When The Onion tweeted inadvisedly about Quvenzhané Wallis shortly after the Oscars ended last night, Twitter exploded in outrage. An hour later and the tweet was removed. But the tweet about the nine-year-old nominee seemed to fit right in to an evening that had been both vicious and sexist in its attempts at humor.
Host Seth Macfarlane began the unfunny references to Wallis as he introduced her to the audience in the early part of the show. "It'll be 16 years before she's too old for Clooney," he said. Did anyone laugh?
There was a mean-spirited quality to Macfarlane's Oscars that went beyond the usual awkward imbalance of celebrating and embarrassing a self-indulgent industry in the same show. When did awards shows become such clumsyroasts? And could someone funny PLEASE start writing the jokes?
As the lights came up over the Dolby Theater at the beginning of the evening, the audience could be seen beaming and clapping. Except for one. Dressed, like Hamlet entirely in black, Robert Downey Jr, kept his arms folded tightly across his chest and nodded his head tersely. He clearly knew what to expect.
The nastiness started with a cheap shot at last year's winner for best actor, the Frenchman, Jean Dujardin, who had won for The Artist.
Thank God for the singing. Well, some of the singing. Certainly not the Macfarlane rendition of "We Saw your Boobs" which seemed to have been put together by a bunch of seventh grade boys – the demographic that ABC is longing to snare. (The best reaction to this song was Zero Dark Thirty Director Kathryn Bigelow's unchanging stone face. Minute 8.50).
Macfarlane had a go at her movie later, when he dropped a thud of a joke on Zero Dark Thirty. It's "a celebration of every woman's innate inability to never, ever let anything go," he said about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Shirley Bassey, Adele, Barbara Streisand, Jennifer Hudson and Norah Jones saved the evening and finally made the entertainment entertaining. You could sense the relief as the audience gave the singers rapturous applause. Lengthy standing ovations rewarded not just great performances (Bassey, Hudson and Streisand) but a break from the endless badly written snark.
No question of that happening. But at least the night came to a fitting end. After Michelle Obama raised the tone of the broadcast by announcing the best picture award for Argo from the White House, MacFarlane was forced to stand on stage and sing The Loser Song. Finally a joke that worked.