More than a week has passed since Oscar night, but Hollywood is still trying to pick up the pieces. Despite all the glamour on the red carpet and celebration for the medium of film, people still found time to tell us where everything went wrong. The Oscars were a disaster, apparently, and the out-of-touch celebrities that took part are to blame.
Let’s begin with a look at Les Misérables actress and Internet dartboard Anne Hathaway. Now, I confess that Hathaway irritates me. As Oscar night drew nearer, however, I began to realize that I am far from alone in this sentiment. In fact, hating Anne Hathaway has grown not only into an online meme but into a frightening cult of vitriol. “Hathahate” has become a widespread enough phenomenon to earn coverage from media outlets as varied as CNN, The New Yorker, and The Huffington Post. Don’t even dare to look at her IMDB board: The place is a war zone, a hotbed for the sort of hate that we usually reserve for fascist dictators.
If anyone at the Oscars earned a worse reception from the online peanut gallery than Hathaway, it was host Seth MacFarlane. Upset viewers were quick to accuse MacFarlane of homophobia, racism, anti-semitism, and—most commonly—sexism. His “We Saw Your Boobs” performance was just the highlight of what the blogosphere quickly dubbed to be the most misogynistic hosting gig ever to disgrace the ceremony.
I personally find MacFarlane’s brand of humor to be very hit-and-miss, and I did not exactly keel over with laughter at any of his jokes two Sundays ago. At the same time, however, I have to question what seems to be a very convenient way of discrediting MacFarlane’s comedy completely.
There is certainly something to be said for the idea that disparaging remarks, even when made in jest, serve to reinforce existing prejudices. There is also something to be said, however, for the idea that irreverent, offensive comedy does not act to encourage bigoted ideologies but rather to question them. Comedy that relies on harmful stereotypes and antiquated ideas may infuse what seems like an inappropriate amount of levity into its grim subject matter, but it also reminds us that such ideas are still a very real and omnipresent part of our culture.
This is what MacFarlane’s humor attempted to achieve, and it is why his routine provoked laughter from some and anger from others. A skit like “We Saw Your Boobs” reminds us in startling, blunt form that women do face objectification in Hollywood and that, as a result, exposing their bodies is still one of the most effective ways for them to find legitimacy with their male peers.
Now, what does any of this have to do with Anne Hathaway?
Much of the aversion to Hathaway’s persona rests on the assumption that her Oscar campaign was an act, that she calculatedly simpered her way to a gold statuette. I do not have any relationship with Hathaway beyond that of a cinema-goer, but I can certainly see where such a narrative arose. She appeared never to miss a chance to schmooze at an Academy luncheon or to discuss her experiences on the set of her film.
The disturbing truth is that Hathaway, like MacFarlane, incites our ire because she reminds us that we and the people we know are not so different from the personalities that we ogle from afar. Politicking and playing the part are just as important in Hollywood—particularly for women—as they are everywhere else. We refuse to accept this as the case, however, and we put those actresses who seem less affected—such as Jennifer Lawrence—on a pedestal, convincing ourselves that genuineness truly is the best way to get ahead. In the meantime, we can set Hathaway aside as a regrettable exception and shake our heads at the depravity of celebrity.
I am hesitant to say that all the antipathy toward either Hathaway or MacFarlane is unmerited or artificial in nature. It is true, for instance, that my status as a male takes some credibility away from any defense of MacFarlane I might offer, and that we ought not to consider Hathaway’s potential disingenuousness a virtue. Nevertheless, I think we should all spend a little less time vilifying celebrities and a little more time looking at ourselves.
Hollywood is not supposed to resemble us, we say. Hollywood is supposed to be the universe behind the silver screen, where all our idealized fantasies about how the world as it should be—rather than how it actually is—can seem real. When an Anne Hathaway or a Seth MacFarlane threatens to dissolve this illusion, we would rather see her or him as breaching a contract than question why such a contract exists in the first place. We somehow regard Hollywood as both a reflection of our best traits and a wellspring of our worst.