides thinking it was a comedic bit that belonged on another program, I barely bat an eyelash because I’m so used to female shaming even when it comes from “liberal” Hollywood. Of course if it was another host, say Billy Crystal for instance, I would have been, “What was he thinking?” but that’s what you get when you hire someone like MacFarlane whose fan base enjoys esoteric body function references set to music. The sentiment of the song revealed the point of view many men have about women who have filmed nude scenes; it makes little difference how powerful these women are if they have bared their breasts they can still be degraded. What has been seen cannot be unseen and silly men represented by MacFarlane know what you look like neekid.
Before I venture further, I want to stress that I’m not offended by male or female body parts, what puts me off is the idea that actresses (and it is primarily actresses) need to strip naked because allegedly a role they are playing demands it. You know, unless you are making porn or filming a documentary about the impact of surviving breast cancer before and after, I am stumped as to just why you can’t film around the concept of something like sex without showing everything inside the Piñata. Soap operas used to do it all the time during the weekdays. Thus I’m going to flat out and call this baring all for art a lie – a lie perpetrated by movie producers and directors the majority of which are male (along with the voting members of the Academy of Arts and Sciences).
The first actress MacFarlane mentioned in his tribute song was Meryl Streep the reigning grand dame of American cinema – the actress that all actors measure themselves in terms of skill and prestige. For heaven sakes, she won the Best Actress Oscar last year! Well take heart underachievers, apparently in the film Silkwood (where she played Karen Silkwood who was possibly murdered for revealing safety violations in a plutonium processing plant) she showed her “boobs.” However she is in excellent company because so did Naomi Watts, Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, Marisa Tomei, Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Helen Hunt, Jessica Chastain, Hillary Swank, and Penelope Cruz join her on the list. Further, special musical attention should be paid to the likes of Jodie Foster who revealed her breasts in The Accused during a rape scene, Kate Winslet for breaking out her puppies in practically every film she is in, and Scarlett Johansson who didn’t technically show her girls on the silver screen, but had her images of them stolen from her phone after it was hacked!
In Marilyn Yalom’s History of the Breast (1998) she explored how the female breast and images thereof have been politicized through the centuries of western civilization. It is a fascinating read and made me more aware of shifts in the viewing of female nudity from decade to decade. What is interesting about the choice of having MacFarlane host a show as prestigious as the Oscars was that both he and his humor seemed to be a throwback to an earlier time – a time when a white man’s perspective was the only perspective. Yet because he is a modern comedian (considered somewhat cutting edge if you are one prone to run around with scissors pointing upwards) there is an allowance for him to go to the heart of the manner, to mask brute sentiments within a song and dance number; something that would not have been done in the hosting era of Bob Hope.
The gist of the matter for me is that in terms of acting jobs I favor actresses who have the gumption to draw the line when it comes to their bodies – who claim the power and practice diligence when it comes to deciding on scenes involving nudity. Basically as a purveyor of everything pop culture I prefer actresses to not do nude scenes if the only reason they are doing so is to court an audience that may now view them as a sex object. The same goes for an actress coming of age (that awkward stage for child performers who are breaking into adult roles) who feels that the only way she will be taken seriously is if she stands in front of a camera topless (Dakota Fanning, I’m looking at you!). Lastly if someone is trying to sell a woman on the line that a movie won’t work if the audience isn’t allowed to see a character’s breasts, than I observe that the movie isn’t going to work no matter what is done.
The times are changing. At least male nudity is something that is being seen more on multiplex screens which I applaud, although in all fairness the same rules apply for male actors even if the consequences of showing their penis doesn’t result in a tacky song about how “We Saw Your _ick”… or at least not yet. Somewhere between the Hays Code and suffering/stripping for your art there is middle ground as well as respect.