How pop culture failed us in 2013

From Miley's race problem to Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar gig, here are 10 reasons we're happy to leave 2013 in the dust

Published January 2, 2014 2:26PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Eric Thayer)
(Reuters/Eric Thayer)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet1. Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar emcee turn.

Okay, we knew that the guy who brought us “Family Guy” was going to be an irreverent Oscar emcee. And Seth MacFarlane delivered irreverence galore. Unfortunately, he served it up with far too much off-color and misogynistic humor, setting the tone for the evening with his sophomoric opening number, “We Saw Your Boobs.” MacFarlane went on to make a crack about violence against women with a joking reference to Chris Brown and Rihanna, and also managed to sexualize nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis in a joke ostensibly about George Clooney.

For some reason, the often humorous Onion site proceeded to out-offend MacFarlane immediately when it referred to Wallis as a “c--t.” How this could have struck the editors as funny, no one knows. Not even Onions fans were amused, and it was quickly deleted, with an apology.

2. SNL’s race problem, and Kenan Thompson’s ridiculous explanation.

The long-lived "Saturday Night Live" comedy sketch show went on a hiring binge over the past year, with about half of its cast members moving on. A lucky six comedians were chosen, every single one of them white, although they have not gotten a lot of airtime since. When the blatant lack of diversity—and especially the lack of a single black woman in the cast on a show emanating from the country’s most diverse city—became an issue, Kenan Thompson, one of two black males and a veteran of the show, made the unfortunate statement that black women just aren’t funny enough.

Really? Because we think the opposite is true. Black women are very funny. Kenan Thompson? Not so much.

3. Julianne Hough’s blackface Halloween costume.

Just to make it as simple as possible, here’s a guide for “Dancing with the Stars” regular Julianne Hough and every other white person on when it’s okay to wear blackface: Never.

The professional dancer made the unfortunate choice not only to dress up as Crazy Eyes, the character on Netflix’s hit series “Orange Is the New Black” played by actress Uzo Aduba with orange prison garb. She also tied bantu knots in her hair and donned blackface makeup.

It took her a little while, but eventually Hough came to the realization that the costume was not seen as an homage to her favorite TV character, but just plain old offensive. She apologized on Twitter, but for many, it was too little too late.

As Jezebel’s Callie Beusman wrote:

"You wore blackface—which has historically been used to disrespect and demean black people for centuries, which was quite literally invented as a method of disrespecting and demeaning black people—but had no intention of being disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way. OH, OKAY."

4. Russell Simmons’ Harriet Tubman sex video.

For some truly mysterious reason, entertainment mogul and Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons thought a sex tape about abolitionist Harriet Tubman was a hilarious idea. He tweeted as much when the clip was made available on his Def Digital YouTube channel. The clip featured the Underground Railroad leader seducing and deceiving her master, and in a variety of sexual positions.

A storm of outrage ensued, with black women leading the charge. Many, like Kimberly Foster writing in the Guardian, questioned how the role model and champion for the full humanity of black boys and men could be so amused by the degradation of a genuine black female hero.

“Clearly, the traumas inflicted upon black female bodies mattered little in his eyes. The gendered nature of sexual violence allows Simmons and other men to find humor in the implied abuse, while striking out against the violence they feel affects them more directly.”

Simmons took down the clip, and issued what many thought was a lame apology that left them none-too-convinced he understood his critics’ point.

Don’t look for Simmons' name on the bio-pic that Tubman so richly deserves.

5. Alec Bladwin and the very terrible, horrible, very bad year.

Talented, and funny, but anger-management-challenged, Alec Baldwin is often on the right side of the issues. Except when he gets mad, and Alec Baldwin has been getting mad a lot recently. He became infuriated last April when a reporter implied that his wife Hilaria was tweeting during actor James Gandolfini’s funeral, and he raged about the  “little bitch” and “toxic little queen," warning he’d like to put his foot in one of the writer’s orifices — except that he worried “You’d dig it too much.” Soon after, Baldwin deleted the unfortunate tweet, but not before it had essentially gone viral. Any notion that the outburst was an isolated instance completely vaporized when, during a dustup with a paparazzo this fall, Baldwin again allegedly resorted to homophobic slurs. Baldwin denied it, but MSNBC believed it, and canceled his new show with the network. The rest of the public is beginning to believe it, too.

6. “Blurred Lines.”

Possessed of a catchy, if derivative beat, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” became a summer hit, in some circles. But more thoughtful listeners heard deeply offensive, date-rapey lyrics, notably, “I know you want it.... I hate these blurred lines,” and saw its wildly offensive video featuring fully clothed Thicke in a thicket of totally nude female models, and said I’ll dance to something else, thank you very much.

7. Miley Cyrus and her black female props at the VMAs.

Undeniably, Miley Cyrus skyrocketed to post-Hannah Montana superstar status with her performance at the VMAs, which had tongues wagging for weeks afterward. While much of the outrage was reserved for her skimpy attire, tongue-way-out-of-cheek performance, and twerky duet with “Blurred Lines” singer Thicke, less was said about her exploitative use of black backup singers and dancers, whom she outfitted in cartoonish teddy bear attire accentuating the buttocks. While some of us are willing to defend Cyrus’ right to be as vulgar as her male counterparts, and her right to stick her tongue out as far as she wants for as long as she wants, the demeaning choreography and costuming of her female backup performers was considerably harder to swallow.

8. Kanye West Twitter war with Jimmy Kimmel over... what exactly?

Kanye West, a.k.a. Yeezus, does not take kindly to being made a figure of fun. (Someone should have warned him about that before he partnered with Kim Kardashian.) Someone should also have warned him that comedians are sometimes irreverent before he was booked for an appearance with late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. Rather than being worshipful, Kimmel actually poked some fun at West prompting the messianic rapper to go on a cap-lock twitter rampage. “JIMMY KIMMEL PUT YOURSELF IN MY SHOES … OH NO THAT MEANS YOU WOULD HAVE GOTTEN TOO MUCH GOOD PUSSY IN YOUR LIFE…” and “YOU CAN’T PUT YOURSELF IN MY SHOES.  YOUR FACE LOOKS CRAZY… IS THAT FUNNY?… OR IF I HAD A KID SAY IT WOULD IT BE FUNNY???” Kanye was hopping mad, and told Kimmel  he resembled SpongeBob. They kissed and made up though, in a true Hollywood ending, and Kanye came back for another visit, ominously warning Kimmel,  “You shoulda saw the second set of tweets!”

9. Mariah Carey performs for Angolan dictator.

Apparently, the pop diva did not quite learn her lesson after performing for Muammar Gaddafi in 2009, and apologizing for that in 2011. In December, she performed a two-hour concert for Angola’s autocratic José Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda, the capital. She is reported to have received $1 million for the show.

Dos Santos, president (presumably for life) since 1979, is a known human rights abuser, and severely restricts media, Human Rights Watch  says. “The state media and a number of private media owned by senior officials are ruling party mouthpieces in which censorship and self-censorship are common.”

Just to be fair, Carey is far from the only U.S. celebrity who has performed for autocratic human rights abusers. The aforementioned Kanye West performed for Kazakhstan's president’s family and Jennifer Lopez put on a show at the birthday of Turkmenistan’s dictator.

10. Bob Newhart agrees to headline anti-Gay Catholic conference; then, under duress, he takes it back.

Okay, this is for the old-timers. Say it ain’t so, Bob.

By Janet Allon

MORE FROM Janet Allon

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