His pre-show self-deprecation set the stage for his opening monologue, complete with a William Shatner cameo from the future, that was meant to show just how badly things could get if he didn't switch gears before it was too late.
The time-bending gimmick seemed to give MacFarlane the permission he wanted to tell the kind of jokes one would expect from the guy behind Famliy Guy and Ted.
In addition to his much-maligned "We Saw Your Boobs" musical montage, MacFarlane delivered a groaner aimed at Lincoln and Daniel Day-Lewis's propensity for method acting (“If you bumped into Don Cheadle on the studio lot, did you try and free him?”) and hit on well-trod nagging-woman territory with a jab at Jessica Chastain's Zero Dark Thirty character (an example of "a woman's innate ability to never let anything go").
Django Unchained's crass script provided a few softballs for MacFarlane to joke at a few Hollywood scandals, as “the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unspeakable violence--or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie," with a "screenplay... loosely based on Mel Gibson's voicemails."
Monday morning, the reaction from the commentary press was swift and harsh.
From the Los Angeles Times: "MacFarlane opens the show both crude and polished"
Before an estimated audience of a billion people, MacFarlane alternated between making hamburgers out of Hollywood’s sacred cows and showing fealty to good old-fashioned showbiz spectacle with elaborate song and dance numbers that made fun of precisely no one.
The Atlantic: "The Banality of Seth MacFarlane's Sexism and Racism at the Oscars"
What the jokes were, really, was stupid, boring, and empty: humor that relied less on its own patently sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. content than on admiration for or disgust with the host's willingness to deliver it. So much of comedy is about the shock of recognition, of seeing some previously unacknowledged truth suddenly acknowledged, but the only recognition MacFarlane offered was that some people say dumb things about other peoples' gender/racial/sexual identities. Which, of course, should not be shocking at all.
Salon: "Seth MacFarlane, misogynistic Oscar host"
In this context, the more standard, easy-target knocks— the kind of joke almost any host would make in our tabloid era — about Rihanna and Chris Brown’s ongoing trainwreck relationship and the hairiness of the Kardashians seemed even more mean-spirited. More remarkable than all undercutting remarks, is that without them, MacFarlane had barely anything to say about women at all: they were either boff-toys or nothing. He introduced Sandra Bullock by her random credit in the movie “28 Days,” just so he could make a joke about getting drunk himself.
The Atlantic Wire: "Seth MacFarlane's Oscar Monologue Was Endless, and Maybe Racist and Sexist"
Playing off his pre-Oscars prediction that everyone would hate him at the Oscars, Seth MacFarlane spent the first 19 minutes of the Academy Awards on Sunday making sure everyone would, in fact, hate him.
Slate offered a different, but no less disapproving read of the Shatner schtick:
I’ll limit my discussion of “We Saw Your Boobs” to noting how, um, nakedly it put into relief a recurring theme in last night’s ceremony: A defensive anxiety about the ascendant power of women (emblematized, later on, by the pairing of the statuesque Theron with the wee Dustin Hoffman as awards presenters.) In spite of MacFarland’s steady stream of lady-diminishing wisecracks (about Jessica Chastain’s character in Zero Dark Thirty being a typical grudge-holding woman, Quvenzhané Wallis soon being old enough to date George Clooney, etc.) it was a night dominated by a trio of powerful, glittering, seemingly indomitable women: 76-year-old Shirley Bassey in a bronze column dress, belting the Bond theme “Goldfinger” with old-time showbiz bravura; Adele in sparkly silver, bringing down the house with a magnificently simple (if poorly sound-mixed) rendition of her own 007 song, “Skyfall,” which went on to win Best Song; and, in the only real gasp-worthy surprise of the night, Michelle Obama in severer, more armor-like silver, appearing live from what appeared to be a West Point dress ball to announce the award for Best Picture.
So was MacFarlane merely funny (or not) or wildly offensive? Let us know in the poll.