In Case You Missed It: Doctor Audience

85th Annual Academy Awards - Backstage

Every week within In Case You Missed It, Mike Haverty takes a closer look at the news you might’ve just glossed over.

Here has been the last two days of internet news and blogs:

This Headline Is Not Hyperbolic. Snappy one-liner criticizing Oscars! List adjectives describing Seth MacFarlane’s jokes of the night and Seth MacFarlane himself. Question the taste and politics of the jokes compared to the prestige of the Oscars. Compare this Oscars ceremony to all past Oscars in a way to prove this one was the worst. Add that The Onion also bombed. Briefly summarize who won awards.

Comments: Disagreement with writer’s egregious assessment. Blame writer’s class, status, gender, and political alliances for complicating simple humor.

The above argument goes nowhere and can be found everywhere.

How can something like social justice be considered useless by so many people, and conversely, why does a critic’s assessments of women, race and gender always garner a venomous response?  It’s a matter of set-up. The critic equates an easy joke from the Oscars as symptomatic of a problem. Take the “We Saw Your Boobs” dance number from Sunday’s ceremony. If we were to enter that song into WebCriticMD, the site would suggest it could be terminal rape cultureitis, with misogyny and objectification as possible related diseases/other symptoms. The panicked critic immediately addresses Doctor Audience with a short list of self-diagnoses, but never fully explains the symptoms or how long ago the symptoms have started (the audience should innately know this). Doctor Audience sees that the critic is more focused on diagnosis than explaining the historic precedent and real-life cultural damage of “We Saw Your Boobs” in a way that teaches and does not just condemn those that dared think it was funny. Incapable of discerning a greater message out of the critic’s panic, the only bedside manner Doctor Audience can muster is a compassionate eyeroll. Both sides have completely failed at communicating. Doctor Audience is labeled as politically incorrect, the critics are labeled as incorrectly political, and they will see each other next week.

The communication gap helps both sides to demonize their rivals. People who liked the Oscars aren’t horrible people, like many blogs suggest. Some audience members just want jokes. These are people who do not consider how humor is weaponized. Anything can be laughed at regardless of target. The approving audience values un-PC comedy, while not really understanding what makes the political correct. Their review is solely based on joke-form without considering the joke’s target. Take the Oscar’s Chris Brown/Rihanna joke. The surface awfulness of the joke’s sentiment is there (wow, he made a joke about an abusive celebrity relationship), but the depth (victims of abuse struggle to leave toxic relationships) is lost in the shock. The first instinct as a critic is to shame him for shaming Chris Brown and Rihanna, but then critics will then be shamed by commentors who remain unswayed. Said commentors will be shamed by other commentors. Every person is right because everyone else should be ashamed, and we continue on unchanged.

The Oscars had a lot of cheap jokes, but there are a lot of jokes like this. One can be a connoisseur of the cheap jokes. To compare it to my weekly trip to Aldi, the connoisseur of cheapness is not concerned with the variety of different values, but the variety within a singular value. I’m not going to bother with premium organic products, but I have many options contained by a limited budget. In jokes limited by value, blondes remain dumb, nerds remain awkward, and all other outmoded stereotypes inform the punchline. Nothing new challenged, nothing new achieved. Humor in this sense is defined by sharing new roads to the same values, regardless of how insensitive the punchline can be. I call this The Big Bang Theory Theory. The gap between “a shocking joke” and “perpetuating abuse as a cultural norm” is comparing personal investment in the subject matter compared to a personal standard of jokes. It’s not hate, it’s naiveté. When addressing Doctor Audience about why something is terrible, scolding does not work on naiveté. Education and compassion does.

And to anyone who thought Seth MacFarlane was responsible for the worst Oscars: no. While I’m not a huge fan of his and found most of his jokes predictably unsafe, it was the Academy who gave him full reign over their American institution. Remember, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the same institution that gave us Billy Crystal in blackface for nostalgic comfort. They do not make brave jokes. They make symptoms.