The zeitgeist’s heavy hammer—by which I mean the Internet—has landed hard on last week’s Oscar host Seth MacFarlane. The consensus: MacFarlane’s act was racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and, perhaps most unforgivably, not funny. Particularly insulting was the song and dance number, “We Saw Your Boobs,” during which MacFarlane highlighted members of the audience whose breasts he’d seen in movies (many of which were exposed during rape scenes), or, in the case of Scarlett Johansson, in leaked cellphone photos on the Internet. Viewers were right to be offended by MacFarlane’s demeaning routine. The women he mocked are world-class actresses. This was their night to be celebrated, not objectified by an immature jester.
But there’s a group that should be equally irate about “We Saw Your Boobs”: admirers of bare breasts. Because MacFarlane’s is exactly the type of frat-boy behavior that leads so many American women to keep their breasts hidden from public view for fear of just such humiliation.
Think of any European man that you know. If you don’t know any European men then just think of Javier Bardem, whose stubbly demeanor represents a kind of pan-European suavity. Now, imagine Javier Bardem, or someone who looks like him, at the beach. Two female bathers park their towels next to his. The bathers can be of any nationality or ethnicity—doesn’t matter. What does matter is that these women are pale. They spend their days at laptops in sunless offices. And now they’re on vacation, somewhere warm, for two weeks, before returning to the cold. They want tans and they want to enjoy themselves. So what do they do? They oil up. They lie down. They let the sun work its magic.
What these bathers don’t want, however, are tan lines. Besides, their bikini tops are uncomfortable. The bathers are confronted with a choice. Do they remove their bikini tops at the risk of being ogled by male beachgoers? Well the first thing these bathers do is take a good look around. The beach is empty, but for their neighbor, Javier.
Now, if Javier were an American man—someone like Seth MacFarlane maybe, or the member of a college lacrosse team—he would take this opportunity to stand up, beat his chest, and chant the word “boobies” in guttural monotone. He would snap photos with his iPhone, poke the air with his erection, and drool uncontrollably. The women would react by leaving their bikini tops on, and probably packing their baskets and moving farther down the beach.
But Javier is not American. So what does he do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He just lies there, sipping his beer. He doesn’t even look at the bathers who have now removed their bikini tops. He plays it cool.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps one of the women approaches Javier, asks if she can read his magazine when he’s done. Perhaps they get to talking, discussing international politics, literature, art. Perhaps later that night, after a few rounds of drinks, she decides—or maybe even both women decide—that, sure, they’d like to see his apartment, and yes the music is nice, and before Javier knows what’s happened he’s not only seen both women’s breasts but he’s caressed them and kissed them, and possibly even been smothered by them while coming to asphyxiated climax.
Do you see what I’m getting at? Isn’t it time for American men to start playing it cool?
I’m not just talking about beach behavior. Playing it cool extends to all realms of human interaction. Not attracted to Lena Dunham? Why write an aggressive blog post complaining about her offensively imperfect body, and how it’s unfair that it’s always Lena that gets naked and not Alison Williams, when you could simply play it cool. There’s a reason Alison Williams never takes her top off, and it’s not just because she’s secretly a robot like her dad. Alison’s seen your blog posts; she doesn’t want that kind of scrutiny on her body. Actresses are human beings. The things we say about them on the Internet does affect them. Think of Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Clarke spent almost the entirety of the first season topless, frolicking in bathtubs and at brothels. But after hundreds of Tumblr users began to chronicle the movements of Clarke’s breasts with the appetite of amateur meteorologists, Clarke decided to keep her clothes on in season two.
There’s a reason why the sexual revolution didn’t work out in America—it was too much for American men to handle. Embarrassed by their adolescent astonishment, they tried to stay in control by treating sexually enlightened women like lepers. And whenever it seems that forward progress is being made on this front, some Seth MacFarlane arrives, childishly pointing, and chanting “boobies.” Shut up Seth, you’re ruining it for the rest of us.