In Defence of Seth MacFarlane

MacFarlane will never be everyone's cup of tea, but the show's organisers would have known this.

In what could be considered delicious irony, Seth MacFarlane's performance as this year's Oscar's host was lauded by another divisive figure. That Piers Morgan's Twitter bio carries the line 'One day you're the cock of the walk, the next a feather duster' is somewhat emblematic of how the genius behind Family Guy and Ted is feeling in the aftermath of hosting Hollywood's biggest night.

Yes, Social Media has trashed him along with many of the great and good in the trade press. Yet one is left to ask this: what were you expecting? This is an auteur that has made The Simpsons look like Tom and Jerry, and made enemies of South Park's enfant terribles, Parker and Stone. His brand of edgy humour, punctuated with non-sequiturs, satire and crudity is the reason why MacFarlane is one of the highest paid men in entertainment.

Sunday night's Oscar performance was about par for what anyone could've expected when you consider the body of work - beyond the cartoons and the movies. It was close to the bone in parts, but it was also self-deprecating and extremely reverent to the Super Bowl of cinema. MacFarlane will never be everyone's cup of tea, but the show's organisers would have known this. The devil is in the detail as viewing figures and other metrics emerge in the analysis. Most critical to the Academy was this: MacFarlane brought in the highest viewing figures for an Academy Awards in three years. Moreover, his attachment drew in key demographics most critical to advertisers and the host network, ABC: a 20 per cent increase in the number of 18 to 34 olds tuning-in.

From the business perspective, it was a slam dunk and organisers should be doing everything they can to woo him back for 2014 - those ad men alone will be telling them so. Alas, it won't happen for a number of reasons. In the most practical sense, MacFarlane is slated for other work at the time; in reality, concerns over the content and reception of his work will inevitably lead the Academy to play it safe. And so the great modern dilemma of award ceremonies continues. A problem not exclusive to Oscar.

Take our own Brit Awards a few weeks ago. After years of controversy and general criticism over the quality of the event, James Corden was installed as host in 2011 and brought a safe slickness to proceedings. This year (his third as host), Corden gave viewers more of the same and got roundly pilloried on Twitter for hosting a dull affair. Over the last decade, the Oscars themselves have deviated between playing safe (Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, Ellen DeGeneres) and taking risks (James Franco and Anne Hathaway, Jon Stewart, Chris Rock). There is no sweet science, with the only constant being either to bore audiences with nicety, or isolate some with a high risk, high reward show.

Your average episode of Family Guy will be laced with bad taste fare but never lacks heart or a deeper sincerity. As a show it has arguably been the greatest reflection on American society and popular culture in a generation. Perhaps Hollywood doesn't like looking at itself all that much. MacFarlane won't mind - he was aware from the start what he was doing and no one should be under the impression this was some loose grenade let off by organisers. Plenty of stars were happy to take part in his skits, and his shows will continue to attract fans around the world.

One of the many jokes to have drawn "audible groans" from within the Dolby Theatre was that of the assassination of Lincoln. Retorting as only he could, MacFarlane said "Really? 150 years and it's still too soon, huh?" The same could be said for the Academy and their prized event in installing one of the world's premiere entertainers. And for something masquerading as entertainment in 2013, that's altogether rather sad.


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